Then Königsberg and now Kaliningrad
30. August 2011 § 2 Kommentare
48 hours in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, and half of them in the city of the ancient name of Königsberg – barely enough time to understand that this is the place where all the black BMW SUVs from Bavaria go, and to find out that Kant´s tomb is in fact a kenotaph, that is, empty.
We have split our journey from Nida on the amazing Curonian Spit (see photo) to here in two because the wind is still blowing from the wrong direction. So after an uneventful border crossing with our hard-gained visas we arrived in a small resort-type place called Lesnoj and stayed at a pompously decorated little hotel, getting by with no rubles and not much more in conversational skills in Russian. What the credit card did for the financial side, my linguistic ingenuity and Reto´s streetfighting Italian didn´t achieve on the communication front.
I felt ashamed and started late at night to try and recognise – hopefully learn – at least some of the key Cyrillic letters. Even if Greek helps a little, it´s hard going for an ageing brain (or is it perhaps an overdose of sap having trickled into the cyclist´s legs?). In any case, today I thought I was making some progress and started to feel unduly excited about it, exclaiming loudly: Logistic Centre! as I pedalled along the Russian Autobahn, or Lenin prospekt as I tried to find the way to the Hotel Moskva (no longer reading the name as Mockba!), endangering myself and my tiny ridiculous folding bike.
The next step would be to learn at least a few common expressions such as Hello and Thank you. But as soon as you utter a Russian-sounding word, the locals start chattering in their language. Well, okay, this is what they would do anyway, so it doesn´t make such a difference. Foreign-language competence among the residents – even those working in tourism – is wersts lower than in Lithuania and Latvia.
We start to feel a little hemmed in here, but do enjoy the busy mix of urban tartness and laid-back (rather perhaps: laissez-faire) post-Soviet dereliction. We appreciate the recycling efforts of the city transport authority, which runs a motley fleet of wrecks bought up from Germany (one of the buses still displays the word Leerfahrt on its dysfunctional electronic panel). The trolley buses seem to be of Soviet make as are the decrepit trams, but they appear to run well, as do the few remaining Lada Nivas.
Although the heavy traffic on the ´prospekts´stresses me out, there isn´t much to fear as most drivers are amazingly respectful and tolerant of us weaving our way through the general jam. And then there are the security men on each floor of the hotel (which used to be a Berlin-based insurance company in the old Prussian times) – it seems we can safely feel safe.
Sitting in a cafe of the First-Coffee chain, I briefly wonder what Kant would say about the hodge-podge of history, contemporary consumerism and no-future feeling that reigns in this exclave. Sapere aude! would still be a fitting exclamation. Dare to know, or use your reasoning.
Well, let´s start small. I ask for my bill and try to decipher what I´ve had throughout a lazy afternoon waiting for the train to Gdansk:
2 cappucinos, chocolate pancakes, COK TOMaT (tomato juice), Kesadilja (quesadilla), that´s 472.50 rubles.
To top it off, I attach a photo of the beach on the Curonian Spit yesterday morning at 8.
We´re heading home tomorrow after a satisfying tour of the wind-swept Baltic flats.