Not many people ask me. ‘How do you get to Kaliningrad?’
Well, you can simply fly there. But where’s the fun in that. And it costs. So I tend to use cheap flight destinations to the ‘new Europe’ – like Kaunas, Tallinn, Gdansk or Riga – and then take a bus.
Downside of the bus is that it’s invariably a night journey. Which means that, just as you’re nodding off, bright lights will shine in your face at the border.
Before the war, East Prussia was home to over two million people. The last of the few thousand survivors were all expelled by 1948.
The first Russian settlers of the new Kaliningrad Oblast arrived to eerie, half-empty houses in an alien landscape. Among the tiled German villas with steep gables, the Baltic sand and pines, there was nothing to remind them of Tver or Pskov. Only some makeshift signs in Russian identified their new location.
They were ill-at-ease in their allotted, unfamiliar dwellings, as if half-expecting the rightful owners to return at any moment.
Under Stalin, many Russians were ‘re-assigned’ to Kaliningrad province – such as Irina, the military prosecutor, whose husband had been denounced as an enemy of the people. Hurriedly divorcing him had not been enough to save her job or herself from relocation.
The name of her new town was printed on her ticket as Wehlau. But she arrived just as workmen were knocking its German name from the Station’s facade. She had arrived at a town without a name. She had arrived at No Such Place.
Only two short years ago, it was a delight to visit Kaliningrad. Now it’s as hard to break into the prison as it is to break out.
With their backs to the Baltic and fenced in by Schengen, nearly a million people live in what local resident Oleg describes as a ‘European Prison’.
Kaliningraders are locked out of any normal cultural and economic life with their European neighbours. Even if you can handle the interminable border crossing, the Schengen prison governors impose strict visiting times.
The crime of the Kaliningrader is being Russian. Though it was hardly pre-meditated.
Formerly Konigsberg, the city is one of the most tragic casualties of wartime. It was laid waste by RAF firebombers and then run over by the Red Army. The region’s post-war creation by the ‘Great Powers’ was as sloppy and ill-considered as that of Israel. After all this time it surely deserves better.
Panzer motorhomes massing in Northern Poland
I noted earlier that wiping Prussia off the map in 1945 was always wobbly in International Law. Many recommendations of the Potsdam Conference – which itself had no license to give away a quarter of German territory – have never been ratified. The border around Kaliningrad is just one example. Stalin drew an arbitrary line on the back of a fag packet and that’s the way it’s stayed ever since.
No one is keen to take history to court. But one wonders if ‘Germanisation’ could wrest some villages from Poland as it did in previous centuries.
Imagine a scenario. Millions of Poles are lured away to Britain on the promise of bricklaying jobs. (Check.) Germans move north and buy up abandoned property. (Check.) A village holds a snap plebiscite and, bingo. It’s East Prussia again.