Okay, this is for you history buffs. Don’t turn back now!
History of Kaliningrad in More Detail
When Kaliningrad was Königsberg
From about 1250 until the Soviet takeover, the city on the Pregolya River was German. That is, until it became the capital of the dukes of Prussia.
Königsberg or ‘King’s Mountain’ grew up around the fortress built by the Teutonic Knights when Premysl Otakar II, king of Bohemia, told them it was a good idea. Though the Prussians soon wrecked it, it made a comeback. Königsberg was recognised as part of the Hanseatic League in 1300s. In the 1400s, the grand master of the Teutonic Knights took up residence. In the 1500s, dukes of Prussia lived there.
Wars damaged it, but again it came back so much so that as 1700 rolled around, the castle chapel seemed a good place for Elector Frederick III of Brandenburg to put a crown on his head and call himself king of Prussia or Frederick I. Later, Frederick William I of Prussia annexed nearby Löbenicht and Kneiphof with Königsberg making it much bigger.
The Prussians used Königsberg as a platform to give hell to Napoleon. In the 1800’s, a railway system connected to Russia gave trade a boost. Russians exported staples such as grain, seeds, flax, and hemp. It grew in importance to become the main naval base on the Baltic Sea and a key defensive outpost. 50 years of modernizing left it a showpiece as 1900 clicked in.
A university called the Collegium Albertinum was founded in the city in 1544 by Prussian duke Albert I as a “purely Lutheran” place of learning. Among its famous professors was Immanuel Kant who was born in the city in 1724. The university disappeared with the Soviet takeover, but a new University of Kaliningrad was founded in 1967.
Got To Have It!
After an unsuccessful takeover during World War I, the Russians were resolved to take it during World War II, even if it meant destroying it. A two-month siege in 1945 left in ruins the 14th-century cathedral, the grand castle of the Teutonic Knights, and the old university. But it was now the property of the U.S.S.R.
Germans Out, Russians In
The city was rebuilt and renamed Kaliningrad in 1946. It became a major industrial and commercial center, connected by a 20-mile dredged channel to an outport and naval base along the Baltic called Baltiysk. The entire German population was evicted in 1947 and settled in West and East Germany. Hundreds of thousands of new settlers, primarily from Russia and Belarus, were recruited to live in the city, helping transform the urban landscape into a mosaic of old German buildings and landmarks (including the grave site of philosopher Immanuel Kant, a monument to dramatist and poet Friedrich von Schiller, and several Gothic cathedrals) along with Soviet developments, such as multistory apartment buildings. But the city remained closed to foreigners until 1991.
Some of the local population move clothing and footwear made in Poland to the rest of Russia. The city has fishing, engineering, lumber, machinery, and papermaking industries. A special economic status that exempts most goods from customs duties was established to help the post-soviet dismal economy. Getting stuff on land between the Kaliningrad exclave and the rest of Russia is still a sore spot with Lithuania.
The people remain in the uncomfortable position of being a part of Russia landlocked by EU countries. But the Russians will never give it independence.