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New Europe

Day Ninety-six: Kaliningrad

The River Pregel 
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Morning after the night before. Leaving Kaliningrad down the River Pregel. Once a busy Hanseatic port, many wharves now lie idle.
Michael Palin - New EuropeI want to leave Kaliningrad by sea. It seems the right thing to do now I'm up here on the shores of the Baltic. The River Pregel is lined with derelict cranes and huge grain stores, a reminder of the city's history as a Hanseatic port, trading regularly with Britain.

Though most of the wharves and jetties lie idle, awaiting a trade revival that may never come, one of them has been converted into a well-equipped and well-designed Museum of Oceanography.

The centrepiece is the 350-foot 'Vityaz', an elegant vessel with graceful, sweeping lines which between 1949 and 1979 undertook sixty-five scientific expeditions for the Russian navy.

Look a little deeper into her past and you find that there is much more to the 'Vityaz' than scientific research. She was built in a German dockyard in 1939 as the 'Mars'. In 1945 she carried 20,000 East Prussian refugees safely out of Königsberg before being handed over to the British, who gave her back to the Russians who had by then taken the city.

The energy and imagination behind the Oceanography Museum hints at what Kaliningrad could become with an injection of self-confidence. It's just a question of where that confidence will come from. The museum is courtesy of the Russians, most of the money and the drive behind the restoration of the great cathedral is from Germany.

As I wave farewell to Olga and Anastasia and begin a blustery journey down the Pregel towards Poland I hope that they will have some certainties soon. Kaliningrad may never become Königsberg again, but who knows, it could be Königsgrad. Or even Kalininberg.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Ninety-six: Kaliningrad
  • Country/sea: Russia
  • Place: Kaliningrad
  • Book page no: 227

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