So where is it?
Kaliningrad is a part of Russia that is nestled in between Poland, Lithuania, and the Baltic Sea. When you look at its location on a map, it begs the question: why didn't Kaliningrad free itself of Russia's influence (like its Baltic neighbors and Poland did)?
The answer is that Kaliningrad is populated by Russians, who have little desire to become independent like Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania (which all have distinctly different languages and cultures).
The easiest way to understand Kaliningrad is to think of it as Russia's Alaska. In other words, like Alaska, Kaliningrad is disconnected from its motherland. Russians in Kaliningrad feel just as Russian as Alaskans feel like Americans.
Unlike the three Baltic countries, Russians were able to dominate the ethnic demographics of Kaliningrad. The reason they could pull that off was that Kaliningrad was mostly populated by Germans. After World War II, few had sympathy for the Germans, even innocent civilians. Therefore, the Soviets did what they did best: deported tens of thousands of people. But instead of sending the Germans to the normal Soviet deportation location (Siberia), they packed them in train cars and shipped them to Germany. With an empty landscape, Russians quickly shipped thousands of Russians to move into the vacant German homes. Fast forward 60 years, Germans make up only 0.5% of the population. Ethnic cleaning at its finest!
In this WanderLearn podcast, I interview the wonderful Natasha Perreault. She was born and raised in Kaliningrad, but now she lives in Washington, DC and is married to an American. Natasha shares her knowledge of Kaliningrad and we break the podcast up with traditional Russian music.
I had a great experience visiting Kaliningrad in February of 2009. Some of my adventures included:
- Staying with a Russian man and his 8-year-old son,
- Touring the city with Natasha's 66-year-old uncle.
- Attempting to get a tan on the snow covered beaches of Zelenogradsk.
- Ice fishing off of the Curonian Spit with some old, hardy Russian men.
One of the greatest myths about Kaliningrad is that it's just a big military outpost. Although it does have the highest military infrastructure in Europe, it also has other huge industries. For example, 33% of Russia's TVs are made in Kaliningrad. Hummers and BMVs are made in Kaliningrad. In short, Kaliningrad is not just Russia's Alaska, but also Russia's Hong Kong.
I will write all about Kaliningrad in my 2nd book, The Hidden Europe: What Eastern Europeans Can Teach Us. For now, please enjoy the podcast and tell me what you think on my forum!
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