Kaliningrad is a city with a long history and complicated fate. Teutonic Knights founded the city over 750 years ago. For most of its history, the city was a part of Prussia under the name of Koenigsberg.
The city and its adjacent territories became a part of the USSR after World War II. Today Kaliningrad is the center of the westernmost region of Russia, despite not sharing common borders with any other region of the Russian Federation. However, having been a Russian outpost in Europe, Kaliningrad is very proud of its German roots and strives to preserve what it has inherited from its ancestors.
"It is a large city situated on the sea coast and by a river at the same time, well-suited for sea trade and exploration of far-away lands. A city such as Koenigsberg on Pregolya can serve as a good place to expand the knowledge of both mankind and the world," — Immanuel Kant.
Teutonic Knights founded Koenigsberg in 1255, and the city received its modern status in 1724.
Koenigsberg played an important role in Europe's international life. For instance, it is connected with the establishment of the first Lutheran state – the Duchy of Prussia. The University of Koenigsberg, which was founded in 1544, became an important center for scientific and cultural figures.
The iconic philosopher Immanuel Kant lived in Koenigsberg his entire life. Writer Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffmann was born and educated here. Famous cultural and scientific figures lived and worked here, including philosophers Johann Herder and Johann Fichte, astronomer Friedrich Bessel, composer Richard Wagner, political thinker Hannah Arendt and many others.
At the same time, Koenigsberg was always connected with Russia throughout its history. This is where Peter the Great studied the basics of gunnery and, perhaps, saw how fortifications were arranged, insight which proved useful during the construction of Kronstadt. Empress Catherine the Great, historian Karamzin, Field Marshal Kutuzov and the poets Zhukovsky, Baratynsky, Nekrasov and Mayakovsky all visited Koenigsberg. In 1758, during the Seven Years' War, the city became part of the Russian Empire for several years.
However, it was not historical ties, but rather Koenigsberg's location – a year-round port on the Baltic Sea – that in 1945 played a key role in the city's destiny. In accordance with the decisions taken at the Potsdam Conference, part of Eastern Prussia, then a German province, was to be transferred to the USSR. On July 4, 1946, Koenigsberg was renamed Kaliningrad.
Yet the sea has probably given the city its biggest treasure: 90 percent of the world's amber reserves are situated on the seashore of the Kaliningrad region, which is host to an amber museum and amber plant. Amber is collected here, and its jewelry can be bought at any city market.
Amber has its legend too, which speaks of a daughter of a sea king, the beautiful Jurate, who falls in love with a simple fisherman, Kastytis. When her father learned of their love, he killed the fisherman with a lightning bolt and imprisoned his disobedient daughter in the ruins of an underwater castle. Since then Jurate has been mourning her lost love, and the sea waves throw her tears onto the shore as pieces of amber.
This is also where the famous Amber Room was created and from whence it subsequently disappeared. King Frederick William I gave the room to Peter the Great as a gift. During World War II, it was stolen from Tsarskoye Selo by looting Nazi troops and again returned to Eastern Prussia. In January 1945 it was seen for the last time at the Koenigsberg Castle, and after that it was lost.
The main attraction at Kaliningrad, the Koenigsberg Cathedral, was first mentioned in documents dating from 1333. It is believed that its construction lasted until 1380. During World War II, it was heavily damaged: the interior was completely destroyed and walls were all that remained. For a long time the church was in serious disrepair, but in 1992 its long-awaited renovation began at last.
Today there is a museum where everybody can learn about the city's history, see its collection of coins and banknotes and stroll through an intricate wooden library. One of the two pipe organs on display is considered to be one of the largest in Russia and Europe. Connoisseurs of classical and religious music are well advised to attend thematic concerts here. This is also where the tomb of Immanuel Kant is located, not far from the Prussian kings of the Hohenzollern dynasty who are buried under the altar.
Both adults and children will be interested in seeing the Museum of the World Ocean where one can view models of ships, sea maps and various exhibits related to geographical discoveries, archeology and fishery. However, exhibits displayed under glass are not the most fascinating part of the museum: it also has real ships, which visitors can take a closer look at, both from outside and within.
One of the museum's ships is the world-famous Vityaz, a research vessel that covered 800,000 miles and served as a place of work for scientists from 20 countries, including Thor Heyerdahl and Jacques-Yves Cousteau. Visitors can also board a real B-413 combat submarine. This is the only pre-nuclear submarine left in Russia and it is well preserved, sitting in the same state as it was when it was withdrawn from the Russian fleet.
A half-hour drive from Kaliningrad is the Curonian Spit, a narrow and long strip of land that stretches along the Baltic Sea coast from the Russian city of Zelenogradsk to the Lithuanian city of Klaipeda. The spit is almost 100 kilometers long. Here sand dunes are situated next to pine forests, and people can swim in the salty waters of the Baltic Sea as well as in the fresh waters of the of the Curonian Lagoon. Almost a million birds fly over the spit every day during their migration. In 2000 the Curonian Spit was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Kaliningrad's architecture is such a nice mix of the past and the present that it is a pleasure just to walk along the city streets. Residents try to conserve with care the landmarks of their European past: city gates, numerous castles and Lutheran and Catholic churches.
Kaliningrad is also a very green city. Several parts of it look almost like parks because of the exotic plants found there. Lindens, red maples, plane trees, beeches, chestnuts and hazel trees seem to have been collected from all over the world to add lush to the urban areas.
Kaliningrad is not included in the list of the main venues for the FIFA World Cup. The Kaliningrad Stadium, which can hold up to 35,000 fans, will host four group stage matches on June 16, 22, 25 and 28.
The stadium has an oval form and is situated on Oktyabrsky Island. According to its design documentation, 10,000 seats can be removed after the championship. There will be no sliding roof over the field, but there will be protective fans, which is one of FIFA's requirements. After the World Cup is over, the arena will become the home stadium of the club FC Baltika. The new stadium will be multifunctional: besides football matches, it will be able to host other competitions and concerts. Now Kaliningrad's only stadium, constructed in 1892, can only seat 16,000.
The forthcoming World Cup has inspired local authorities to make improvements to Oktyabrsky Island, which was for many centuries neglected and never served as a construction site. According to the project's plan, an entirely new district with parks, a pier and embankments along the Pregolya River will pop up around the stadium.
By plane: flights will only take about two hours, and no visa is required. This option is the most convenient both for Russian and foreign fans who are planning to visit the FIFA 2018 World Cup.
By train: an effective Shengen visa (at least a transit visa) is required. The region has no common borders with other Russian regions, only with EU countries: Poland and Lithuania. It takes almost a whole day to get from Moscow to Kaliningrad by train.
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