Kaliningrad region (informally called Yantarny kray or Amber land) is located in western Russia. It is an exclave lying 200 miles away from the border. It has no connection with the rest of Russia and is the westernmost parcel of the Russian land. The region stretches along the Baltic Sea and borders Poland and Lithuania. With the population of 926,400 and territory one-half the size of Belgium, 5,830 mi2 (15,100 km2), Kaliningrad region is Russia’s smallest region. Kaliningrad (formerly Königsberg) is a city and port with the population of about 425,000 people. It is a capital city of the Kaliningrad region.
First settlements around a castle of the Teutonic Knights located on the territory of modern Kaliningrad appeared in 1255. From 1457 it was the residence of the High Master of the Order. Prior to Soviet occupation the city was called Königsberg. From 1618 to 1945 it was the capital of East Prussia. In 1945 the city territory was divided between the USSR and Poland under the Potsdam Agreement. Soon after that Königsberg was renamed Kaliningrad in honour of the Soviet leader Mikhail Kalinin.
When the city was incorporated into the Soviet Union as part of the Russian Federation of the USSR, Kaliningrad became the headquarters of the Soviet Baltic fleet. During the Cold War 200,000 to 500,000 soldiers were stationed in the region.
After the fall of the USSR, former Soviet republics gained their independence, cutting Kaliningrad off from Russia. Kaliningrad found itself an outpost – an exclave – of Russian territory, sandwiched between newly independent Lithuania and Poland. Poland joined NATO in 1999 and Lithuania followed; both countries later joined the EU. Kaliningrad became an ‘island’ within the European Union. It resulted in increased restrictions in crossing the border. Kaliningraders, like all citizens of Russia, now need visas to enter Poland and Lithuania. While there were early proposals to change the name of Kaliningrad back to Konigsberg, none were successful.
Major industries in Kaliningrad include shipbuilding, fish industry, engineering and paper manufacture. The port of Kaliningrad remains ice-free throughout the year. It is not only the base for the Russian Baltic fleet, but an important commercial centre as well.
Although railroads connect Kaliningrad to Russia though Lithuania and Belarus, high tariffs in Lithuania make importing food and supplies from Russia prohibitively expensive.
The City Today
Having been closed to Western visitors for nearly half a century, Kaliningrad today boasts a surprising number of attractive parks and gardens, some representing the city’s German heritage, and an interesting selection of war time monuments and museums. Busts of Marx are still found along the streets.
Among the places to see, there are the City Museum housing the collection of local artifacts telling the history of Teuton Order, and the Submarine Museum. Kaliningrad was also the place where the famous philosopher Immanuel Kant was born and buried, so Kant’s grave is another sightseeing of the city. The 14th century the Cathedral destroyed during the war and later restored is a wonderful example of local architecture.