Monday, July 3, 2017

[KALININGRAD] Russia with a P


If you’ve ever looked at a map of the Schengen area, you’d probably find it a bit odd that there’s a small country in the Baltic region that was snubbed. Like, what did that small country do for the European Union to go Mean Girls and give it the YOU CAN’T SIT WITH US treatment, right? Well, it’s not even a nation-state to begin with. It’s called Kaliningrad, a Russian oblast which was once the capital of an empire called Prussia. Prussia? Russia? Koenigsberg? A lot of names to digest in one sitting. Let’s clear that up.


There was this empire before called Prussia. I never really got a handle on the idea of Prussia itself. Was it like, Russia, but with a P? All I know is that it used to be a legit power in Europe. Oh well, its glory days are over because it didn’t seem to have made it to our day and age. All I know is that Kaliningrad used to be called Koenigsberg. Yup, it has a German lineage of sorts, which is why my expectations were that of a city with an identity crisis, bilingual in German and Russian like Flensburg is in German and Danish.


The reality is that I haven’t seen a single trace of German in the streets since I got here. Okay, that was a lie. I did see a German phrase on one of the trams, but it wasn’t really meant to be there. It was more like an electronic glitch that they no longer bothered to fix. The thing is, Kaliningrad nowadays is as Russian as it can be, with some traces of its German past limited to a smattering of old buildings that seem to subscribe to the Central European architectural motif. The best example? The Königsberg Cathedral.


This cathedral was actually the last on my list for the day because it was down south. Anyway, there was an ongoing graduation ceremony when I went there and it did make the place livelier. I suppose that in any ordinary day it would be quiet and a bit spooky especially at sundown. The cathedral is on its own island, which looks kind of strange to me. Is it a man-made island? It’s right smack at the center of the city. But then again the city center has little lakes and rivers all around. Perhaps, this is also natural.


The cathedral looks German all right. The red brick. The style of the tower. The huge clock on the façade. After a while I then realized that it’s rather stupid to try and link the city to Germany. Geographically, it seems closer to Russia. Moving on, is this cathedral the only tourist attraction in the city? Well, it appears to be the most popular, but there are other places of interest as well. I guess it’s now time to go chronological with my story, although the first on my list is yet another church.


I liked the Church of Christ the Saviour better. This one is Orthodox Catholic, meaning they are allergic to statues. These guys have icons instead, as well as walls and ceilings intricately painted with vivid religious art. If you can’t sculpt them, paint them. I never really intended to go inside, but I’m glad that I took a peek and eventually liked it. It’s a personal thingy. I find sculptures rather creepy, like Jesus would suddenly come alive one night and chase you down the hall. Paintings won’t do that to you, unless you’re in a Harry Potter movie.


The church is just as appealing outside. Orthodox churches prefer multiple mini domes, most of the time painted in gold and shimmering under the glare of the sun. I guess this is where Kaliningrad’s identity crisis kicks in. Two prominent churches from opposing traditions! But let’s stop talking about religion. What else is there to see? If you’re already at Victory Square, then you will also see an obelisk at the center. Unfortunately, my basic Russian can’t decipher what’s written on it. It must be something historical.


Walking around the area will bring you to several green parks with sculptures dedicated to certain popular figures from the past. Since it’s spring, the green of the grass complements the bright orange, red, and yellow of the flowers littering these public gardens. There are rickety Soviet trams and buses aplenty to bring you wherever you want to go for a minimal fee of RUB20 (~PHP18), but walking is also recommended if it’s not that cold outside. It doesn’t get too hot here in Kaliningrad, even during the summer.


If you decide to walk, there are maps scattered around the city suggesting a route which will bring you to the ruins of an old wall that served as battle fortification when the city was not Russian yet. These ruins are brick red and resemble medieval castle walls. I wasn’t that amazed, really. The two churches defo served as the highlights of the trip. Kaliningrad is doable as a one-day itinerary in my opinion. If you’ve always been curious of this oblast detached from the motherland, then by all means, go.

http://s208.photobucket.com/user/ihcahieh/library/KALININGRAD%20-%20Kaliningrad
[KALININGRAD] Russia with a P
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLgi5HWxAmomZLYal3QOVVAhXwNnjn9NHZ

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