Thursday, October 2, 2014

Exploring East Prussia


           "History isn't about dates and places and wars. It's about the people who fill the spaces between them." (Jodi Picoult).

My first book, The Kulak's Daughter (first published, 2009 and to be re-released, Spring 2015)  is set in the Soviet Union. Its sequel, East Prussian Princess (Spring, 2015) is centered in East Prussia. Both books are for young people.  I intend to spend the next few months immersed in East Prussia where my mom spent her teenage years and will use this blog to share some of my research. I’ve got a stack of books, old movies and photos, along with some octagenarian memories to explore.

You can’t find East Prussia (or Ostpreussen) on any current map. Like Volhynia, (now part of Ukraine), East Prussia belongs to the past.  The southern part of this former German province is now Poland and the northern part, including the capitol city of Königsberg, is part of Russia.

 Here are a few tidbits, to pique your curiosity.

- East Prussia ceased to exist in April, 1945 after the Germans surrendered to the Soviets.
- The city of Königsberg was heavily bombed first by the British in the summer of 1944 and then by the Soviets during the winter months of 1945.
- Königsberg (East Prussia’s major cultural centre) was renamed Kaliningrad in 1946 in honour of  Mikhail Kalinin.
- My mom lived in a small farming community just outside the city limits called Kreuzburg (not to be confused with the bohemian suburb of Kreuzberg in Berlin.) Nowadays Kreuzburg is known as Slavskoye.

After the war, the German population was replaced with Russians. Today there are virtually no Germans living in Kaliningrad. The years 1945-1947 were tortuous for the remaining German civilians as the Soviets took their revenge. Family members refused to talk about those years.

Today, Kaliningrad is not a common travel destination. Last time I checked you could get a limited three day visa. There are access-restricted military installations in the area. The city gives Russia important access to the Baltic Sea. However, things are set to change for Kaliningrad.  It's to be the venue for a 2018 World Cup match and a new stadium is currently under construction.

I’d very much like to visit Kaliningrad and the surrounding area. The best I can do for now is find the old Königsberg in photos, books and memories.  If you have something to share about the former Königsberg or East Prussia, I'd be delighted to hear from you!

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