Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: baltic, east prussia, kaliningrad, konigsberg, prussia, red army, soviet union, ww2
Few places jiggle me up in the historical sense as much as East Prussia. For advancing Red Army soldiers in 1944 it was the ‘lair of the fascist beast’, the first taste of the homeland of the Nazi regime that had sowed destruction and pain across vast swathes of the Soviet Union since 1941. They took their revenge accordingly.
The egg-shaped chunk of land on the south-eastern corner of the Baltic, centred on the city of Königsberg, was part of that enormous reordering of territory and people’s lives that took place after the war, little noticed on this side of Europe. The southern half was incorporated into Poland; the northern half kept, jammed between the Baltic, Lithuania (then of course within the USSR) and Poland, as Kaliningrad.
I visited the southern part as a journalist, in the run-up to Poland’s accession to the EU. Some German farmers had returned to buy up land, although I couldn’t detect much of a historic resonance in their admirably business-like decision making. I stayed in Olstyn, in a lovely old building that used to be part of what had previously been Allenstein. It was rejigged but unremarkable. I longed to visit Kaliningrad itself, to get that extra icing of Sovietness on top of the historical East Prussian cake, that air of destruction, revenge and rebuilding of a territory that had served as the ideological advance-guard for what had threatened to be the nemesis of the new workers’ paradise. I never made it, but still hope to.