Kaliningrad

History

History

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1st century

In 50AD the first written reference is made to the Sambian Peninsula, the area which would later become known as East Prussia, due to the stationing of Roman legionnaires here.

5th century

Tribes of what are now referred to as Old Prussians appear late in the 5th century AD. 

​13th century

Bohemian King Ottokar II leads the Teutonic Order in a second crusade against the Prussians, conquering a settlement by the Pregel from 1253/57. A castle is built and the area is called Königsberg in the king’s honour. In 1283 Teutonic Knights finally suppress Prussian tribes and the German colonisation of these lands begins. Gradually the indigenous Prussians mix with the new settlers and their language disappears, but the area still bears the name – Prussia.

14th century

The building of Königsberg’s cathedral begins in 1333. The three towns around the castle join the Hanseatic League in 1339. By 1384 Teutonic Knights conquer part of Lithuania. Lithuania and Poland become united by royal marriage and become a formidable superpower by 1387.

15th century

The Teutonic Knights are crushed by Polish/Lithuanian forces at the Battle of Tannenberg (known as the Battle of Grunwald in Polish) in 1410. By 1440 the Order is in crisis; towns and nobles form a breakaway alliance which then pledges allegiance to the Polish crown. In 1454 a 13-year war begins between this alliance and the Teutonic Order. The financially exhausted Grand Masters of the Teutonic Order lose their capital in Marienburg (today Polish Malbork) and take up residence in Königsberg. In 1466 the Order loses territory to Poland and the Grandmaster is forced to pledge loyalty to Poland.

16-17th centuries

In 1511, 21-year-old Albrecht, Markgraf von Brandenburg, whose aim is to free Prussia from Poland, becomes head of the Order. In 1525 Albrecht resigns turning the Order’s lands into a secular Protestant state. His uncle King Sigismund I of Poland crowns him head of this state, the Duchy of Prussia, under Poland. Albrecht founds Königsberg Univeristy in 1544 as well as numerous schools across the state. Albrecht dies in 1568 and is succeeded by his son Albrecht Friederich, who begins to show signs of mental illness within years of taking the title. For the next forty years the Duchy is ruled by a series of regents and it is during this period that Prussia is united with the German state of Brandenburg when one of these regents, Joachim III Friederich marries Albrecht’s eldest daughter. Joachim III Friederich’s eldest son from an earlier marriage, Johann Sigismund, succeeds him as regent in 1611 and then becomes Duke of Prussia after Albrecht Friederich’s death in 1618. In 1626 Prussia is attacked and plundered by Swedish forces. For the next 100 years the Baltic countries battle for supremacy on the waves.

18-19th centuries

Frederich III of Brandenburg is crowned Frederich I, King in Prussia (note not of Prussia) in Königsberg Castle in 1701, when the electors of Brandenburg choose Königsberg as the seat of the Prussian crown. Königsberg is chosen because of its remote position outside of the Holy Roman Empire (within which they are obliged to ask the Austrian Holy Roman Emperor for his permission). This event elevates Königsberg despite the new kings maintaining their main residence in Berlin.
From 1709 to 1711 the Plague claims the lives of a quarter of the population. In 1724 the towns of Aldstadt, Kneiphof and Löbenicht unite to form the city of Königsberg while the city’s most famous son, Immanuel Kant is also born in this year. In 1756 the Seven Years’ War between Prussia, Austria and Russia results in the defeat of Prussia and the occupation of Königsberg by Russia which lasts until the end of the war in 1763 when Russia abandons the city. 

Following Prussia’s defeat to Napoleon in 1806, Frederich Wilhelm III and his court flee from Berlin to Königsberg and in 1807 Frederich asks Russian Tsar Alexander I for military assistance. The Russians are defeated at the Battle of Friedland (today the battlefield is located close to the town of Pravdinsk in the Kaliningrad Oblast) and make peace with Napoleon. The French occupy all Prussian territory and Frederich and Queen Louise flee to Memel (Klaipeda in today’s Lithuania). Prussia is decimated by Napoleon in the subsequent treaties and Königsberg remains under French rule until Napoleon’s failed invasion of Russia in 1812-13. Königsberg grows in importance serving as the capital of the Province of Prussia. In 1843 construction begins on what is now the Inner Ring of fortifications and this huge project eventually sees the construction of eleven bastions, three ravelins, two towers, defence barracks and fortified gates which is completed in 1859. The opening of the Berlin – St Petersburg railway in 1860 increases commerce in the city. In 1871 Königsberg becomes part of the German Empire following a Prussian led unification of the German speaking states. In 1872 the construction of a second defensive belt of fortifications, which we refer to as the Outer Ring, begins on the outskirts of the city which by 1888 stretchs for 43km and consists of a sophisticated network of twelve giant forts and four intermediate fortifications. 

20th century

The end of World War I sees Germany lose territory in the east as Poland regains her independence after 123 years of partition. Poland is ceded a narrow strip of land to connect it to the sea which becomes known as the ‘Polish Corridor’. The ‘corridor’ separates East Prussia and Königsberg from the rest of Germany. 

Königsberg embraces the Nazis in the 1930s and in 1933, they win 54% of the votes in the city. Opposition politicians are persecuted as is the city’s Jewish community. The New Synagogue, built in 1896, is destroyed during Kristallnacht on November 9, 1938. With Germany’s attack on neighbouring Poland resulting in the start of World War II, Poles, Jews and other ‘undesirable elements’ are rounded up and either sent to nearby concentration camps or forced into slave labour. The city’s Jews face the same fate as Jews all over Europe and following the Wannsee Conference of January 1942, most are deported to camps in occupied Poland. 

During the summer of 1944 the city is heavily bombed over several days at the end of August by British bombers. This causes severe damage to the city’s historic centre;  the cathedral and castle are reduced to hollow shells. The advance of the Red Army creates panic in the city and thousands begin to flee west ahead of its arrival on the outskirts of the city in January 1945. The Germans desperately try to keep lines of escape open across the frozen Curonian Lagoon or the ice to Pillau (today Baltiysk) for the hundreds of thousands of civilians and military personnel initially encircled in Königsberg by the Red Army’s advance. By March Königsberg is hundreds of miles away from the main front line but continues to try to fight off the Red Army who have the city besieged. The Soviets, led by Marshalls Aleksander Vasilyevskiy and Konstantin Rokossovskiy and consisting of men and women of the 1st Baltic Front and the 3rd Belorussian Front, opt for an assault on the city rather than a siege. An estimated 130,000 German troops faced them and the rings of fortresses, which had been considered to have become obsolete decades earlier with the advances in artillery, were a formidable obstacle. The Soviets launched their assault in the early hours of April 6, following days of heavy artillery bombardment, from numerous points around the city. The Soviets met heavy resistance particularly in the areas of Fort 5 and Fort 8 but progress was made in many parts of the city. A request at the end of the second day from General Otto Lasch to Adolf Hitler for permission to surrender was refused while elsewhere Soviet offers of surrender were refused by German troops who instead tried to force a break out. The assault finally ended on the fourth day after city centre positions became overwhelmed and General Lasch, on his own initiative, surrendered the city. By this point 80 percent of the city and 90 percent of the old town had been destroyed. Following the capture of Konigsberg on April 9, 1945 great celebrations are held in Moscow to celebrate the event, and a medal ‘For the capture of Konigsberg’ is created as one of the Soviet Union’s highest honours of the Great Patriotic War. Over the next two years the remaining German population is expelled.    

Joseph Stalin gains agreement for the remains of Königsberg to be given to the USSR at the Potsdam Conference and in the autumn of 1945, the first Soviet settlers begin to arrive. In July 1946 the city is renamed Kaliningrad, after Mikhail Kalinin, one of the original Bolsheviks. Rebuilding of the city begins in the socialist style and the 1960s and 70s see the ruins of some surviving historic buildings, including the smashed remains of Königsberg Castle dynamited to make way for utilitarian structures, such as the House of the Soviets. Kaliningrad becomes the home of the Soviet Baltic Fleet and is closed to foreign visitors. In 1957 an agreement is signed with Poland clarifying the border between the two countries. 

In the late 1980s ethnic Germans begin to arrive from other parts of the Soviet Union and by 1991, 13,000 are estimated to be living in the Oblast.
Kaliningrad is re-opened to the outside world on January 1, 1991 when the first direct train since 1945 runs from Kaliningrad to Berlin. Kaliningrad finds itself cut off from the rest of Russia with the declaration of independence by the Baltic States. It is designated as a ‘Free Economic Zone’ in an attempt to address the failing economy and desperate living standards and social conditions but things get worse, not helped by a presidential decree signed by Boris Yeltsin in 1995 which ‘accidentally’ abolishes all the economic privileges set up under the 1992 FEZ (he later creates a new Special Economic Zone to encourage investment).

Kaliningrad develops a reputation as a dirty, dangerous place and leads Russia in AIDS cases with July 27, 1998 seeing the first needle exchange opened to try to combat the spread of HIV. An economic crisis hits the Russian economy on August 17, 1998 and banks go bankrupt, savers lose their deposits, prices surge by 30 percent and the Ruble devalues. By September it is estimated that most of the population is starving and a state of emergency is declared. Kaliningrad receives humanitarian aid from neighbouring countries. It is rumoured that the Russian government offered to sell Kaliningrad to the Germans during the 1990s and in March 1999, Governor Gorbienko opposes the idea that Kaliningrad become the ‘fourth Baltic State’.

The establishment of the Special Economic Zone begins to have an effect and coincides with the arrival on the political scene of President Vladimir Putin in May 2000. Mr Putin’s, now former, wife Lyudmila Shkrebneva is a native of Kaliningrad and the city becomes increasingly affluent as its special tax conditions and the support of the First Lady attract lots of foreign and Russian manufacturers. In 2005 Russian and German leaders, Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel, meet to mark the city's 750th anniversary. Although Kaliningrad sees itself become even more isolated from mainland Russia with the accession of its neighbours Poland and Lithuania into first NATO (1999 and 2002 respectively) and then the EU in 2004, the Oblast develops a reputation as a more European Russia, with many residents holding Schengen visas and a 2011 agreement with neighbours Poland creates a special visa-free zone on either side of the border which makes movement easier and increases cross-border trade.

In December 2010 Russia is awarded the 2018 FIFA Football World Cup and in 2014 Kaliningrad is confirmed as one of the host cities for the tournament. The Kaliningrad Stadium is built for the event and opens in early 2018 while the city undergoes a major construction programme to improve infrastructure, improvements which can already be seen benefiting the city's inhabitants.

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