Marion Schneider

Kaliningrad

It is not so easy to visit Kaliningrad. First, you have to get a visa, which usually takes two weeks. You cannot spontaneously decide to go there. To reach Kaliningrad from Germany, you go through Poland. If you wish, you can take this journey from Bad Sulza to Kaliningrad in one day. The problem are the borders themselves. The German-Polish border is already jammed, and you have to wait for at least thirty minutes – if you are lucky. The poor lorry drivers have to wait for days (at least seven hours). 

The route through Poland is „agréable“, as the French say (I like this word; in German, it is „angenehm“, in English, “pleasant.”) You can see more storks than you have ever seen in your life. We counted more than forty – one way. When you cross northern Poland, you will be astonished by the wealth and modernity this country has attained during the short time in which it has had the possibility of building up private business structures and a free market. 

Waiting again at the border of Russia. This time, it takes hours. You realize that time here counts less than anywhere else you have ever been – at least, where I have been up to now. We had to wait for about six hours. That was the minimum – being Germans, we had some privileges. On the average, the Russians had to wait the longest. 

The worst part of the border were the Russian guards. Not only were they neither friendly nor helpful – that was bad enough; the worst thing was that they were absolutely disorganized and didn’t care about this at all. They were not there to help people to cross the border quickly, but they were there just because they were there. In fact: they were there because they were told to be there. That was the whole story. 

Kaliningrad is a big city – and quite a rich city, too; it had about the same standard of living Moscow had when I got to know it (around 1990). In Kaliningrad, some first litte, but robust plants of capitalism are to be seen. You can perceive them only if you look for them carefully, though. I got to know tire repair and exchange firms because we unfortunately damaged two tires simultaneously driving into an iron bar sticking out of the ground. We heard later that tires are frequently destroyed in this way.

Kaliningrad is famous for its beautiful women, to which I can testify. There are not many restaurants or hotels yet, but a lot of construction sites. You can see former beauty still  under restoration. Large parts of the city centre were not destroyed during World War II. The symbol of formerly Prussian Königsberg though, Das Schloss, was destroyed, and in its stead, a socialist palace was supposed to be built. However, it was never finished, so that there is quite an ugly ruin there. The people in Kaliningrad are very friendly and helpful. They lead a difficult life because they are separated and far away from Moscow, while, on the other hand, they still belong to it and it’s persistently bureaucratic and centralistic system, so that the development of their own political and economic structures progresses quite slowly. They didn’t seem to be very encouraged to display any initiatives of their own. I hope that the Russian people will soon be more active and optimistic concerning their own strength and future so that they can get moving.

October 24, 1993