This site is about the tragic fate of the City of Königsberg, the capital of the former German province of East Prussia. As a result of WWII, neither Königsberg nor East Prussia exists anymore. Prior to 1945 Königsberg was the cultural and economic centre in the German province of East Prussia, a region that was then cut off from the main part of Germany by a narrow strip of Polish territory and the city state of Danzig (now the Polish port of Gdansk). It was the dispute over this narrow piece of Polish land that gave Hitler the excuse to invade Poland in 1939, setting off WWII.
Königsberg was overrun by the Soviet Red Army in early 1945, after being nearly incinerated by the RAF in 1944. The Allied Forces allowed the Soviet Union to annex the city as well as most of the province of East Prussia because the dictator Stalin wanted a year-round ice-free harbour. The city was subsequently renamed to Kaliningrad after one of Stalin’s political puppets, Mikhail Kalinin.
Out of Königsberg’s prewar population of approximately 350,000 Germans an estimated 42,000 died during the war while many had fled elsewhere to escape the fighting. Precise numbers are hard to come by, but perhaps as many as 100,000 survived the aerial onslaught of 1944, only to be held as virtual prisoners within their own city by the Red Army while enduring tremendous suffering. They were eventually expelled 500 km westward across Poland to Germany between 1949 and 1950 as part of Stalin’s ethnic cleansing project. This resulted in the removal of every ethnic German from former Nazi territory that was now part of the Soviet communist empire. After the expulsion Königsberg’s bombed-out remains were repopulated with people from all over the Soviet Union.
The City of Königsberg is part of history now, its fate largely forgotten if not outright ignored. But even today – and every year since the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 – many German expellees originally from that ill-fated city and surrounding area undertake a trek back to their former homeland to look for that which was forever taken from them: their place of birth and the communities they grew up in.
For these are the things by which most of us are able to define ourselves, e.g., “where are you from?”. Often referred to as “homesickness-tourism”, it finds now mostly aging people or their descendants looking for their cultural and ancestral roots so cruelly ripped out from underneath them after hundreds of years of settlement in East Prussia. Here, the worst kind nostalgia reigns: to find yourself in a present with little or no continuity with the past to latch on to, and putting into question the very memories you have of it and yourself being nurtured by it.