In the regional historical museum of Kaliningrad – formerly known as the Ost-Preussische city of Königsberg – it seems to what extent the city is some sort of current Troje (Illion) with layer over layer of remnants from vanished streets and extinguished squares and buildings. On the ground floor archeological objects are being shown which origin goes back to eight centuries before Christ. On the floors above, things are exposed that were saved out of the fosforic fires of the Allied Air Forces and the mortar attacks of the Red Army. Silent witnesses of a world that is forever lost.
I see a black pianola from the end of the 19th century, silverware out of a house in the summerresort of Rauschen (Svetlogorsk), pictures of the first world war with devastated churches, a booklet with the title Humor aus Ost-Preussen, a declaration by some Herrn Oskar Krause – Landswirtschalt – stating that the requested 1.119 kgs Reinstickstoff have been transported to their destination (signed: Heil Hitler). On the same floor one can admire pompous paintings of the Prussian battles by Napoleon, some rusted helmets, swords and harnasses out of the period of the Teutonic knights, and a maquette of the old Kneiphoff, the citycenter of castles and towers, theatres and cathedrals, of which only the grave of Emmanuel Kant has remained. The second floor is reserved for Mother Russia, and those who died in her lap or who fought in her honour. Statues of Lenin, Stalin and soldiers with flame-throwers stand there astranged and stiff, like dusty and stuffed animals in a zoological museum. Hope is kept alive on the top-floor, where the drawings and broideries of the children of Kaliningrad is hanging on the walls.
It is on this top-floor that a small group of writers of the Literature Express is invited for a meeting with colleagues from the Kaliningrad region. The Russian writers would like to know whether it is true that writers in the west are actually still being paid for publishing their books. They express their concern about the fact that in the Sovjet period books of them were being distributed by the hundredthousands, whereas nowadays in the transition period a writer can barely sell eighty copies of his work. A man comes up to me, presenting me one of his books, stating that he was emprisoned by the Germans near Munchen in the Second World War, and asking whether I could perhaps try to translate his novel into Dutch. When the debate is finished, a chamber trio plays an elegy ‘for those who are not with us anymore’. The cello-player of the trio asks whether some of us could act as impressario’s for them abroad. Before I leave the museum, the organiser comes up to me, lies his hands on my shoulder, and says: ‘Sergej, at first I was afraid of you, but then I saw that the fire in your eyes was not dangerous, and that Kaliningrad has to love you! We do!’
Astranged, I walk out of the museum. Outside, we are facing a cubic colossus of concrete, eighty meters high, hundred meters wide, and with only open holes as windows. Built for eternity. People here call it ‘The Monster’. It was an architectural offshoot of Brezjnev, who wanted some memorable public building on the place of the old Teutonic Castle. The Monster has never been inhabited or used, for mysterious reasons.
David Matevossian from Armenia remarks that Kaliningrad is probably the ugliest city in Russia. He says he has the impression he is walking around in a city of the undead. ‘The people are still living in the past, and they cannot say farewell to it. It is sad. Kaliningrad is a city, where one is born to die.’
A special train is being arranged for the writers, heading for the sea resort of Svetlogorsk (former Rauschen). In the resort, with its sad and run-down villas now inhabited by sometimes seven families, the authors are being granted a heroes welcome, with orchestras playing, trumpets, maidens singin and handing out bread with salt. Along the boulevards: thousands of people, cheering and clapping. ‘Kaliningrad was closed of from the rest of the world until 1991’, knows David. ‘Even Sovjet citizens were not allowed to travel to this city, because of its top-secret naval base with nuclear submarines. The people here have lots to make up for. They are hungry for contact. The way to welcome people, however, has remained the same for them as in the Soviet times. Ceremonies, ceremonies, ceremonies, and then the feasts, and the drinks.’ Some of the people we meet, say they have been looking forward to the Literature Express for two years already. Can this be really true?
Guennadij Polischshuk, an actor that has invited me to drink vodka with him on the folkfestival terrain, where Russians are barbecueing meat on coalfires, dancing, singing, and drinking in the name of ‘Pionersk Consumer Society’, teaches me what it is to have a Russian soul. ‘The Russian soul is big and generous, but hard to carry. We do not have money, our average wage if forty dollars a month, but we share everything we have. With our soul, we can grow old in grace, and, having almost nothing, still be happy.’
Indeed, almost all people around us are singing, dancing and especially drinking. Guennadij makes a toast with me: ‘za nas s vami, i za huj s nimi’ For you and me the best, and all the others go to hell… He asks me whether I know where this hell is situated. ‘I know’, Guennadij says firmly. ‘I know very well…’ ‘You mean, the hell of Kaliningrad?’ I ask. Guennadij shakes his head, looks me in the eyes, dead-serious, and says: ‘No, foreigner. Hell is where the bottles have two holes, and the women none.’ He bursts out in laughing, and so do the other people on the table. The men engage in further drinking.
A young lady asks me to accompany her to the beach. She does not like to drink, at least not as much as the men around. ‘In Russia we have a saying’, she tells me, ‘that goes like this: Russian men are doing everything. And the women do the rest.’
If Russia will survive, I am sure, it is because of their women.
The young lady and me descend the stairway from the high dunes, following larixes and Tannenbaume, and we arrive on the boulevard, that is looking quite primitive. ‘This is the place I love most!’ says Valerija, while she is pointing at a plateau with a sun-clock, and the twelve astrological Chinese animal-signs around it. A little bit further, in the shiny sand, lies a German woman who is waiting for her husband to step out of the freezingly cold Baltic Sea water. Three elder Russian women are dancing with their hips, singing, and running off into the sea. The German, who is standing only to his knees up into the water, is getting wet because of splashing water. When he returns to his wife, it seems that he has hurt his feet at something sharp. ‘Scheisse! Die verdammten Sau-Russen!’
In the morning, when the Literature Express is leaving Kaliningrad, the station is the decorum for dramatic scenes. Hundreds of inhabitants,writers and musicians have come to say farewell. They have brought little presents, fruits out of their gardens, poems they wrote during the night, little dolls of happiness, literary magazines with their stories and poems and autographs. Many people wave with their address books, knowing this is their last chance for getting acquainted with the foreigners. When the train starts moving, the girl that is keeping my hand, does not want to let loose. She keeps on running, next to my window, our hands still intertwined. When she has to let go, I see she is crying. In my freed hand I now hold a cassette with Russian music. Her present for me. We both wave until we can see each other no more.
11.07.00 – DIE WELT – Serge van Duijnhoven
Zum Sterben geboren
Literaturexpress: Ihr Zugbegleiter heute: Serge van Duijnhoven
Im Heimatmuseum von Kaliningrad, früher Königsberg, kommt die Stadt einem wie ein moderneres Troja vor – mit ihren Schichten von verschwundenen Straßen, Plätzen und Häusern. Im Untergeschoss archäologische Funde, in den Obergeschossen werden nur Dinge gezeigt, die aus dem Phosphorfeuer der Alliierten und den Mörserattacken der Roten Armee gerettet wurden. Stumme Zeugen einer für immer verlorenen Welt.
Dort trifft sich eine kleine Gruppe von Schriftstellern des Literatur-Expresses mit Kollegen aus Kaliningrad und Umgebung. Die russischen Schriftsteller wollen wissen, ob es wahr ist, dass die West-Literaten immer noch für ihre Veröffentlichungen Geld bekommen. Sie geben ihren Sorgen Ausdruck: In der Sowjetzeit wurden ihre Bücher zu Hunderttausenden verbreitet, jetzt, in der Übergangszeit, kann ein Autor vielleicht gerade 80 Exemplare verkaufen. Ein Mann kommt auf mich zu, zeigt mir eines seiner Bücher. Er war, so sagt er, im Zweiten Weltkrieg in München von den Deutschen ins Gefängnis gesteckt worden. Und er fragt mich, ob ich sein Buch nicht ins Niederländische übersetzen könnte.
David Matevossian aus Armenien bemerkt, dass Kaliningrad die vielleicht hässlichste Stadt Russlands sei. “Die Leute leben noch immer in der Vergangenheit, aus der sie sich nicht verabschieden können. Es ist traurig. Kaliningrad ist eine Stadt, in der man zum Sterben geboren wird.” Ein Sonderzug bringt die Schriftsteller ins Seebad Svetlogorsk (früher Rauschen). Der Badeort mit seinen traurigen verkommenen Villen, die heute von bis zu sieben Familien bewohnt werden, begrüßt die Autoren wie Helden. Mit Orchestermusik, Pauken und Trompeten, singenden Mädchen. Auf den Boulevards drängen sich Tausende, jubelnd und Beifall klatschend. “Kaliningrad war bis 1991 vom Rest der Welt abgeschnitten” weiß David. “Selbst Sowjetbürger durften dort nicht hinreisen.” Wegen der Marinebasis mit den U-Booten. Die Leute haben hier viel nachzuholen. Sie dürsten nach Kontakten. Einige der Leute, die wir treffen, sagen uns, dass sie sich seit zwei Jahren auf den Literatur-Express gefreut haben. Kann das wirklich wahr sein?
Am Morgen verlässt der Zug Kaliningrad. Der Bahnhof ist die Kulisse dramatischer Szenen. Hunderte der Bewohner, Schriftsteller und Musiker sind gekommen, um Auf Wiedersehen zu sagen. Sie haben kleine Geschenke mitgebracht. Früchte aus ihren Gärten, Gedichte, die sie in der Nacht geschrieben haben. Kleine Glückspüppchen, Literaturmagazine mit ihren Geschichten darin, ihren Gedichten, Autogrammen. Viele wedeln mit ihren Adressbüchern, wissend, dass das die letzte Chance ist, mit den ausländischen Besuchern bekannt zu werden. Als der Zug sich in Bewegung setzt, will das Mädchen, das meine Hand hält, nicht loslassen. Sie rennt auf dem Bahnsteig unter meinem Fenster mit. Als sie loslassen muss, sehe ich, dass sie weint. In meiner freien Hand halte ich eine Kassette mit russischer Musik, ihr Geschenk an mich. Wir winken, bis wir uns nicht mehr sehen können.
Aus dem Englischen von Gerhard Charles Rump
Several photos you can see here have been originally published by Nelieta Mishchenko in her Kaliningrad Album on Picasaweb: https://plus.google.com/photos/112676579349395525750/albums/576989656916047644
Kaliningrad: home of the ugliest building on Russian soil
Kaliningrad is not very surprisingly also proud to be known as “the home of the ugliest building on Russian soil” Read the article at nelmitravel.com – http://nelmitravel.com/the-ugliest-building-on-russian-soil/
The House of Soviets has often been called the “most ugliest building on Russian soil” or “a monster” by the local people of Kaliningrad, Russia. After I have seen it for the first time, I would call it a sight for sore eyes. If you see the before and after pictures you will have to agree.Before WWII there was a beautiful castle and a prince and princess lived happily in it. Not really but there was a castle. It was severely damaged during the war and in true Soviet style the building was demolished and levelled to the ground.
For people who don´t know the history of Kaliningrad it was formerly known as Konigsberg. This beautiful city (and where my husband was born) came under control of the USSR during WWII and it has been ever since. The castle was not restored to its original state. The Soviet policy at the time is to blame. As part of the reconstruction of the city it was decided to built the “House of Soviets” in its place.
Construction started in 1960 and this 22 storey building was intended to be the central administration building of the Kaliningrad Oblast. But this is not where the story ends. Nobody took into account that underground tunnels existed and the building slowly started to collapse.
It is still standing but up to this day is not occupied. In the 1980´s the Regional Party Committee lost interest in the project and all funding was stopped. The building stood there unfinished for many years.The building continued to be a sight for sore eyes and in 2005 when former President Vladimir Putin visited Kaliningrad, the exterior was painted light blue and windows were installed.
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