New East Digital Archive

Out on the town: your guide to Kaliningrad, the heart of Russia’s western exclave

Beyond the game
Out on the town: your guide to Kaliningrad, the heart of Russia's western exclave

Surrounded by EU countries, Kaliningrad combines its Soviet legacy with remnants of a more distant Teutonic past. Dive into this unusual city-by-the-sea and explore an arresting mix of Brutalist and old German architecture, underground music and a still tangible nautical tradition

7 June 2018
Text Mike Spassky

Kaliningrad only joined the Russian-speaking world when it became part of the Soviet Union in 1945. Before then, it was Königsberg, a German port city, and famously the home of philosopher Immanuel Kant. A few vestiges of German Königsberg survive today, but modern Kaliningrad is almost exclusively Soviet and post-Soviet. The region of which it is the capital is bordered on one side by Poland, on the other by Lithuania. Soak up the vibes by checking out some awe-inspiring examples of Brutalist architecture, tasting the underground music scene or rummaging through one of the many vintage clothes stores.

Explore a semi-abandoned monument to Brutalism

The House of Soviets is the futuristic and throughly Soviet replacement put up in the space vacated by the ancient Königsberg Castle, whose remains were destroyed on Party orders. The 21-storey Brutalist building, built by Lev Misozhnikov, was inspired by the works of Oscar Niemeyer. Construction started in the 1970s but was never finished. One view holds that the economic crisis of the late 1980s halted construction, while another version blames fatal project design errors. Fortunately for daredevil tourists, the neglected building’s current owners turn something of a blind eye to health and safety. Getting to roof level is no problem: to see the best panorama of Kaliningrad, simply hop the fence or bypass the barrier and climb the stairs. Bear in mind, though, that you’re doing this are your own peril — and there have been cases of fatal falls.

Address: Tsentralnaya Ploshchad

Taste German heritage at the Königsberg Stock Exchange

In January 2017, Gosha Rubchinskiy, one of Russia’s most famous fashion designers, showed his new collection in collaboration with Adidas. “I realised that Kaliningrad was the perfect place, because it was German once,” he said at the time. “A German brand and a Russian brand working together. Kaliningrad was German, it’s in the middle of Europe. Perfect.” The show itself was held in the former Königsberg Stock Exchange, built in a Renaissance style, and used as a House of Culture for sailors after the Second World War. Getting inside isn’t difficult: just go ask a security guard at once of the entrances.

Address: 83 Lenin Prospekt

Visit a slice of the pre-war city in Amalienau

Almost all of Königsberg was destroyed by bombing and shelling during the war. But a few pockets of the old city remain and Amalienau in the west is perhaps the best-preserved example. The area, technically outside the city limits as recently as a century ago, was conceived as a garden city. A Prussian law stating that only straight roads could be built was changed specially for the construction of Amalienau, resulting in a neighbourhood that is a maze of cobblestone-paved alleys and circular public spaces. The multi-storey villas you can see today were once home to the Königsberg elite, as well as housing embassies and trade offices. Amalienau is ideal for walks and leisurely bike rides.

Address: Kutuzova Street, Prospekt Mira and environs

Check out the other stadium in town

The future looks bleak for Russia’s oldest stadium located in the heart of Kaliningrad, which was once used for Nazi rallies. A new arena has been built on October Island for this year’s World Cup but the old one, it appears, has outlived its usefulness. Many of the city’s developers have their eyes on its lucrative central location. One suggestion has been complete demolition, but there is also a proposal to build a park, with a “Moses bridge” based on the Dutch Fort de Roovere as its centrepiece. This “bridge” will be a section encased in glass in the middle of the water, that you could walk through, resembling the parting of the Red Sea by the prophet Moses. For now, however, you can go through the stadium’s turnstiles for free, except on competition days. If the main entrance is closed, go in through the eastern side.

Address: 15 Prospekt Mira

Feel like a sailor at Vityaz Guest Cabins

Named Mars for its maiden voyage, Vityaz was the final ship to depart Königsberg with refugees before the storming of the city by the Red Army in 1945. It was then converted into a research vessel, which was used to measure the depth of the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the world’s oceans. Today, the Vityaz is moored by the Museum of the World Ocean and, as well as an impressive exhibition, rents its guest cabins out to tourists. Expect an unforgettable, if not exactly luxurious stay.

Address: 1 Peter the Great Embankment

Rummage for fashion bargains on Moskovsky

Kaliningrad was once considered the vintage capital of Russia, and there are famous stories of Russian rock musicians coming here on tour and demanding to go to the thrift stores. Things have calmed down somewhat since those days, but the influx of second hand items from Europe hasn’t come to a complete halt and careful hunting can reveal some bargains — if you can ignore the musty smells. The second hand shops on Moskovsky Prospekt, for example, were recently packed with models working for Gosha Rubchinskiy and they reportedly left with sports bags full of rave gear.

Address: 123–133 Moskovsky Prospekt, 121a Moskovsky Prospekt