Having lived in Kaliningrad Oblast for more than two years, I have managed to travelled it all. While traversing its province, I would often get a feeling there is something surreal about it. Although agriculture and animal husbandry are on the rise, towns and villages outside of the region’s capital city gradually depopulate. There are many reasons for that. I tried to address them in my article for New Eastern Europe earlier this year.
The phenomenon of a dying province inspired me to take a series of photos in different part of the Oblast. Below you can find pictures from Pribrezhnyi (Russian Прибрежный, literally meaning coastal or littoral), just a few kilometres south-west of Kaliningrad.
Back in 1920s, motorisation was more of a concept and a dream of the few. As Europe was struggling with economic turmoil, only rich bourgeoisie and aristocracy could afford private cars. Yet there was growing understanding of how important crossroads- and pedestrians-free roads could be to overcome difficulties of the post-World War One period, such as mass unemployment. Such endeavours went beyond national borders. The HaFraBa Association, founded in November 1926, advocated for construction of a freeway connecting Hamburg and Frankfurt am Main in Germany with Basel in Switzerland.
When National Socialists came to power, they used the concept of high speed-roads for propaganda purposes. One of their favourite notions was the allegedly detrimental fate of the province of East Prussia, separated from the rest of Germany by the Pomerania region of Poland after the Versailles Treaty of 1919. Initially, Hitler sought to ensure unimpeded road communication (although there were already transit train connections established) by the Königsberg-Berlin freeway. By doing so, he also planned to put additional pressure on the Polish government.
In mid-1930s the Nazis temporarily dropped the idea and focused on constructing its stretches in West Pomerania and East Prussia instead. In the latter case, the 90-kilometre-long Königsberg-Elbing part of the road was constructed in 1937. It consisted of finely connected blocks of concrete, allowing for a smooth ride with a number of collision-free junctions on the way. Two years later, World War Two broke out and works were never finished.
In 1945, East Prussia was divided into Poland and the Soviet Union. The border was set some 40 kilometres south of Königsberg (Kaliningrad) and 50 kilometres north of Elbing (Elbląg). The newly created Kaliningrad Oblast was a highly militarised area with little civilian traffic with Poland until the beginning of 1990s. Thus, the freeway did not serve its purpose especially on the Soviet/Russian side as there were almost no towns and villages alongside it. In addition, parts of it had been damaged and destroyed and were not repaired. The freeway became a phantom, both in Polish and Russian known as Berlinka.
The situation changed in late 2000s when the Polish stripe of Berlinka was thoroughly reconstructed. As a result, in September 2008 it was re-opened as a single-lane expressway leading to the Grzechotki border crossing. The crossing was opened only in December 2010. Renovation works of Russian part of the road, however, began already in 1992 but were not completed until 2013 due to lack of steady financing.
Nowadays, the road serves as a transit route for Russians travelling not only to Gdańsk or Warsaw, but also further west and south. Although over the last years the traffic increased significantly, it is still rather not intense given the road nominal capacity.
The Russian stripe is a regular single-lane road with no collision-free junctions. In fact, most such objects, constructed already before the war, were dismantled or destroyed. Only few have survived. On the other hand, the second lane was partly spared and is now used as a car park by mushroom pickers and bungee jumpers. These orphans of KöBe are silent witnesses of what the highway aspired to be and what it is now.
Sambian Peninsula separates the Vistula and the Curonian Spits, one of the longest worldwide (90 and 98 kilometres, respectively). The latter belongs to the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sambia itself was long inhabited by Pruthenians – a pagan Baltic tribe conquered by the Teutonic Knights in 13-14th centuries. Since then, they gradually blended, often by being rooted out and assimilated, into the medieval Prussian society of settlers coming from today’s Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, Lithuania, Russia, Czechia and many other countries.
The Pruthenian language became extinct even though we know it was still in use in 16th century. When the Reformation started, secular Prussian princes ordered creation of Catechism in it. Thanks to it, some words have survived the extinction of the whole ethnic group together with its culture and beliefs.
Sambia has always been a place where the nordwest, cold wind dominating southern part of the Baltic Sea, enters the Eurasian mainland. Before World War Two, it was a paradise for gliding. Sailplaners enjoyed sheer coasts and learnt to respect forces of nature which could be source of joy and excitement as much as of danger and destruction. One them was a young boy from Palmnicken (Yantarnyi) named Martin Bergau. As a 16-year-old he finished a war pilot course but was assigned to land anti aircraft defence of Königsberg. He survived the war and was one very few eyewitnesses of the Palmnicken Massacre in January 1945. In his memoirs entitled Der Junge von der Bernsteinküste. Erlebte Zeitgeschichte 1938–1948, he described both the beauty of Sambia and the tragedy of thousands of Jews who died on its coast.
Sambia’s cliff, postglacial landscape clashes with high waves here and, occasionally, witnesses heavy storms. Nowadays, as global climate changes become more visible, it suffers from an unusually high number of them. Impossible to fend off, they slowly take away high coasts and damage objects constructed to attract tourists. They usually start in November and can last until March.
Nevertheless, when the waves are not extremely high, the Sambian coast remains an attractive spot for walks for both locals and tourists.
All photos were taken with the Minolta X-500 and two native Minolta SR (MD) lenses: Rokkor 55mm f/1.7 and Rokkor 85mm f/1.8.
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