One of Russia’s less popular destinations, it is also one of the cities most worth seeing.”Little Russia,” as the locals call it, has gone through more than its fair share of historical turmoil: founded by the Teutonic Knights, it then belonged to the Kingdom of Poland, then to Prussia and the German Empire, only to become a part of the USSR and then Russia. Kaliningrad has something to offer to everybody: from military history fans to historians to organ music devourers.
1. Read a passage from The Critique of Pure Reason in front of Immanuel Kant’s tomb.
Immanuel Kant, one of the most important thinkers in the history of philosophy, was born and spent his entire life in Königsberg, now Kaliningrad. He was buried in the Königsberg Cathedral, and what was initially a small tomb inside the building eventually became a modest mausoleum outside, in the north-east corner of the Cathedral. Kant and Kaliningrad are inseparably connected; the places where he lived and worked are most certainly worth seeing.
2. Listen to an organ concert in the Königsberg Cathedral.
The Königsberg Cathedral is the most important Prussian building in Kaliningrad. The church, built Catholic, became Lutheran after the Reformation. It was destroyed in a bombing in World War II and rebuilt only in the 1990s. Now it is available for the public to visit. It also hosts daily organ concerts, the schedule of which can be found here (in Russian).
3. Learn about Russia’s maritime exploration…
Kaliningrad is Russia’s only port in the Baltic that never freezes; it is therefore extensively used for both civil and military purposes. Russian scientific exploration of the seas is displayed in the Museum of the World Ocean. Pop by to discover the fascinating world of the underwater creatures and no less fascinating equipment used to observe them.
4. …and put yourself in the shoes of a Russian sailor.
The Museum of the World Ocean has a separate section devoted to vessels of various purposes. If you ever wondered what it would feel like to be a sailor in a Russian submarine or a researcher on a sea expedition, or maybe an open-sea fisherman, wonder no more: all of those vessels, safely anchored in the Pregola River, are available to the public in the Museum of the World Ocean.
5. Explore the mysterious world of amber.
Baltic is famous for its amber: there is something hypnotizing about all the shades of gold it can take on, and about the creatures trapped in it for millions of years. In the Amber Museum in Kaliningrad, not only can you buy inexpensive amber jewelry. Most importantly, you can see the most impressive pieces of amber found in the Baltic out on display. The exhibition also includes some elaborate amber sculptures and a brief history of amber processing in the Soviet Union.
6. Walk around and see how history was being made.
Because of the historic turmoil that touched it, the architecture of Kaliningrad is fascinating. The old Prussian red-brick buildings are mixed up with Soviet blocks of flats, German districts of detached houses, brand-new Orthodox churches, and glass high-rises. Kaliningrad undeniably is a Russian city, but it is also completely different from any other place in Russia.
7. Dance in the Dancing Forest.
A few kilometers north of the city of Kaliningrad, there is a narrow strip of land separating the Curonian Lagoon from the Baltic Sea. It’s the Curonian Spit, a sandy dune leading from Kaliningrad to Lithuania, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site shared by both countries. If you have time, go there on a sunny day, enjoy the view of the massive sand dunes, and dance in the Dancing Forest, where the trees are crooked in the most bizarre ways for reasons yet unknown.
Kaliningrad is not yet the most popular tourist destination: it does have so much to offer though. Go and enjoy it while it is still a place off the beaten track.