Czy tzw. remont kapitalny, stosunkowo nowy pomysł władz regionalnych, zwiększy atrakcyjność przedwojennych Gierdaw? Debiut ma również wymiar fotograficzny, ponieważ artykułowi towarzyszą zdjęcia mojego autorstwa. Dziękuję redakcji “PB” za współpracę!
Last year we celebrated the 100th anniversary of Polish consular presence in Koenigsberg/Kaliningrad. On this occasion, together with my colleagues we worked on a small commemorating piece for Korolievskiye Vorota. The article got published in December 2020. Big thanks to everyone that helped this initiative come to life!
The Pregel, flowing through Kaliningrad Oblast and finding its way to Vistula Lagoon just outside of Kaliningrad, is a peculiar river. It starts where two other streams – Angerapp and Alle – join. At some point in time the current became so strong that the Pregel bifurcated into Pregel proper and Deime. Yet it was still not enough to keep the element at bay. Just outside of Kaliningrad, water flow gets so immense that the river meanders, creating islands and meadows so swampy that they have to remain largely uninhabited and serve only for summerhouses and fishing spots.
The Pregel has behaved this way for centuries. Its wildness and caprices probably got envisaged in the name of an old Pruthenian settlement which later became a village and, subsequently, a neighbourhood within Königsberg – Ponarth. The word is believed to mean either behind the edge or diving, submerging, whirling. In both cases, it clearly refers to Pregel and its wetlands which still separate this part of Kaliningrad from the historic down town.
Ponarth’s golden age began in mid-19th century along with advancing industrialisation and construction of the East Prussian Railway, connecting Berlin with Königsberg. The rural village quickly transformed into a town with a brewery, a city-like park, a neo-Gothic church and a sports club called MTV. Especially the former became the stimulus for the settlement’s growth. Founded in 1849, the brewery produced an astonishing 90,000 tons of beer a year. It was famous across all Germany.
Such mass-scale production required manpower. The number of Ponarth’s inhabitants rose from 3,500 to over 8,000 in just 5 years between 1895 and 1900. Construction of houses that followed the population boom actually blended the town into Königsberg. Five years later Ponarth found itself within the administrative borders of the city and was officially transformed into a suburban area. It has been busy and lively every since, always retaining a colouring of its own.
World War Two left Ponarth damaged, but not destroyed, similarly to the west of Königsberg (usually referred to as Amalienau or Hufen). Most importantly, the district’s main factories continued to function. As military officers and clerks moved in comfortable villas and semi-detached houses of Hufen, and the southwest, so did industrial workers in Ponarth’s poorer dwellings and brick houses. This made Ponarth repopulate quickly with newcomers from all over Soviet Union.
In 1947, two years after the war had ended and a year after Königsberg was renamed into Kaliningrad. the district was incorporated into the the newly created Baltiyskiy Rayon (Baltic District). Because of its new inhabitants and decades-long lack of investment in infrastructure, the name became a regional local synonym for shabbiness and roughness. Some people even called it ‘the bear’s corner’, advising not to go there without a clear reason.
Although Baltrayon ceased to exist in 2009 due to administrative reforms, Kaliningraders have kept memory of its special charm. Most people who are even a tiny bit interested in the history of the city remember the Zhigulyovskoye beer which continued the pre-war traditions. The historic brewery is still there although now it’s largely devastated and impossible to serve its purpose.
Is it justified to say that Ponarth, still exists? On one hand, the neighbourhood for 75 years has been part of Soviet/Russian Kaliningrad belonging to Soviet Union/Russian Federation. Inhabitants, street names and many other things have altered. On the other hand, the memory of Ponarth, its rich history and charm not only has survived but has also been cherished by many contemporary Kaliningraders. Plus, even they keep using the old name. At least in this sense Ponarth has not sunken into oblivion.
All photos were taken during two photo walks in October and Novermber 2020 using Minolta X-500 and various Minolta Rokkor lenses. Films were developed, scanned and edited to taste by me using Plustek OpticFilm 8200i, Lasersoft SilverFast and DxO PhotoLab.
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.
All photos were taken with Sony A7R III.
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