Teutonic castles

Just one day in a car is enough to visit several Teutonic castles and watch the sunset at the Curonian Spit National Park.

Leaving Kaliningrad, go east on Highway E28, towards Gvardeysk; after 17 km (10 mi) make sure you don’t miss the village of Nizovye where Waldau Castle is situated. Linguists say that the castle’s name comes from a Baltic-Slavic word valdati which means “to own”. The first records of the construction of the Waldov fortress date back to 1258. In the 14th century the Teutonic knights built the stone castle of Waldau. In the middle of the 15th century, the castle became a countryside residence of the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order and when Prussia became a secular state, its ownership passed to the Duke of Prussia. In May 1697, the delegation of Peter the Great’s Grand Embassy stopped here on its way to Europe. A group of enthusiasts has opened a historical museum in the castle and part of its exhibition is dedicated to this event. A table that was found in the castle’s basements and recently restored quite likely was here at the time of Peter’s visit. In addition to the story of the Grand Embassy, the museum includes an exhibition on the German poet Maximilian von Schenkendorf who lived at Waldau in 1805 and on the region’s rich history from the Prussians to the modern day.
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To get from Nizovye to Chernyakhovsk, take Highway E28 for 72 km (45 miles). Chernyakhovsk is home to not one, but two castles. Insterburg is currently partly in ruins, but nonetheless was added to the list of historical monuments of federal importance. The master of the Teutonic Order Dietrich von Altenburg built the castle in 1336 and 200 years later this border outpost was given over to the “local administration”, namely the headquarters of the district of Insterburg. A hundred years later, in 1642, the castle served as a refuge for Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg, the Swedish Queen Dowager. Between WWI and WWII the castle housed a Local History Museum. Today, the spiritual heirs of Insterburg historians are also trying to create a local history museum in the remaining part of the castle (the vorburg), the foremost defences of the fortress. For now the castle walls hide several craftsmen workshops and an art gallery. The territory is also used for Middle Age-themed celebrations and modern concerts.
Ruslan Shamukov/TASS
It’s less than 3 kilometres (under 2 mi) from Isterburg to Georgenburg walking along the town’s Central Street. Historians are still unsure as to which Teutonic master ordered construction of the Georgenburg Castle on a hill at the junction of two rivers, or when exactly construction took place. The only thing that’s clear is that it happened in the middle of the 14th century, several years after the appearance of Isterburg. Between the 14th century and the beginning of the19th century the castle regularly suffered sieges and defeats from the Polish, the Lithuanians, and their allies. In the 18th century, during the Seven-Year War, the castle was used by the Russian soldiers of the field marshal Apraksin’s army; in the beginning of the 19th century, it was used as headquarters by the hero of the Battle of Wagram, the marshal of Napoleon’s army Louis-Nicolas Davout. In 1828, Georenburg became the property of Scottish landlord Simpson. He rebuilt the castle and began to breed horses on the premises. Simpson’s work led to the development of the elite Trakehner breed of horses. Restoration of the castle began in 2010. One of the restored halls already has a fireplace and stained glass windows. The castle will also house a Living History Museum and a historical reconstruction club.

At the foot of the castle lies the Georgenburg stud farm which looks ancient from the outside, but is so modern inside that it regularly hosts prestigious international show jumping competitions.
From Chernyakhovsk — the itinerary’s easternmost point — drive back to Kaliningrad and circling it from the north-east, go to Guryevsk to take a look at a well-restored Protestant Church and a relatively well-preserved castle. The Teutonic knights who appeared here at the end of the 13th century destroyed the Prussian settlement Wurgwal. Local legend has it that the colossal oak tree that stands near the castle was here in the times of Pagan Prussians.

The Neuhausen Castle, built on a bastion of boulders, protected the eastern borders of the Teutonic Order’s territories but didn’t take any real part in the political life of the order. In the first half of the 16th century, the Order’s last Grand Master, the reformist Albert, Duke of Prussia (1490-1568), made the Neuhasen his countryside residence. A small zoo was built near the castle and the building itself was updated with Renaissance fireplaces, furniture and upholstery; a new kitchen and household buildings were set up in the northern wing of the castle. After numerous reconstructions, this wing of the castle is the oldest. Neuhausen still has its 13th-century basements and you can see the Gothic ceilings on the first and second floors. The castle acquired a certain notoriety in the German lands thanks to the passionate hunter, the Elector of Brandenburg and the Duke of Prussia Georg Wilhelm (1595-1640). To entertain his guests at Neuhausen, the elector ordered special wine cups in the form of powder flasks and muskets. After drinking from such generous vessels, the guests had to write a poem in the host’s album and leave their signatures. Many failed the task hilariously.

In mid-19th century, the castle’s owners decided to fill the castle moats with soil and the arrow-slits with bricks. They replaced the drawbridge with a regular one and landscaped the park. The hunting castle was turned into a resort.
Ruslan Shamukov/TASS
The knights built the red-brick Protestant Church near Neuhausen in the 14th century and two centuries later it was augmented with a tall tower. The building has remained the same since then. In 1991, the church was given over to the New Apostolic Church that continues to own it and perform church services.
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From Guryevsk you need to get to Highway A217 otherwise known as Primorskoye Koltso/Seaside Ring. The road connects Kaliningrad with a small maritime town of Zelenogradsk that sits at the Curonian Spit. The distance between Guryevsk and Zelenogradsk is 32 km (20 miles).

The fishermen village of Krantz (from the Lithuanian word krantas meaning a cliffy shore) was established by the Teutonic knights three years before Königsberg, in 1252. The first to appear was a tavern for the knights exhausted from traversing the sandy spit. Later a whole village appeared around the tavern and many centuries later the village became a modern seaside resort. In the beginning of the 19th century, the German physician Friedrich Kessel began recommending to his clients a therapy regimen consisting of “summer, air and seawater” and the village became a magnet for people from all over Europe. Mud treatments and mineral water, advanced physical therapy and the salutary air can still be found at Zelenogradsk (former Krantz). To this day the town is full of beaches, restaurants, small houses and holiday-makers.
Just outside of Zelenogradsk lies the Curonian Spit — a narrow swath of sand and forest land 98 km long (61 miles), ranging from 400 m to 4 km/1,200 ft to 2.5 miles in width. To the right of the Spit is the Curonian Lagoon (named after the Curonian people who lived here before the knights), and to the left is the Baltic Sea. The southern part of the spit belongs to Russia, and the northern to Lithuania. Entrance to the nature resort costs 300 rubles. There are several villages, a pharmacy, a branch of Sberbank, several hotels and restaurants, a school and even a maternity clinic. Between Zelenogradsk and the Lesnoy settlement you’ll find an ancient forest reserve that has never been felled.
Next to the Rybachy settlement, on the 32nd kilometre of the spit is Müller’s Height (44.4 m/137 ft) - one of the spines of the Bruchberg dune fortified by the forest.
Ruslan Shamukov/TASS
The best view of the Orekhovaya sand dune can be found at the Efa Height (64 m/198 ft), near the Morskoy settlement on the 42nd km of the spit.