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Kaliningrad - Russia’s Western Outpost

Kaliningrad is the most western oblast, or province of Russia and it has been such since it became a Soviet possession following Germany’s defeat in World War II. It is located on the Baltic Sea coast between Poland and Lithuania. Kaliningrad has gone by many names in its 750-year history, most recently being known as East Prussia when it was part of Germany. Before that it was the home territory of the Teutonic Knights, a militaristic monastic order that spearheaded the Catholic Church’s Northern Crusade to Christianize the Baltic tribes in the 13th and 14th centuries. One of these pagan tribes was the Prussians, who had settled the area as far back as 300 BC. In 1255, King Otakar II of Bohemia established the city of Konigsberg on the ruins of an Old Prussian settlement called Tvangste.

Over the centuries, Konigsberg thrived as one of the cities of the Hanseatic League, a rich and powerful trading network that included cities such as Lubeck, Hamburg, Riga and even Novgorod in far northwestern Russia. Konigsberg was famous for the Royal Amber Works that processed the fossilized pine resin found on the shores of the Baltic Sea, sometimes known as the “Amber Coast”.

The allies, at the Potsdam Conference, decided the area’s fate after World War II. The southern portion of the former East Prussia was ceded to Poland while the Soviet Union retained the coastal area including the city of Konigsberg. Both were renamed Kaliningrad in 1946, in honor of Mikhail Kalinin, the recently deceased Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. Sadly, much of Konigsberg rich cultural heritage did not survive the final months of the war when the city was besieged and bombarded by the advancing Red Army. Among the monumental structures destroyed was the historic Konigsberg Castle.

The Soviet administration declared Kaliningrad off limits for foreigners for decades, during which time the German population was expelled and replaced by Russians. Reconstruction has been slow, but the pace has accelerated in recent years as the area seeks to profit from trade and tourism. Some of the main tourist attractions include the reconstructed Konigsberg Cathedral, the Brandenburg Gate, Kant Russian State University and the recently completed Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.


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