In daytime, the main avenues of Kaliningrad—wide enough to allow ten tanks abreast to pass a reviewing stand—are half deserted. Traffic is sparse. Before the Russians took it over in 1945, this ice-free Baltic seaport was the ancient German city of Königsberg, the historic capital of East Prussia and one of the more attractive towns of the German empire. Recently there has even been talk of Germany taking the city back. But now the barren monotony and inhuman scale of Communist urban planning make Kaliningrad—the phantom of a city without any visible center—possibly one of the ugliest places in the world. Four hundred thousand inhabitants—70 percent transient sailors, fishermen, and members of the Russian armed forces and their dependents—live here in monotonous apartment blocks, crumbling mountainranges of tar and cement and peeling plaster, gray on gray.
The public squares, as in most cities built by the Soviets after the war, are vast, each large enough to accommodate almost the entire population. Loudspeakers left over from the old Communist public-address system still dangle from their poles. There are no mass rallies nowadays and the loud-speakers are rarely if ever used. But the statue of M.I. Kalinin, a former president of the Soviet Union (he is said to have sent his own wife to the Gulag), is still standing in a vast square outside the railroad station. The city was named for him in 1945 after its capture by the Red Army in fierce street fighting with the Wehrmacht and its annexation by the Soviet Union. A giant statue of Lenin is also still standing on Ploshchad Pobedy (Victory Square)—the former Adolf-Hitler-Platz.
Founded in 1255 by knights of the Teutonic Order on rising ground above the river Pregel (now called Pregolya), Königsberg was the seat of a famous Lutheran university. In the countryside nearby were some of the largest and finest estates of the Prussian military aristocracy. In this quintessentially Germanic region the proverbial Prussian virtues of duty and discipline and austere living were cultivated in huts and manor houses, while in the city itself the dukes and the kings of Prussia were crowned. Immanuel Kant was born here in 1724, and he hardly ever left. At the university he taught not only philosophy, but geography and math as well. Johann Gottfried Herder, a Lutheran minister’s son who also taught here, almost single-handedly invented pan-German nationalism as the expression of the “spirit” of language and folksong and poetry.
Königsberg was an important garrison town, where generations of Prussian officers were trained in blind, ungrudging obedience to the word of command. Yet among young graduates of its military academy were also some of the spirited, if ineffective, aristocratic officers who conspired to launch the coup against Hitler’s tyranny on July 20, 1944.
Driving through today’s city, you would never guess how pretty Königsberg was. Old photographs show a scenic place, with a busy harbor, several fine churches, picturesque wharfs, and stately embankments and promenades along the river. On the hilltop stood the Prussian royal palace with its imposing crenelated towers. In the middle of the river was a densely built-up island whose narrow lanes, lined with medieval frame houses, led to the great brick Gothic cathedral in which the Prussian kings were crowned. Its grotesque ruin survives today in the middle of the completely empty island, with Kant’s relatively well-preserved tombstone on the wall of the southwestern corner.
Nearly everything else has disappeared. When the Red Army stormed it in 1945, roughly a third of the old town was still standing and there were 120,000 remaining Germans. By 1947, the last of these had been deported to Germany or Kazakhstan, along with neighboring East Prussian farmers, many of whom died. Stalin ordered the old center of Prussian militarism bulldozed, leveled, and completely rebuilt as a model socialist city, to be resettled by Russians, Lithuanians, Georgians, Ukrainians, and other New Soviet Men and Women. Not all came voluntarily. Some were inmates of gulags ordered to settle in Kaliningrad after years of forced labor in the nearby swamps. The population today is still some twenty percent below its prewar level of 480,000.
The future of the Kaliningrad Province, or Oblast, one of Russia’s thirty-nine increasingly autonomous provinces, is currently a matter of intense debate. The sudden collapse of the Soviet empire made Kaliningrad the last bit of territory (a mere 4,200 square miles) left over from Stalin’s vast territorial gains in Eastern Europe during the Second World War. But Kaliningrad is now cut off from “mainland” Russia, to which it formally belongs, by hundreds of miles of newly independent Lithuanian, Latvian, and Belarus territory. (See map on opposite page.)
separated from it by hundreds of miles
Only a few of the people I saw believe Kaliningrad should go on being governed directly by Moscow. They talk of Kaliningrad becoming an “independent” Baltic state, of “full autonomy” as a new “Republic of Prussia” within the Russian federation, of a joint German-Russian condominium, or of outright Anschluss with Germany. Like the officials of several other Russian regional governments, the local administrators here have become more independent of Moscow in recent months, and some are now actively courting virtually every prominent German businessman, journalist, or missionary who visits the city.
“Kaliningrad must become Königsberg again,” I was told by Arsenij Gulyga, a prominent Russian philosopher who is now the leading Russian authority on Kant. Gulyga recalls with some irony that as a young Soviet officer in 1945, he had been one of the “liberators” of the city. Now, he says, “it would be the most natural thing in the world” if the city would revert to Germany again. Geographically, it is nearer to Berlin (400 miles) than to St. Petersburg (512 miles) or Moscow (more than 600 miles). Historically, it remains a German city, he says. Gulyga would also like to see the tsarist monarchy restored.
There is a persistent rumor in Kaliningrad, as well as in the Baltic countries, that an East Prussian “government in exile” has already been formed by right-wing German politicians. At the same time nationalists in both Warsaw and Vilnius are laying claim to parts of the Kaliningrad Autonomous Province, which they consider “historically” Polish or Lithuanian. In Warsaw last summer I saw leaflets calling for the return of Kaliningrad (Krolewiec) to Mother Poland; a few weeks later, in Vilnius, people were referring to the eastern parts of the Kaliningrad region as “Little Lithuania.” The Lithuanian ambassador to Washington provoked a minor storm last year when he announced that Little Lithuania was an empty space and could be taken over by his country immediately.
Several people I talked to speculated that Russia might sell the former Königsberg to the Germans for money—a temptation which the Moscow English-language weekly New Times described last year as possibly “too strong to resist.” According to one view of German politics, past and present—which by now may be a misleading stereotype—“Prussia” and “Königsberg” are central or permanent features of the German national psyche. “Can Kohl really refuse a Russian offer to restore Königsberg?” a Polish diplomat in Warsaw asked me. He may be overestimating Germany’s wealth after reunification or the true extent of its economic or strategic designs in the East. President Yeltsin is thought to be sufficiently unconventional, and hard-pressed for Western currency, to entertain the idea of a sale for which there is a well-known precedent—the Russian sale of Alaska to the United States in 1872.
On the other hand, if Germany should reacquire East Prussia and Königsberg this might undermine the entire postwar border pattern in Eastern Europe and revive fears of German expansionism. “Poland will strongly oppose it,” a Polish diplomat says. According to a joke circulating last summer, pessimists in Kaliningrad are taking lessons in Polish and optimists lessons in German, while realists are learning how to shoot Kalashnikov submachine guns. (In fact, nearly 75 percent of the students at the state university have signed up for German courses.)
The city’s economy is in a state of collapse. The average monthly pay went down from sixteen dollars a month last summer to an estimated nine dollars a month now, and a Russian army major makes only slightly more than twice that amount. On the Lenin Prospect I saw soldiers in uniform selling gasoline from an army petrol tank to civilian motorists. There is a thriving black market in military equipment. Western diplomats claim that in Kaliningrad you can buy yourself a missile (“there are more missiles here than trees”) or a tank, if you so wish, and perhaps even nuclear fuel or a nuclear device. A Western diplomat told me that dozens of nuclear devices formerly located in the Kaliningrad area remain unaccounted for.
The port’s nuclear submarines have been transferred to the Arctic Sea or decommissioned, but there are many rumors—most of them ugly ones—about the condition and safety of these decommissioned nuclear submarines, and of the shorebased reactors that used to produce their fuel. The total amount of radioactive materials in them is said to be many times greater than that in the crippled unit at Chernobyl. In the Russian press there have been warnings of the danger of “dozens of Chernobyls” erupting in Russian naval bases in the Arctic and Baltic seas. One morning I visited Admiral Vladimir Yegorov, the officer commanding the Russian Baltic fleet, in his office on the outskirts of Kaliningrad. I asked if there was substance in these warnings. Or was the press perhaps exaggerating? “The situation is even more serious than as reported in the press,” the admiral replied.
Early each morning, thousands line up outside the state-owned food shops where the shelves are often bare. There are long lines for the bus, which sometimes never arrives and often has no room for more passengers when it does. Lines of a different sort form every morning at some of the main intersections: hundreds of elderly woman and men, mostly state pensioners, stand about for hours with a little something in their hands they are hoping to sell: a bottle of Coke, a jar of preserved cucumbers, a handful of berries, a wilted cauliflower wrapped in a piece of torn newspaper.
Almost every night graves are dug up and robbed by thieves who come to the cemeteries with metal detectors, looking for rings and other valuables and for gold teeth which they pry off with hammers and pliers. The police seem to do nothing to prevent this. I visited the Kaliningrad police chief, Colonel Viktor Shoshnikov, in his office. A tough-looking man, with a habit of quoting Dostoevsky and Solzhenitsyn, he was sitting behind a large oak desk—before 1945 it may have served a German police chief—on which were many telephones. Keys dangled from his broad belt.
Shoshnikov began by lamenting that the crime rate in Kaliningrad had risen sharply since the beginning of glasnost and perestroika. Perestroika and the “Americanization of journalism” were inspiring permissiveness, pornography, prostitution, and capital crimes. The entire Kaliningrad region, he said, was infested by “a plague of Smerdyakovs,” referring to the feebleminded, sinister half brother of the Karamazovs. People had never been afraid to go out at night, Shoshnikov said. Now they are.
At night, the streets are dim. Nearly all electric power is imported from neighboring Lithuania, which is threatening to charge hard currency for it soon. In the bluish uncertain light cast by neon and quartz street lamps, many of them damaged, the few souls still about throw weird shadows on the ground, and the atmosphere, grim and gloomy at best in daytime, is now even gloomier. On Prospekt Mira, outside the rickety old Hotel Moskwa where I was staying, drunks were hollering in the dark long after midnight. I watched them stagger over the potholes in the road, throwing bottles against the walls and shouting obscenities at one another. Drug addicts passed the night on the scraggly lawn nearby. According to a recent report in the liberal local newsweekly Mirror, a former samizdat publication, Kaliningrad is the “No. 1 drug city” in the former Soviet Union. When I asked Colonel Shoshnikov about that he said that Kaliningrad is number one on the list only because it is the only major city reporting true statistics; all the others were cheating.
One cannot escape an uncanny feeling of the existence of the old Königsberg, like the negative of a damaged photograph, lying ten to twenty feet underneath the city’s surface, covered with rubble from the war and from Stalin’s bulldozers. If the huge mass of debris were cleared away the old topography, now flattened out, would come into view, with its natural hills and dips, its landscaped river basins and embankments. Buried under the Lumumba and Friedrich Engels Sport Centers, under the Gamal Abdul Nasser Park and Oktober Revolution Housing Estates Nos. 1–9, the old town has survived only in the city’s historical museum, where models of the 1945 street battles accompanied by sound effects convey an idea of the burning city’s center, drowned in gunfire, at the moment of its capture by the Red Army.
Until the spring of 1991, Kaliningrad was a Soviet “security zone,” known as the “Silent Swamp,” since it was very difficult to visit and few people knew what was going on in the many military installations there. The region was closed to foreigners, except possibly spies, and even to most Russians except by special permit. Much of the rich farmland—before the war East Prussia was Germany’s corn granary—lay fallow. Some three hundred abandoned German villages that had engaged in farming before the war were never resettled. During the early Sixties, oil was found east of the city but it was hardly developed. Nor was Kaliningrad’s economic potential exploited, with its opportune geographic location at the westernmost point of the Soviet Union and its great port, as a link between Russia and Central Europe. Instead, the place was turned into one of the Soviet Union’s main military and naval bases.
According to a report published last spring in Moscow News, if war with the West had broken out, the main task of the Soviet Baltic fleet would have been to capture the Danish Straits and seal off the Baltic Sea. Between 1945 and 1991, no Western cargo ship was allowed into either Kaliningrad waters or those of nearby Baltijsk (the former Prussian Pillau). The city is still a military fiefdom, headquarters of the 11th Army of the Guards, and seat of the admiral commanding the Russian Baltic fleet. The Baltic fleet, according to Admiral Yegorov, is expected nowadays to cover part of its maintenance costs by transporting civilian and foreign cargo and renting out ships to Western entrepreneurs and organizers of entertainments such as company anniversaries or wedding parties.
Throughout the city and its environs, the traffic on the streets is largely military. In the countryside, one drives past parked tanks and camouflaged installations behind seemingly endless barbed-wire fences. Since the withdrawal of Russian troops from Germany, Poland, and the Baltic states, there is an even greater military presence. According to one Western estimate, close to a quarter million troops are now stationed here. All this, according to a Western diplomat in Warsaw, may reflect not only the difficulties of absorbing the army into Russia, but the extent of the Russians’ self-consciousness and unease in this arch-Germanic spot.
Poland and the Soviet Union have treated the former German territories they took over after 1945 very differently. Many historic German cities in those territories suffered severe damage during the war. In the parts of Prussia (and Silesia) that fell under Polish rule (and from which some six million Germans were expelled) the Poles made a conscious effort to absorb the German past. Claiming that in these “regained Polish historical lands” Polish burghers and peasants had always been the majority, the Poles managed to make that past over into their own. Very carefully, even lovingly, and at great cost, they restored and in some cases rebuilt from scratch famous ancient German universities and Lutheran domed churches (they are now Catholic), castles, guildhouses, town halls, and Hanseatic burghers’ mansions. The effort at rebuilding German ruins as Polish national monuments has been going on for decades; by now, the brand new Gothic or Baroque buildings have acquired their own patina and look genuine and old. Even that great symbol of German military colonialism in the East, the palatial castle of the Grand Masters of the Order of Teutonic Knights at Malbork (the former Marienburg) in East Prussia, has been restored as a major Polish historical landmark.1
The Russians, apparently for ideological reasons, including their hostility to religion, and perhaps also from a sense of insecurity that the Poles did not share, systematically effaced nearly every remaining trace of German art and history in Kaliningrad. Churches, in particular, were the object of Soviet distaste. The Lutheran Kreuzkirche, which had survived the war almost intact, served until recently as a factory for smoked fish. The main Catholic church in the city was converted into a concert hall. Other churches were blown up or dismantled. In the outskirts, an old city gate was left standing, the scene of long-forgotten skirmishes with the Swedes during the Seven Years’ War, last restored under “the gracious reign” of Wilhelm II in 1889, according to a still legible plaque on the wall; 1889, incidentally, was the year Hitler was born. A few medieval forts have also survived, as have some of the stately German villas in the suburbs, which are now occupied by high-ranking Russian army officers and members of the old Communist elite. With few exceptions, the major public monuments, including Kant’s statue, were melted down.
In one case, a Prussian grand elector’s headless torso was turned into a Russian monument by sticking Field Marshal Kutuzov’s head on it; it can now be seen in the Oktober Revolution Quarter. Extensive remains of the former royal palace were still standing in 1969, and, according to Yuri Zabuga, a local architect, it could and should have been restored. Instead, it was bulldozed away. The bleak skeleton of a projected House of the Soviets has stood in its place unfinished for the past fifteen years, a monstrous eyesore twenty-two stories high, visible from nearly everywhere in the city. No trace is left of the many stone fountains that were still more or less intact after the war. “If I were dropped in this town by parachute, and asked where I was I would answer: perhaps in Irkutsk,” wrote Marion Gräfin Dönhoff, publisher of Hamburg’s liberal weekly Die Zeit, in 1989, on her first visit since 1945. She had grown up on an estate a few miles outside Königsberg. “Nothing, absolutely nothing, reminds you of the old Königsberg. At no point could I have said, this was once the Paradeplatz [where Kant’s old university stood], or here stood the Schloss. It is as though a picture has been painted over; no one knows that underneath there had once been a different scene.”
In the former Paradeplatz, now an open space of cement blocks and tarred walks and a few dusty trees, I followed a group of German tourists down a flight of stairs into an underground bunker, now preserved as a war museum, where the last German commander of “Festung (fortress) Königsberg” capitulated to the Russians on April 9, 1945. Maps, photographs, and a diorama with toy soldiers and flickering lights recall the fierce fighting in the burning streets and the heavy casualties on both sides. A photocopy of the capitulation agreement is on view, and it stipulates, among other things, that each German officer is allowed to take into captivity as many suitcases as he and his servant are able to carry.
The German tourists spent a few minutes in the bunker and soon climbed back up to take their seats on their bus. A few young boys crowded the exit outside and shyly tugged at their sleeves. They pulled from their sleeves. They pulled from their shabby coat pockets little German medallions and other souvenirs dug up in the rubble, old silver spoons, combs, coins, military buttons, and rank insignia they were hoping to sell. There was also an elderly, one-armed Russian, who was offering Red Army battle medals, his own, he claimed, at thirty-five deutsche marks each. He had won one at Kiev, he said, and another in April 1945, outside Berlin.
The Hotel Moskwa, where I was staying, was a crumbling old hostel with dusty curtains and threadbare carpets on wooden floorboards that creaked underfoot. The seedy little rooms came with small radio loudspeakers screwed to the wall which could only be turned louder or softer, never completely off, and were wired to receive only one local station that endlessly repeated the hit tunes of a local rock group named American Boys. In the long corridors, the stale air smelled of cigarette butts and cleaning fluid. On the walls were photographs of Kant’s tomb and of the beaches at the nearby Batlic resorts of Zelednogradsk (the former Bad Crenz) and Svetlogorsk (Rauschen), where Thomas Mann is said to have vacationed in the Twenties and where high-ranking Russian naval officers now have their summer houses.
One day, coming out of my room on the second floor of the hotel, which was reserved for foreigners, I encountered an elderly German tourist from West Berlin who called out “Guten Morgen” and then told me in an assured tone that the Hotel Moskwa had been a German office building before the war, the headquarters of a big insurance company named Continental. This he knew for certain, he said. He himself was a Berliner but his wife was a native of Königsberg and knew the city. We walked down the stairs together and in a more casual tone he added that there was no doubt, no doubt whatsoever, that Königsberg would soon be German again. “It is in the stars,” he said. “And in the books. As De Gaulle put it, everything in the world changes, except geography.” The Russians themselves must be conscious of this, he said. “They can’t really believe it possible for the city of Immanuel Kant to be a Russian city. It is an absurdity.”
“It’s happened before,” I suggested. In the eighteenth century, after the Seven Years’ War, when Königsberg fell briefly to the Russians, Kant himself and the entire university faculty voluntarily took an oath of allegiance to the “Illustrious and All Powerful Empress of All Russians, Elisabeth Petrovna etc etc” and to her heir, the future Peter III. I had just read that in a newly available English translation of Arsenij Gulyga’s biography of Kant. He replied: “That doesn’t count. The wars of the eighteenth century never affected ordinary people. And there was no nationalism then.”
In Germany, in recent years, there has been a revival of interest in Prussia and Prussianism. The bones of Frederick the Great, which had been evacuated by the Nazis to West Germany to escape falling into Russian hands, were carried back to Potsdam in 1993 and, in the presence of Chancellor Kohl, ceremoniously reinterred next to the Emperor’s greyhounds in the park of Sans Souci. Prussia continues to haunt the German imagination. It figures in all sorts of German myths, good and bad. The Prussian tradition of public service—the plotters against Hitler had been Prussian noblemen—is pitted against Prussian worship of discipline and authoritarianism. A powerful West German lobby advances the right of former Prussians to repossess the old Heimat, or at the very least, be compensated for lost property. The revival of interest in Prussia, highlighted recently also by three unusually extravagant exhibitions in Berlin—on Prussia in Europe, on Bismarck the Iron Chancellor, and on the last Kaiser, Wilhelm II—has been interpreted as possibly reflecting a revival of nationalism in Germany, especially since reunification.
In Kaliningrad I was told that since the city was opened to outsiders in 1991, some forty thousand German visitors had passed through, many of them former residents of Königsberg or members of former Königsberg families who wanted to see their Prussian homeland. The traffic was increasing all the time and was known in the trade as Heimwehtourismus—homesickness-tourism. To help German visitors find their way in the rebuilt city, a 1941 street plan, with its Herman-Goering-Strasse and Adolf-Hitler-Platz has recently been published, not by a German neo-Nazi but by an enterprising private printer in St. Petersburg.
When I joined a bus full of German tourists in Kaliningrad one morning, the Intourist guide on duty, a good-looking young woman borrowed for the day from the German department of Kaliningrad State University, systematically called out the names of old German streets—Hansaring, Steindamm, Junkerstrasse, Reichsplatz. Perhaps because the guide was so well informed, the tourists asked few questions. Like many young people in Kaliningrad today she referred to the city by its old name, Königsberg. She had never liked Kalinin anyway, she said. Kalinin had ordered that little children caught stealing a slice of bread be shot.
For many years, she said, talk about Kaliningrad’s German past had been frowned upon. As recently as 1984, the Party newspaper would not publish an article, written by a colleague of hers, a philosopher, on the occasion of Kant’s 260th birthday. She pointed resentfully into the empty air at long vanished landmarks. But, she said proudly, a number of concerned citizens of Kaliningrad had been successful in at least saving the ruined dome of the cathedral, even though Brezhnev himself, on a brief visit to the city in 1980, had given instructions to tear down the “rotten tooth.”
During my stay I came to know some of the Heimweh-tourists who stayed at the hotel. They were fairly well-to-do people, most of them past retirement age. Self-conscious, even a little cowed, they wandered about the dilapidated city, complaining only of the smell everywhere of unclean lavatories and rotting food. Every morning around nine they walked out of the hotel in smart sports clothes, living advertisements for a free market economy, armed with the latest miniature video cameras and pocketfuls of deutsche marks in small change to hand out as tips as they went along. Shirtless little boys ran after them crying, “Bitte, bitte! Eine Mark, Eine Mark, Bitte!” They also toured the nearby countryside around Kaliningrad, which has changed the least. The roads, laid out long ago in seemingly endless straight lines by Prussian engineers, are lined with tall trees standing at exact intervals, like soldiers. Picturesque horse carts rattle on the old cobblestones and storks nest atop old telegraph poles. Flocks of white geese graze on the stubble fields. A woman from Düsseldorf said: “It’s the world of yesterday. You don’t see such sights any more in West Germany.” The ancient trees that surrounded the noble estates outside the city still stand but the manor houses were burned down or have collapsed.
In Kaliningrad itself word has gotten around that the Heimweh-tourists are in no way anxious, as some local people had feared, to reclaim their former family houses that are now part of the squalid housing estates of Kaliningrad. Hence encounters between former and present day residents of Kaliningrad are often quite friendly and sometimes Germans and Russians get rather emotional. The Germans often come to visit their old houses with American cigarettes, six-packs of German beer, Würstel, cosmetics, and other small presents.
At the common breakfast table in the hotel the Heimweh-tourists discussed their experiences and impressions. They were hardly a cross-section of ordinary Germans. A middle-aged lawyer from Munich said he represented an organization called Union of Propertied Nobleman (Verband des Besitzenden Adels). But the same Heimat-polemics that one hears in Germany are also heard in Kaliningrad. When a man in his sixties, who said he had escaped from the small East Prussian town of Allenstein (today the Polish Olsztyn), complained of Russian barbarism, another man in the group told him not to forget that Hitler had been the principal reason for his loss and had, at the same time, condemned all of Eastern Europe to forty-five years of Communist tyranny. When a Berlin businessman said that Realpolitik made it imperative that Königsberg revert to Germany, a woman from Hanover, a retired school teacher, burst out: “Realpolitik is just a nasty German word meaning the domination of the weak by the strong.”
The new self-assurance of some Germans after reunification and the collapse of Soviet power in Eastern Europe was also evident. One man said: “In 1945 we left Königsberg totally defeated. Now we come back completely victorious. We’ll just buy this place. How much do you think it’ll cost us in real money?” A woman said: “We saw our house. It’s in a terrible shape. The bathtub Father got shortly before the war is gone too.” The businessman from Berlin was the most militant. I asked him why he was so insistent that the lost territories in the East be returned to Germany. Wasn’t Germany a happier and more prosperous country nowadays than ever before in its history? “You don’t need East Prussia,” I said. He looked at me disdainfully. Then he said solemnly, as though reciting a wellknown text: “Need is not a historical category.”
A woman born in the Rhineland said that in 1941, as a six-year-old child, she had been evacuated to her aunt’s house in Königsberg because Königsberg was safer from air raids than Düsseldorf. When the Russians came she escaped with her aunt over the half-frozen Mazurian lakes. Her aunt fell through the ice and drowned. She said that she had now visited several times with the people who now occupied her aunt’s house. They felt “guilty” about living in someone else’s house, she said, but they were soulful, emotional people, and she was sentimental too and got along well with them. “We agreed,” she said, “that we are all losers.” Her Heimat was elsewhere now.
But Heimat continues to be a charged term in the German language. Even so liberal a writer as Marion Gräfin Dönhoff, who has devoted a lifetime to fighting right-wing romantic nationalism and to promoting responsible democratic citizenship, has cherished Heimat in her own way. The Federal Republic, she wrote in 1970, was well worth supporting and defending because it is a free and open society “but it is not Heimat.” After diplomatic relations were established between Germany and Poland, with the implied recognition of the new frontiers, Countess Dönhoff, the former proprietor and heiress of vast estates in East Prussia, wrote:
Farewell to Prussia, then? No, for the spiritual Prussia must continue to be active in this era of materialist desires, otherwise this state which we call Federal Republic of Germany will not survive.
When she publicly proposed last year the establishment of a Polish-Lithuanian-Russian-German condominium in Kaliningrad, the members of the editorial board of Die Zeit—including the former chancellor Helmut Schmidt—vehemently protested and, after reporting this reaction herself, she has not repeated her proposal in print.
“We call ourselves Russians, but we are not really Russians,” the Kaliningrad writer Yuri Ivanov told me. Ivanov is the author of several books on Kaliningrad and head of the apparently well-endowed Kaliningrad Cultural Foundation. He and an increasing number of Kaliningrad intellectuals would like to free the city from what they call its “historical unconsciousness.” Ivanov was born in Leningrad in 1929. He survived the German siege and famine there and arrived in Kaliningrad in 1945 as a sixteen-year-old soldier in the Soviet army and never left. “How could we be Russians, living where we do? I have no friends in Russia. We were never Soviets either. The so-called Soviet Man was an illusion. Our roots here are only forty-five years deep. We live in a historic German city. Those who lived here before us are our countrymen.” Still, he adds, “We are not Germans either. Perhaps we are Balts.”
Nevertheless he felt closer, he said, to Germans than to the highly nationalistic Lithuanians and other Balts. And he did not like Marion Dönhoff’s plan of a Polish-Lithuanian-Russian-German condominium in Kaliningrad. “Who needs the Lithuanians?” he exclaimed. “I fear them much more than I fear the Germans.” He envied the Poles who had rebuilt Danzig in all its past splendor. “It could have been done here too…Kaliningrad ought to be an autonomous republic within the Russian federation. We must get rid of the name. Kalinin was an evil man,” Ivanov said. “As in Leningrad, we must bring back the old name of the city—Königsberg. It’s a historical necessity.”
In the countryside, German missionaries wander from town to town with mobile altars and electric organs and gift parcels from Germany. One Sunday morning, as I was passing through Chernyakhovsk (the former Insterburg), a small town near the Lithuanian border, I happened upon a German Apostolic Church revivalist meeting. Outside the old German Rathhaus some three hundred people were holding a prayer meeting. Many were young Russian soldiers in uniform. Electronic music wafted over a sea of bare heads. Banners and slogans hung between the dilapidated old buildings. The service was conducted in German from the back of a truck specially converted to serve as an altar and hold an electric organ. The minister paused frequently to allow for a Russian translation. Later, people lined up to receive small parcels filled with German biscuits or little plastic toys.
German Catholic missionaries are also active. They use as their headquarters an otherwise empty lot in the center of Kaliningrad where a priest and a dozen lay volunteers live in a few large metal boxes and prefabricated huts. Hans Schmidt, a layman from Wuppertal in West Germany, told me that they do social work in the city’s hospitals. Several times a week they hold services in the villages and hear confessions in three languages, Russian, Lithuanian, and German. Tens of thousands of Russians who are ethnically German live in Kaliningrad, he said. More were arriving daily from Kazakhstan, where they had been deported from their historic villages on the Volga River by Stalin during the war. They hope that Kaliningrad will soon be restored to Germany or become an autonomous region.
“We are here to reconcile Germans and Russians through Jesus Christ,” said Mr. Schmidt. “If the industry of the Germans doesn’t make them arrogant and if the Russians’ naiveté—they are like children—doesn’t lead them into mistakes, the love of God will cause the establishment here of an independent state. It will be modeled on the ancient Order of Teutonic Knights—not because the Knights were German but because, like us now, they spread the word of God in the pagan darkness of Königsberg.”
The new magic words in Kaliningrad are Königsberg and Immanuel Kant. There are recurring calls for a referendum on going back to the city’s former name. “We are all of us Kant’s Landsmänner,” Ivanov said. He spoke Russian through a translator but he used the word Landsmänner in German. One of the first things a tourist sees upon landing at Kaliningrad’s newly opened international airport is a big sign “Welcome to Kant’s City.”2 At the tomb outside the ruined cathedral Kant is now venerated as a local saint. Newlywed couples go directly from the municipal Marriage Palace to the tomb to pose for photographs. (In the past, the preferred site had been the bust of Karl Marx in a nearby park.) A new monument to Kant, the copy of an original that was demolished after the war, was solemnly inaugurated last summer in the former Paradeplatz by the heads of the city and regional government and a plane-load of distinguished West Germans. There was some talk of renaming the city Kantgrad and I saw a T-shirt inscribed “I ♥ Kant.” Königsberg and Kant are, of course, also code names for German money. German power, German influence; Yeltsin’s conservative opponents in the city, many of them Russian nationalists, know this. That is why N.A. Medvedev, the university rector, who says he sided with the instigators of the 1991 coup against Gorbachev, is against Kantgrad as a possible new name. “It’s not pleasant to the ear,” he says. Medvedev prefers a Slavic name that does not hark back to the German past, perhaps Baltijsk.
“Young people here don’t know who they are,” said Yuri Zabugin, the architect and a native of the city. “Or they want to be someone else. So would you,” he told me, “if you had grown up under communism in this awful place.” Zabugin is restoring old churches in the city with German money. He is also the curator of an exhibition on the history of Königsberg-Kaliningrad in the local museum. Put together by local arts and crafts students, it is the first independently conceived show in a museum that used to specialize in glorifying the Soviet petroleum or shoe industry. Its title is simply the number “236000,” the city’s zip-code. “It defines the city’s existence,” said Zabugin. In the catalog he described the city as a “spot on the map. Its historical name is not forgotten nor is it still valid. The new name is irrelevant and immaterial…. Who are we?”
The regional Kaliningrad government issues warnings that Russia’s sovereignty over Kaliningrad must not be questioned, but it is leading the efforts to form cultural and economic links with Germany. It wants Germany to open a consulate and a Goethe Institute in Kaliningrad, and is soliciting German public and private funds to finance industries, tourism, mining, and transportation. It has turned, among others, to Friedrich Christians, the chairman of the powerful Deutsche Bank and the most prominent German financier currently negotiating with the Kaliningrad authorities. A German diplomat in Bonn jokingly calls Christians the Heimweh-banker. Christians’s connections with Königsberg go back to 1945 when, as a young German soldier, he saw the Red Army’s final assault on the city. If Königsberg is rebuilt, he said recently, it “would no longer be a monument to cruel destruction. Rebuilt, it will reflect the hope for peace and reconciliation in Europe.”
Mr. Christians has also put forward the idea of making Kaliningrad a free economic zone between East and West, a European Hong Kong or Singapore. The Russian Federation parliament has approved the idea in principle, but arrangements for abolishing customs duties remain to be worked out. The conservative bureaucracy opposes the scheme and the conservatives make up a majority in the regional Kaliningrad parliament. Some of them accuse Vladimir Matutshkin, the head of the regional administration who favors a free-trade zone, of being a “German agent.” One of them told a local journalist recently: “If we are not careful we’ll soon be governed by old SS men and Japanese samurai.” The police chief, Viktor Shoshnikov, recently published an article in Kaliningradskaya Pravda claiming that the free-trade zone would only bring in more criminals and drugs.
The military, on the other hand, favors the free-trade zone, since, as Admiral Vladimir Yegorov, the officer commanding the Russian fleet in the Baltic, told me, “the free-trade zone will supply good jobs for retired officers.” Few joint ventures with foreigners have been agreed upon. The most serious so far is the rebuilding of Hitler’s old. Autobahn connecting Königsberg with Berlin. (The Poles are unhappy about this project. Work has begun so far only north of the Polish border.) On the day I met the admiral, ceremonies were taking place on Russian ships in the Baltic celebrating the reintroduction of the old tsarist banner as the official flag of the Russian navy. “Everyone in Kaliningrad is looking,” forward to the free-trade zone,” the admiral said. “Everyone looks forward to big bizness.”
May 13, 1993
Until 1918 the castle was one of the Kaiser’s official residences. Wilhelm II is said to have stayed in it more than fifty times. In an often quoted speech he delivered there on May 5, 1902, he referred to the Marienburg as Germany’s “old bastion in the East a monument that testifies to Germany’s task [there]: Once again Polish insolence offends Germany and I am constrained to call upon the nation to safeguard its national inheritance.” Quoted in Der Letzte Kaiser, catalog of an exhibition at the Historical Museum, Berlin (Berlin: Bertelsmann Lexikon Verlag, 1991), p. 314. ↩
Another philosopher from a local family was Hannah Arendt, who grew up in Königsberg. No one I talked to had heard of her, including Vitaly V. Shipov, mayor of Kaliningrad, and Yuri Ivanov. ↩