Königsberg, on the river Pregel, was the capital city of East Prussia until May 1945. The city was founded about 1255 by the Teutonic Order who named it after their then ally, King Premysl Otakar II of Bohemia. Since 1945 it is occupied by Russians.
When the Knights of the German Order were dislodged, by treachery, from their castle of Marienburg in 1466, Königsberg then became the capital city of the Teutonic Order's theocratic state of Prussia (Ordensland Preußen) and the seat of the Grand Master of the Order. From 1525 it became capital of their secularised Duchy of Prussia, elevated in 1701 to the Kingdom of Prussia. From the 1871 unification of Germany to its surrender at the end of World War I, Prussia fell into the German Empire. Thereafter it was part of the German Reich or State.
Königsberg was the largest German city in the east until it was conquered and largely destroyed by the Soviet Union on 9 April 1945 during World War II after a heroic struggle by the defenders. In 1946 the Soviets renamed the city Kaliningrad after an old Bolshevik It remains under Russian occupation.
By the 20th century Königsberg was a major railway terminus with several stations. A ship-canal between Königsberg and Pillau, which enabled vessels of up to a 21 foot draught to moor alongside the town, was also completed in 1901 at a cost of 13 million marks.
In 1904 there were 188,000 inhabitants (including a garrison of 9000 men); in 1935 it had increased to 286,666. Between 1945-47 the population suffered incredible privations and death until the entire German population who had survived was expelled by the Soviet Union, who then repopulated the city with Russian settlers. According to the Communists, in 1983 371,000 people resided there, although this figure seems speculative.
The thirteenth century Königsberg Castle was one of the landmarks of the East Prussian capital and was an Ordensburg of the Teutonic Order. Between 1519–1521 Königsberg was unsuccessfully besieged by Polish Forces. In 1525 the Grand Master adopted the reformed religion and Prussia became a secularised state until its union with Brandenburg in 1618.
The Order's original castle became quite extensive and was frequently altered in the 16th to 18th centuries. The tower was 330 feet high. The west wing contained the Schloss-Kirche, where Frederick I King of Prussia was crowned in 1701, and Wilhelm 1st in 1861. The Elector Frederick III of Brandenburg and his court retired to Konigsberg castle after the Napoleonic disasters of 1807, when schemes by Baron von Stein and von Humboldt were zealously canvassed for the resurrection of Prussia. It is also well-known for containing the apartments of Queen Louise of Prussia.
Destruction in World War II
The Bombing of Königsberg was a series of attacks made on the city of Königsberg in East Prussia during World War II. The Soviet Air Force had made several minor raids on the city after 1941, but it was the extensive terror attacks carried out by the Royal Air Force Bomber Command that destroyed almost all of the city's historic quarters, dating back 800 years, in August 1944, killing many thousands of the civilian population. This was one of many bloody war crimes of British "strategic" bombing during World War II. German-Jewish author and musician Michael Wieck, a native of Königsberg, wrote in A Childhood Under Hitler and Stalin that "the people of Königsberg shall never expunge these nights of terror from their memory."
During the final prolonged Battle of Konigsberg in 1945, "Festung (fortress) Königsberg" was also heavily bombed. In April a third of the Soviet Air Force focused on the Konigsberg region and led incessant bombing and attacks by low-flying aircraft over the city. Air defences by this time were non-existant. There was severe damage to the 19th and 20th century parts of the city/suburbs. "Festung Königsberg" was also heavily attacked, mainly by artillery, during the final weeks of the war in 1945. It has been said that more than 90% of the city had been destroyed when the Soviets occupied the city on April 9, 1945, after a heroic defence by General Otto Lasch.
In 1939 Königsberg had a population of 372,000. Under Soviet occupation the remaining German population suffered terribly. Fantastic almost indescribable atrocities and massacres occurred in Metgethen, a suburb, in February 1945. In no other German city did hunger lead to so many deaths between 1945-47 as in Königsberg. Terrible hygenic conditions helped the spread of typhoid, dysentry, scabies and malaria epidemics and mortality increased in an unprecedented degree. in this period, when at least 35,000 died. Able-bodied men were put to forced labour and shipped into the Soviet Union. Of the 100,000 Germans still inhabiting the city as of May 8, 1945, only 15,000 were still alive to be forcefully expelled (German: Vertreibung) in 1948.
Famous People from Königsberg
- Friedrich I von Hohenzollern (1657-1713), King in Prussia, was born in Königsberg.
- Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) the great philosopher, was born, taught and died in Königsberg. His mausoleum is at the cathedral.
- Johann Georg Hamann (1730–1788) was a German Lutheran philosopher known as "the Wizard of the North" who was one of the leading figures of post-Kantian philosophy.
- E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776-1822) German Romantic author of fantasy and Gothic horror, a jurist, composer, music critic and artist.
- Gustav Robert Kirchhof (1824-1887), great German physicist of the 19th century.
- David Hilbert (1862-1943) influential German mathematician of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
- Arnold Sommerfeld (1868-1951) German theoretical physicist who pioneered atomic, nuclear and quantum physics.
- Otto Braun (1872-1955) German Social-Democrat who served as Prime Minister of Prussia 1920-1932.
- Agnes Miegel (1879-1964) German Poet and journalist.
- Bombing of Germany during World War II
- Bombing of Dresden in World War II
- Operation Gomorrah
- Baedeker, Karl, Northern Germany, Leipzig & New York, 1904, pps:173-177.
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- Christiansen, Erik, The Northern Crusades Penguin, London, 1997, p.287. ISBN 0-14-026653-4.
- Clark, Christopher, Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia 1600–1947, Cambridge & Belknap Press of Harvard, 2006, p.776. ISBN 0-674-02385-4.
- Gause, Fritz, Die Geschichte der Stadt Königsberg in Preußen, 3 vols., Böhlau, Cologne 1996, ISBN 3-412-08896-X (German).
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- Holborn, Hajo, A History of Modern Germany: 1840-1945, Princeton University Press, 1982, p.844. ISBN 0-691-00797-7.
- Kirby, David, Northern Europe in the Early Modern Period: The Baltic World, 1492–1772, Longman, London, 1990, ISBN 0-582-00410-1.
- Kirby, David, The Baltic World, 1772–1993: Europe’s Northern Periphery in an Age of Change, Longman, London, 1999, ISBN 0-582-00408-X.
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- Urban, William, The Teutonic Knights: A Military History, Greenhill Books, London, 2003, p.290, ISBN 1-85367-535-0.
- Wieck, Michael, A Childhood Under Hitler and Stalin: Memoirs of a Certified Jew, University of Wisconsin Press, 2003, ISBN 0-299-18544-3.
- Mikhail Kalinin, Mayor of St.Petersburg after the revolution. Kalinin eventually became the titular head of the new Soviet state, as well as a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and the Politburo.
- A Terrible Revenge - The Ethnic Cleansing of the East European Germans, by Professor Dr. Alfred Maurice de Zayas, 1986, paperback edition, New York, May 2006, p.43-8. ISBN 978-1-4039-7308-5
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- Schieder, 1954, p.190.