My first time in Kaliningrad was last autumn when the city was at its most haunting stage I guess. This time with the warm(er) Baltic climate the city was much homelier and less mysterious – or was it just that we somehow got used to it? Looking at my autumn post made me wonder how different the city might appear to you 5 months later – and how differently you can see the same things!
And we did revisit quite a lot of sights in the city – although we also saw the new stuff. I thought that these new places would just add up to that mixed impression of a heavily 1970s Soviet urban creature with the traces of its past hidden here and there. However, the city did not produce the same effect on me this time – even with all its almost autumn-like weather on the first day.
A mansion in Handel’s Street. I somehow came to a conclusion that Kaliningrad is in its essence is all about matted colours and surfaces. Including the 1960s-70s stuff, like this ehm
prison block of flats.
It seems that the city was living off these buildings for so long without caring for the old nor constructing new, that the recent addition of the glossy buildings just doesn’t work: they stand out of the crowd so much! That creates a very special patchy cityscape. Like that in the very center of Kaliningrad where the newly reconstructed Fishers’ Village is:
In the background you can spot the ever-present 1970s houses with – at that time – innovative design blocks hiding the staircases between the floors. You can also see that the village’s lighthouse is already loosing its luster – the city’s spell is taking its own!
The Cathedral is also a reconstruction (the entire island used to be full of houses). I wonder how the city looked like before the 1990s when they started building it on the remnants of the original cathedral (preserved thanks to the assumed Kant’s tomb, Kant being revered by the Soviets). Well, it was 100% dominated by this robot’s head juuuust to the left of the cathedral:
We’ve started investigating into the history of the House of Soviets (Dom Sovetov) and we found out that it was almost completely ready back in the 1980s when after lots of cuts to the initial project and the long-long construction it was just abandoned. I don’t know why, but I’ve always had this interest in the abandoned or unfinished houses, they acquire some kind of a mystery about them, as if this disuse (especially unexplained) make them much less trivial as the surrounding buildings.
I also wonder how those constructors feel about this ambitious project they took part in – it’s right there in the center of the city, visible from all corners and should be a constant reminder to them. Especially with the fact that the city managed to install new windows and paint the entire building in 2005 for the sake Kaliningrad’s anniversary – or rather merely to let them be gradually knocked out by vandals. If you’re attracted by such monsters, you can even find videos online showing in what state the House of Soviets is inside.
Kaliningrad is one of those places where you have to know what to look at before you set out on your sightseeing. For example, you don’t just find old Konigsberg-time houses when you’re in the center, you have to look for them in the quiet streets just behind the main roads (like near Kutuzova or Telmana Streets). Although some of the old stuff is heavily covered with graffiti – which in this case was actually quite creative:
The white on the girl’s eyelashes are actually two girl names. Look also at the psychedelic colours on the left and here:
Red bricks are scattered around the city.
This street name is Tiles Street (similar named streets can be found in the district). According to the German tradition they have separate numbers (sometimes extra letters) for each entrance of a single house, which is a bit misleading, like when you realize that the street doesn’t actually count so many buildings as the map might suggest!
Just a random arch :)
And in order to see the Cathedral in this way you will have to get on Vityaz research vessel, which is a part of the city’s Museum of the World Ocean. A must as far as the museums go! I enjoyed the visit to this ship most of all – never been to such a classical vessel not to mention its rich history! I guess that this ship has something of that particular romantic & courageous aura that the 1960s movies and novels gave to the researchers in the USSR (especially those who went out into the fields, like geologists or polar scientist whose work was also to help build up the wealth of the country). There were songs and poems created about them, making every kid want to become a cosmonaut when they grow up :)
Here is a glimpse into the food side of a research vessel’s life: above is the pantry (see how the plates are attached so they do not fall) and below is the kitchen (look at the size of the pots!). There was also a separate room for baking bread.
Vityaz has come through some turbulent years since its construction in 1939 in Germany, through its transfer to UK and finally its transformation into a Soviet ship for scientific research. During its life as a research vessel it served its country and the science at its best, but no matter how much honoured and appreciated, it was almost completely taken to parts and pieces in the 1980s when nobody cared for it anymore. However, in the 1990s it gave birth to the Museum of the World Ocean becoming its first exhibit.
The Museum itself tells the story of Konigsberg-Kaliningrad as a major port, with an entire skeleton of a wooden ship on display right in the middle of the room. There are some curious objects as well and these famous variety of canned fish that the Soviet food industry was supplying the country and exporting abroad:
The Museum occupies a large slice of the embankment with some of the historic buildings reconstructed and also being reconstructed, as it continues to grow. This is a souvenir shop with the urban legend of Konigsberg, the riddle of the seven bridges (how to cross every each of them without setting foot twice on any of them). Try solving it yourself!
More reconstructed port-related buildings. Looking too smooth to be true but still a very nice initiative! We also visited the aquarium – I’m not a big fan of fish, especially cooked, but I guess that was quite interesting.
The last thing we visited was the submarine. I’m probably less fond of submarines than I’m of fish… so I was really happy when the long corridor inside ended and I realized I didn’t have to make the entire way back to get out of it!
Getting though the corridor was quite a challenge. Not to mention the overall suffocating atmosphere – regardless of the fact that there was sun shining outside and the submarine was a museum exhibit moored (and not submerged!) peacefully for the sake of – mostly – entertainment… Well, if you’re a pacifist with hidden claustrophobia – just make your visit a very brief one :)
The signs on the door warn you of the truly wonderful possible outcomes of your visit to the submarine – Get out immediately / Move to the stern / Fire in this sector / Water in this sector / Move to the prow. As I was passing doors to each new sector I was hoping not to hear the Morse code for these warnings…
This is how a kitchen looks like in a submarine. Don’t ask me how the ‘shower’ and the WC look like. Nor the beds. Who would deliberately consent to live in such hostile conditions I wonder… I wouldn’t like to cook in such a kitchen by no means!
No, this is not a laser blade from the Star Wars saga. This is where the torpedo gets out of the submarine. Brrrrr! We definitely need some cheering up after that! Here’s some:
The windy Baltic sea, listen:
We went to Svetlogorsk (former Rauschen) on a sunny but rather windy day. This small town continues to play its Baltic resort role years after its coming under the Soviet rule. We took an elektrichka to get to the coast, walked all over the town in search of old German country houses and enjoyed the sea immensely. Even though it’s so different from the – paradoxically for a citizen of St Petersburg – more familiar Mediterranean sea. And nothing can rival a buterbrod with tea on the seashore!
Svetlogorsk means a city of light and that’s a very true name (although the German Rauschen is also appropriate, meaning ‘to rustle’ and even sounding so). It’s also green with the aroma of warmed pines but all the while a bit artificial too, as most of the small resort towns / villages are. And old school 100% ;) Just like Agia Marina or the sandy Sestroretsk. Here’s the most famous building in the town:
Looking like a mushroom with eyes this military sanatorium was built in the early 1900s to become a spa clinic. The sun clock on the tower was added in the 1970s. And this wall is all green in summer, though now it looks like a bird’s nest or something:
And this is … the funky massage department :)
This harmless birdie can be seen all over Svetlogorsk – this time it demands “Where’s the forest?” And did you know, the Svetlogorsk seagulls are silent compared to the squeaking St Pete seagulls!
After soaking in the sea wind and even getting a slight headache, we left with the elektrichka and the same cohort of babushkas back to Kaliningrad. On our last day in the city we walked all along the street called Litovsky val which doubles the former fortification wall: some of its super-long old buildings run continuously along the line and no doubt hide some of the original stones inside. And just when it was getting really warm … we had to leave Kaliningrad for a much less spring-like St Petersburg! In Kaliningrad we spotted chestnuts sprouting right in the ground and blossoming trees and green grass. Such a pleasure!
As far as my usual travel checklist goes, this time we visited the local market (or rather just an array of various kiosks under one roof), found pretty post cards at the Museum and did notice some minor changes in the city. Like there were no more chairs outside the airport :) We also sampled more local dairy, bread and buns: I can mention rye bread with crushed rye and sunflower seeds, a kind of diet egg-less gingerbread with cocoa and raisins and … soft and vanilla-laden sochni!
No Easter food-related post this year – I’m busy replicating that kovrizhka (gingerbread) we tried in Kaliningrad! :)
Adding this to my Travel series.