orphans of köbe

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.

This viaduct, west of the village of Polevoye (pre-war Mahnsfeld), was once part of the regional route 126.
Shot on Sony A7R III + Sony FE 28mm f/2.0 | f/5.6 | 1/100 sec | ISO 100 | +1 EV.

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.

All photos were taken with Sony A7R III.

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