About Kaliningrad Region
The lonely landscapes in old East Prussia are legendary and lure every nature lover out of the reserve. Wide meadows and fields, a gentle hilly landscape, forests and many untouched spots offer the local flora and fauna diverse habitats. The Rominter Heide, the Elk Lowlands and the Curonian Spit are particularly attractive for nature lovers.
The Rominter Heide covers an area in the southeastern part of the exclave, on the border with Poland. About two thirds of the area is on Russian territory and one third on Polish territory. In Russian the Rominter Heath is called Krasnij Les, which means something like “Red Forest”.
The area is characterized by lonely forest and heather areas and is traversed by the Rominte River (in Russian: Krasnaja). In the past it was used as a hunting ground by the Prussians and the National Socialists (namely: Hermann Göring), who targeted the local red deer, but also bears. The Rominter Heide is also famous for the porcini mushrooms that grow here.
The elk lowland (in Russian: Losinaja Dolina) is located in the border area of Russia and Lithuania. It borders the Curonian Lagoon in the west and is characterized by moors, rivers, forests, meadows and swamps. This makes the elk lowland a paradise for many bird species. It is also home to numerous rare animal and plant species such as sundew and various orchids. The impassable area has always been very sparsely populated, and people first had to reclaim the moorland with sophisticated drainage systems. In the Soviet era, knowledge of drainage and the actual drainage systems were lost. The area largely overgrown. Today, in addition to many other interesting animal and plant species, moose can also be found again in the moose valley.
Nature-loving holidaymakers and active people will also find a delightful backdrop on the Curonian Spit and in the Kurschskaya Kossa National Park there. The deep pine forests, a beautiful Baltic Sea coast and the almost mysterious dune landscape form a beautiful territory for nature discoveries.
Conifers are dominant on the Curonian Spit, including mainly pine, but also spruce and larch. Deciduous trees are particularly represented by maple, oak or poplar. Many hope to get a moose in front of their lens. Some of these are now living on the spit again. But wild boars and beavers can also cross the path.
The Curonian Spit is the main focus of visitors interested in ornithology: Alongside the Nemunas Delta (Memel Delta) in Lithuania, it is one of the most important stations of bird migration. In the autumn season, hundreds of thousands of birds migrate across the spit every day, but many species also live and breed here. Finches, tits, sparrowhawks, buzzards, ospreys, harriers, oystercatchers, ducks, swans and many other bird species can be spotted depending on the season.
In Rybatschi (Rossitten) there is an old ornithological station, which was founded in 1901 by the theologian and ornithologist Johannes Thienemann. From then on, the bird migration on the spit was observed. The field station Fringilla is located south of Rybatschi. This is where the birds are caught to be counted and ringed.
Between the 15th and 17th centuries, parts of the spit were cut down, with the result that the masses of sand, which had previously been “fortified” by the vegetation, began to move and buried entire villages under them. Some places even had to be relocated several times. In the 19th century, the problem was largely contained through targeted planting. Even today it is still important that the masses of sand are not set loose and that visitors behave accordingly – sand drifts still occur.
One can hardly do justice to the very changeable history of the region in a short treatise. Therefore, only a rough outline of the most important stations in the course of history will be described below.
In the 13th century the region of what is now Kaliningrad was conquered by the Teutonic Order. The population was to be Christianized, numerous religious castles were built, some of which can still be seen today in ruins. Königsberg was the seat of the Teutonic Order for a long time.
From 1773 the areas of Warmia (today’s Poland) and the then Kingdom of Prussia were combined to form the area of East Prussia, and Königsberg became the provincial capital. Between the middle of the 19th century and 1946 the area belonged to the German Empire. Due to the Versailles Treaty of 1920, after the First World War, parts of the German territory were ceded to Poland, so that East Prussia was cut off from the German Empire and became an exclave.
The Second World War began with the attack on Poland and the annexation of the formerly ceded provinces of Prussia. Many thousands of civilians lost their lives as a result of the war or while fleeing. The sinking of the ships Wilhelm Gustloff or Goya and the refugee treks across the frozen lagoon are well known events in this context.
After the Second World War, southern East Prussia went to Poland and northern East Prussia to the Soviet Union. This became the Kaliningrad Oblast. The original population was expelled or deported from the area, and the Russian population resettled. The cities of the region were renamed, everything “German” should be banned. Many of the old places became orphaned and died out completely. For a long time, the Kaliningrad region was a restricted area, even for Soviet citizens.
With the end of the Soviet Union and the accompanying independence of Lithuania, the Kaliningrad region became an exclave. It is located about 1,200 kilometers from Moscow. The accession of Poland and Lithuania to the EU in 2004 made the situation even worse: the Kaliningrad area has since been surrounded by an external EU border, Russian citizens need a transit visa to travel from the rest of Russia to Kaliningrad or vice versa.
About 950,000 people live in the Kaliningrad exclave. Of them, more than 80 percent are ethnic Russians. In addition, around 4 percent of Ukrainians and Belarusians live here, as well as some Lithuanians (1 percent), Armenians and a small German minority. The Russian Germans living here are mostly returnees from other parts of the former Soviet states who were expelled there after the war.
It is interesting that a large part of the population was only deliberately settled in the Kaliningrad region in the course of Sovietization after 1945. There is hardly an “original” population with long, local family traditions. Only about 50 percent of the population were born in the Kaliningrad region. The independence of the former Soviet republics of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia also meant that the Russian population living there at that time now settled in the Kaliningrad Oblast.
Around 430,000 people live in the city of Kaliningrad (Koenigsberg), the next largest cities are Sowetsk (Tilsit) and Tschernjachowsk (Insterburg), each with around 40,000 inhabitants, and Baltiysk (Pillau) and Gussew (Gumbinnen), each with around 30,000 inhabitants.
The Russian Orthodox faith is dominant in Kaliningrad Oblast. The majority of the faithful are followers of this church. But there are also a small number of supporters of the Protestant and Roman Catholic Churches. During the time of the Soviet Union, beliefs and religion played no role on the part of the state. Among other things, this led to the fact that many churches were misappropriated and used as warehouses. But many were simply left to their fate unused and fell into disrepair. You can still find numerous church ruins in the entire Kaliningrad region today.