The mysteries of East Prussia

Take a walk around Kant Island and back and you will breathe the atmosphere of the Middle Ages with old castles and catacombs making your trip truly unforgettable.

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Kant Island (formerly known as Kneiphof) is the perfect place to start your trip around Kaliningrad. One of the first settlements at the foot of Königsberg Castle was established here.

Two arms of the same river – the Old and New Pregolya – flow through the city from east to west, into the Baltic sea. The literal meaning of Königsberg is "the King's mountain." The fortress was built in 1255, slightly north of the point where the arms of the Pregolya River come together. The crusade against Prussian pagan tribes was conducted by the grandson of legendary emperor Frederick Barbarossa (Frederick I), the Iron and Golden King, Otakar II of Bohemia, along with Grand Master of the Teutonic Order Poppo von Osterna. The bas-relief of Otakar II is the left-most on the King's Gate. Two decades later more towns started developing in the area: Altstadt (Old town) adjoined to the castle from the south, Löbenicht – east of the castle, and finally Kneiphof, which was mostly situated on Kant Island.

Each town had its own charter, church, market rights, coat of arms, city seal, fortifications and other key features of autonomy. In the early 14th century all three towns mentioned above gained independent status. Altstadt also became member of the Hanseatic League – a commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and their market towns. In the beginning of the 18th century all three towns and the Castle finally consolidated into a single city named Königsberg.

Kneiphof was for the most part a town of merchants. It was the last to get independent status from the Teutonic Order, which it received in April 1327. Walking around Kant Island today it is hard to believe that the Medieval Kneiphof had 16 streets (the narrowest of them just 64 centimetres (3 feet) wide) and two squares. Connecting the island to the shore and the other districts were no less than seven bridges. The Merchant's Bridge served as a marketplace. The Green Bridge earned its name from Kneiphof's coat of arms. In the 17th century the locals gathered there to collect their post. So as not to waste time waiting, they decided to build a commodity market on the site. In time, these two bridges were replaced by the High Bridge. The Entrails Bridge was the place for slaughterhouses. You can easily guess who worked and lived near Blacksmith's Bridge. The highest at that time – the Wooden Bridge – led from Altstadt to the town's wood warehouses on Lomse Island. It is still in use today. You can also still find the so-called Honey Bridge, which name, supposedly, comes from the barrels of honey they paid for the bridge's construction. There was an interesting mathematical challenge of the Königsberg's bridges: how to walk through the city crossing each bridge only once. Swiss mathematician Leonard Euler proved the task had no solution and through these efforts laid out the foundations of graph theory.
We move on to one final place of interest on Kant island: the Monument for Duke Albrecht of Prussia (1490-1568), which was erected near the Cathedral in 2005.

It is a replica of a monument dating from 1891 which was destroyed by bombs.

Kaliningrad sculptors placed the new figure of the Duke on the base that survived the bombing.

After converting from Catholicism to the Lutheran faith, Albrecht of Brandenburg gave up his title of Grand Master of the Teutonic Order and secularised Prussia. In doing so, he made it an autonomic state, while remaining a vassal of the Polish crown. The Duke of Prussia had his own library and helped to develop the study of typography. Born and raised as a noble Teutonic knight, Albrecht had gone down in history as one of the outstanding figures of the Renaissance.
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Just 500 metres (1,640 feet) away from the Fishing Village, visitors come face to face with another wonder of Kaliningrad: Church of the Holy Cross (formerly known as the Lutheran Kreuzkirche). There are several buildings like this one in the Baltic states, in the art-deco style of the 1920s and 1930s. However, the unique amber iconostasis that was dedicated in the early 21st century is definitely worth seeing.

The cathedral is located on the huge Oktyabrsky Island (formerly Lomse), which was once home to numerous wood warehouses and carpentry workshops. In the middle of the 18th century there were even plans to develop silk manufacturing and grow hundreds of mulberry trees on the island, although those plans were not fulfilled.
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We are now going north via Ulitsa Litovsky Val (Litovsky Val Street) to get to Ploschad Marshala Vasilevskogo (Marshala Vasilevskogo Square) – you can either walk or take the bus routes 28 or 37, or the minibus routes 78 or 80. On both sides of the road we can see red-brick fortifications. Gateways, warehouses and coach houses built over the centuries and through wars. You will pass the Kronprinz Barracks and Grolman Bastion, located right opposite each other half way between the King's Gate and the Amber Museum.

The neo-Gothic Kronprinz building with the battlements atop its solid-looking tower was built in the middle of the 19th century and named after the future Kaiser Karl Wilhelm I. At different times it has been used by the Königsberg police, the armed forces, and even as the Wehrmacht treasury. In the spring of 1945, the city was witness to some fierce fighting. These days, the Kronprinz Barracks contain offices, warehouses, cafés, and the Kaliningrad maritime school, nicknamed Kamyshi (reeds).
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The Dohna Tower served as a defensive fortification of the city on the southeast shore of the pond. On the southwest side of the pond it was supported by the Wrangel Tower. Both were multi-level in terms of shell-firing capacity. The tower is 34 metres (112 feet) in diameter and 12 metres (39 feet) high. It has two floors: a basement and a complicated system of catacomb cellars. There are 42 casemates spread over two different levels. During the Königsberg siege in April 1945, the Nazi-German garrison in the tower was one of the last to surrender.

Since 1972 the tower, named after Prussian general Friedrich Karl Dohn (who served in the Russian army during the Napoleonic Wars) has accommodated the Amber Museum. This is the perfect place to find out more about amber, its extraction, processing, treatment, applications and identification. All existing kinds of amber along with various items of interest are represented in the museum. The exhibition covers a broad spectrum of time periods from the fourth century BC up to the nineteenth century. One of the museum's greatest exhibits is the huge Sun Stone that weights 4,280 grams. There are several items here from the Moscow Kremlin Armoury collection. Amulets and combs, vases and wall panels, raw amber stones and thousands of amber figures, along with model ships, pipes, clocks and caskets – the museum has them all, as well as a great deal of books and souvenirs for sale.
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After leaving the Amber Museum you can walk down the Naberezhnaya Marinesko (Marinesko Embankment) beside the Lower Pond to get to the main building of the Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University. On the south bank of the pond on the way to the University you will find a memorial tablet to famous writer Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffman (1776-1822), who was born in Königsberg. Another option is to take a minibus-taxi (routes 66, 69, 70, 85) and ask the driver to drop you at Universitetskaya Ulitsa (Universitetskaya Street).

The Bunker Museum can be found next to the main entrance of the University. This is a bombproof underground concrete bunker built at the beginning of 1945 in two months, when the Nazi-German garrison in Königsberg was taken over by General Otto Lasch (1893-1971). The shelter is 7 metres (23 feet) deep, 42 metres (138 feet) long, 15 metres (49 feet) wide, and consists of 21 rooms. Besides the German commanders there were operators, medics and staff in the bunker. It had everything needed for survival, including water supply, electricity and sewer system. On April 9, just one month after taking charge of the garrison, Otto Lasch signed an Act of Capitulation. The command centre served him only one month.
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When you get back above ground, head to Ploschad Kaizera Vilgelma (Kaizera Vilgelma Square) – also known as Zamkovaya Ploschad (Zamkovaya Square) – which is now called Tsentralnaya Ploschad (Tsentralnaya Square). Look for the huge white and blue House of the Soviets (Dom Sovetov). There is a plaque on the rear wall of the castle ruins, which was set in 1904. On it is written Kant's most famous quote, "Two things fill me with constantly increasing admiration and awe, the longer and more earnestly I reflect on them: the starry havens without and the moral law within." To find the ruined wall with the plaque just head to Tsentralnaya Ploschad via the Leninsky Prospekt (Leninsky Avenue) underpass.

There is an archaeological site of the west side of the castle in Tsentralnaya Ploschad. In the summer you can take a tour through some of the castle's catacombs. Legend has it that you can still find old treasures here. Some say that this is where the Amber Room that disappeared from the Catherine Palace during World War II is hidden. The Amber Room was indeed in the castle from 1942 to 1945, but since then no one has yet been able to trace it.

Since it was established in 1255 and until the beginning of World War II, the castle had been reconstructed a number of times, serving as a fortress, royal residence and a museum. A huge variety of architectural styles including gothic, baroque, rococo, classical and romantic have been reflected in the exterior and interior design of this magnificent building, which is 100 metres (328 feet) long and 67 metres (220 feet) wide. The castle's tower rose 84.5 metres (277 feet) above the city. One of the castle's ceremonial halls was named the Muscovite Hall, after the ambassadors of the Russian Tsar Vasily III met here with Duke Albrecht to discuss their joint military campaign against Poland. The Muscovite Hall was the biggest in Prussia at 1,500 square metres (16,146 square feet). It hosted the coronation of Prussian king and warrior Frederick I in 1701. Kaiser Wilhelm I chose the castle's church for his coronation. At the beginning of World War II, Königsberg Castle accommodated the city and East Prussia administration, the state archives, ceremonial halls and museums.

The castle was severely damaged by the British bombing in 1944 and urban warfare in April 1945. In 1967 the ruins were deconstructed entirely. Today there are plans to reconstruct the castle and restore the pre-war downtown as part of the "Heart of the City" project.
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In the 1960s, the First Secretary of the Kaliningrad Regional Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Kaliningrad Obkom), Nikolay Konovalov, came out with a proposal to "perpetuate the power of the Soviets on the King's Mountain." This concept was embodied in a project designed by modernist architect Yuri Motorin. The construction of the House of the Soviets (Dom Sovetov) for the city administration began in 1970. According to the construction plan, the South Tower (in front of the Pregolya River) was supposed to house the Regional Committee of the Communist Party, while the Executive Committee had to occupy the North Tower. The architectural detail of the project was so exact that each official knew the location of his future office, with some of them even requesting individual interior design. Metal structures for the building were provided by Belarus, the veneer was delivered from Finland, and Moscow Region supplied the project with aluminium and wood. Numerous young specialists and graduates of architecture institutes from all over the country gained priceless experience during the construction. All the key segments of the building are corrosion-resistant: it really was built to last. By 1991 the construction process was 95% complete: the heating, water supply and sewerage systems were fully functioning, and the building had 8 high-speed elevators. The interior design in the North Tower was done and dusted, and all that remained in the South Tower was to finish decorating the floors.

However, the Soviet Union fell into oblivion and the newly-built Dom Sovetov turned out to be a waste of effort. Today it is merely a monument to Soviet architecture. For the city anniversary the facade of the building was renovated, but it still stands empty.
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The Museum of the World Ocean, the only complex maritime museum in Russia, invites you to its unique Historic Fleet Embankment. The following vessels are moored here: the research vessel Vityaz, the ship for space communication Kosmonavt Viktor Parsayev, the lightship Irbenskiy, the fishing trawler SRT-129, the B-413 submarine and the icebreaker Krassin (Saint Petersburg). Moreover, there is a large land museum complex comprising five exhibition halls. Visitors can see the legendary deep-sea submersible MIR-1 that took part in filming James Cameron’s Titanic, the largest museum sperm-whale skeleton, a real gray whale heart and other exhibits. Diverse sea inhabitants are displayed at the aquarium hall.

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In 1302, work was completed on a cathedral in Altstadt. However, the new bishop did not think this building was sufficiently magnificent. On September 13, 1333, the Grand Master ordered that a plot be set aside for a new Cathedral in Kneiphof. The smaller cathedral was demolished and the bricks from it were used in the construction of the one we can see today on Kant Island. For material delivery purposes they created the Cathedral Gate (demolished in 1944) to connect Kneiphof to Altstadt via the Cathedral Bridge. This bridge was demolished after work on the cathedral was completed.

The initial construction plan envisaged the new cathedral as a fortress – although Grand Master Luther von Braunschweig had his say in the matter, claiming that it made no sense to build a new fortress an arrow's flight away from the existing castle. So the base was lightened and the walls were made thinner. Over the years the towers have suffered from subsidence; in particular, the North Tower has around a 45 centimetre (1.5 foot) lean, which has earned it the nickname of Baltic Tower of Pisa. The construction of the castle took about 50 years. Nevertheless, even after it was officially completed, the fine-tuning process continued for a few more decades.

The Königsberg Cathedral represents the tradition of Hanseatic (red-brick) Gothic style architecture originating in Germany and Poland and rarely seen in Russia. Churches and castles in this style have no sculptural decoration. Their facades are beautiful but rigid: red-bricks and the art of stonemasonry.

The Cathedral was dedicated to the sacred body of Jesus Christ, to his Blessed Mother, all the saints and Saint Adalbert. Knights prayed in the single-nave section of the church, while the rest of the congregation used the three-nave section.

The last Grand Master of the Teutonic Order Albrecht of Brandenburg was fond of the ideas of Martin Luther and the Reformation, which explains how Prussia became the first protestant-dominated state in Europe. In 1523, the first ever Lutheran sermon in German was given in the Königsberg Cathedral. 

In 1544 the Duke founded Albertina University, and the cathedral became the university church. Its South Tower held a library named after its founder Martin von Wallenrod. The library contained not only books, but maps, globes and manuscripts. During World War II the library disappeared; some of the books were burnt, and the rest scattered across the world. There are still 291 volumes from the Wallenrod collection kept at Kaliningrad State University. 

At the end of the 16th century, Albertina University bought a spot near the north wall of the main nave to establish a place for its professors to be buried. One of those tombs eventually saved the Cathedral in 1945.

It was the second half of the 18th century when one of the founders of German philosophy, Immanuel Kant, gave lectures at the Königsberg University. He taught logic, ethics, metaphysics, mathematics, mechanics, natural science and geography. At the same time, Kant wrote several works and essays on his theory of knowledge, ethics, anthropology, religion and political philosophy. Besides his enlightened mind, Kant is also known for his discipline and pedantry: he was literally the man to synchronize your watch with. And he never left his home town of Königsberg. Vladimir Lenin considered Kant a forerunner of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. One of Kant's major works – his Critique of Pure Reason – was compulsory reading in the USSR's higher education system. It was the philosopher's tomb that saved the cathedral from removal by the Soviets. 

During World War II, the cathedral's interior was almost burnt out. From the 1990s to 2005, restorer Igor Odintsov took charge of renovating the cathedral and became its director. There are no services held in the Cathedral now, but you can find a Russian Orthodox and a Lutheran chapel there. The Kant Museum is also housed here with its pre-war model of the city and medieval armour and weapons on show. On Saturdays (at 6 p.m.) the Cathedral is used for organ music recitals. On Sundays, piano and symphony concerts are held here. The Cathedral organ is the largest in Europe.
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The Koenig Gate is another museum’s branch located in the historic part of Kaliningrad. They became a symbol of the 750th anniversary of the city. The Museum of the World Ocean restored the gate in record time. The expositions located there allow visitors to travel in time and learn the history of the walled city, the remarkable people who visited Koenigsberg, the secrets of Russian diplomacy and long-standing ties between this land and Russia, as well as have some tea at a medieval chemist’s shop at the Koenig Gate.

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The Friedland Gate is a young museum. It was established in 2002. It is housed in a fortification that used to be part of Königsberg's defence ring. The Friedland Gate was built in 1862 presumably based on the design of German architect Friedrich Stuler. The gate's facade is decorated with two sculptures of Teutonic Order rulers. The museum's collection is dedicated to Königsberg's everyday life, mostly of the pre-war period. The Friedland Gate Museum offers a possibility to make a virtual tour along the streets of the East Prussian capital with the help of animated old photographs.