In the Middle Ages, it was the site of Old Prussian settlement Twangste. In 1255, during the Northern Crusades, a new fortress was built by the Teutonic Knights. The city became the capital of the Duchy of Prussia and East Prussia. It was heavily damaged during World War II and its population fled or was removed by force when it became a Russian city. According to the 2010 Census, its population was 431,902.
Kaliningrad is at the mouth of the navigable Pregolya River, which empties into the Vistula Lagoon, an inlet of the Baltic Sea.
Sea vessels can access Gdańsk Bay/Bay of Danzig and the Baltic Sea by way of the Vistula Lagoon and the Strait of Baltiysk.
Until around 1900, ships drawing more than 2 meters (6 ft 7 in) of water could not pass the bar and come into town; larger vessels had to anchor at Pillau (now Baltiysk), where cargo was transferred to smaller vessels. In 1901, a ship canal between Königsberg and Pillau, completed at a cost of 13 million German marks, enabled vessels of a 6.5 meters (21 ft) draught to moor alongside the town (see also Ports of the Baltic Sea).
Kaliningrad has a temperate climate, Oceanic climate (Cfb), with cool, cloudy, moderate winters and mild summers with frequent showers and thunderstorms. Average temperatures range from −1.5 to +18.1 °C (29.3 to 64.6 °F) and rainfall varies from 36.0 millimeters (1.42 in)/month to 97.0 millimeters (3.82 in)/month. In general, it is a maritime climate and therefore damp, variable and mild. There is still a continental tendency with vast temperature differences between July and January.
The seasons are clearly differentiated. Spring starts in March and is initially cold and windy, later becoming pleasantly warm and often very sunny. Summer, which begins in June, is predominantly warm but hot at times (with temperature reaching as high as +30–+35 °C (86–95 °F) at least once per year) with plenty of sunshine interspersed with heavy rain. The average annual hours of sunshine for Kaliningrad are 1700, similar to other northern cities. Autumn comes in September and is at first warm and usually sunny, turning cold, damp and foggy in November. Winter includes periods of snow. January and February are the coldest months with the temperature sometimes dropping as low as −15 °C (5 °F).
Königsberg was preceded by a Sambian (Old Prussian) fort called Twangste (Tuwangste or Tvankste), meaning Oak Forest. During the conquest of the Sambians by the Teutonic Knights in 1255, Twangste was destroyed and replaced with a new fortress named Königsberg. The declining Old Prussian culture finally became extinct around the 17th century, after the surviving Old Prussians were integrated through assimilation and Germanization.
Kaliningrad was the East Prussian provincial capital Königsberg. Founded in 1255 by the Teutonic Knights, the city was named in honor of the Bohemian King Ottokar II. Through immigration and development over the following seven centuries, the area became predominantly German, though having Polish and Lithuanian minorities. During World War II the city of Königsberg was heavily damaged by a British bombing attack in 1944 and the massive Soviet siege in spring 1945.
At the end of World War II in 1945, the city became part of the Soviet Union pending the final determination of territorial questions at the peace settlement (as part of the Russian SFSR) as agreed upon by the Allies at the Potsdam Conference:
The Conference has agreed in principle to the proposal of the Soviet Government concerning the ultimate transfer to the Soviet Union of the city of Koenigsberg and the area adjacent to it as described above, subject to expert examination of the actual frontier.
The President of the United States and the British Prime Minister have declared that they will support the proposal of the Conference at the forthcoming peace settlement.
Königsberg was renamed Kaliningrad in 1946 after the death of Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, Mikhail Kalinin, one of the original Bolsheviks. The survivors of the German population were forcibly expelled in 1946-1949, and the city was repopulated with Soviet citizens. The German language was replaced by the Russian language.
The city was rebuilt, and, as the westernmost territory of the USSR, the Kaliningrad Oblast became a strategically important area during the Cold War. The Soviet Baltic Fleet was headquartered in the city in the 1950s. Because of its strategic importance, Kaliningrad was closed to foreign visitors.
In 1957 an agreement was signed and later came into force which delimited the border between Poland and the Soviet Union.
The town of Baltiysk, just outside Kaliningrad, is the only Russian Baltic Sea port said to be "ice-free" all year round, and the region hence plays an important role in maintenance of the Baltic Fleet.
Due to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Kaliningrad Oblast became an exclave, geographically separated from the rest of Russia. This isolation from the rest of Russia became even more pronounced politically when Poland and Lithuania became members of NATO and subsequently the European Union in 2004. All military and civilian land links between the region and the rest of Russia have to pass through members of NATO and the EU. Special travel arrangements for the territory's inhabitants have been made through the Facilitated Transit Document (FTD) and Facilitated Rail Transit Document (FRTD).
Since the early 1990s, the Kaliningrad oblast has been a Free Economic Zone (FEZ Yantar). In 2005 the city marked 750 years of existence as Königsberg/Kaliningrad. In July 2007, Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov declared that if US-controlled missile defense systems were deployed in Poland, then nuclear weapons might be deployed in Kaliningrad. On November 5, 2008, Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev said that installing missiles in Kaliningrad was almost a certainty. These plans were suspended, however, in January 2009.
But during late 2011, a long range Voronezh radar was commissioned to monitor missile launches within about 6,000 kilometres (3,728 miles). It is situated in the settlement of Pionersky (formerly German Neukuhren) in Kaliningrad Oblast.
Kaliningrad is the administrative center of the oblast. Within the framework of administrative divisions, it is incorporated as the city of oblast significance of Kaliningrad—an administrative unit with the status equal to that of the districts. As a municipal division, the city of oblast significance of Kaliningrad is incorporated as Kaliningrad Urban Okrug.
An important education centre in Kaliningrad is the Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University. It is the successor to the Albertina, which was the old university of Königsberg founded in 1544, and whose faculty included noted scholars as Abraomas Kulvietis, Stanislovas Rapalionis, Immanuel Kant, and Jan Mikulicz-Radecki.
The modern city of Kaliningrad is home to the Kaliningrad Regional Philharmonic and Symphony Orchestra, the Lik male chamber choir and the Garmonika Russian music ensemble, as well as the Kaliningrad Chamber Orchestra.
Kaliningrad has its own vodka and beer brands, Stari Königsberg and Ostmark respectively. Since the early 1990s many new restaurants have opened in the city. These restaurants offer culinary specialities of former East Prussia, like Königsberger Klopse, but also many fish and salad dishes, Italian pizza and sushi, which is as popular in Kaliningrad as in the rest of Russia. Königsberger Fleck, a bovine tripe soup and yet another culinary specialty from former Königsberg, no longer belongs to the culinary culture of Kaliningrad.
The people of Kaliningrad generally imported their respective culinary traditions to the region when they settled in the area after 1945. Borshch and okroshka may be served as in the rest of Russia. Many Italian and Asian restaurants (or fusions of both traditions) are in operation all over the city. Pizza and sushi are among the most popular dishes today. Fast food is widely available from various chains, including those of foreign origin. Shawarma is also gaining considerable prominence.
Khrabrovo Airport, 24 kilometers (15 mi) north of Kaliningrad, has scheduled and charter services to several destinations throughout Europe. There is the smaller Kaliningrad Devau Airport for general aviation. Kaliningrad is also home to Kaliningrad Chkalovsk naval air base.
In Baltiysk, one can take a ferry to St. Petersburg, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Riga, and Kiel.
Kaliningrad's international railway station is Kaliningrad Passazhirsky, which in German times was known as Königsberg Hauptbahnhof. Trains depart in the directions of Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Adler and Chelyabinsk. A unique feature of the Kaliningrad railway is that some tracks in the direction of Poland and Berlin have a standard gauge of 1,435-millimeter (56.5 in) track parallel to the commonly Russian broad gauge of 1,520 millimeters (60 in) mostly for strategic reasons during the Cold War and nowadays for goods traffic. Platform number 6 at the Passazhirsky station can be reached on standard gauge over the former Ostbahn main line from Elbing (Elbląg) making passenger through traffic from Berlin possible.
Regional trains also depart from Kaliningrad-North, the former Königsberg Nordbahnhof, which is situated on Victory Square, the current city center. Trains depart to Zelenogradsk and Svetlogorsk, and also once a day to Sovetsk. The lines to the Zelenogradsk and Svetlogorsk have been electrified. Many local pre-war lines have been broken up or are no longer in use, also because the new border with Poland completely disrupted the former traffic flows.
In 1881, the Königsberg tramway system was opened, and it still functions to this day. In 1975, a trolleybus system was also introduced.
In 1996, Kaliningrad was designated a Special Economic Zone, referred to as FEZ Yantar. Manufacturers based there get tax and customs duty breaks on the goods they send to other parts of Russia. Although corruption was an early deterrent, that policy means the region is now a manufacturing hub. One in three televisions in Russia is made in Kaliningrad (including Ericsson brand by Telebalt Ltd. and Polar by an eponymous firm located in the city of Chernyakhovsk) and it is home to Cadillac, Hummer and BMW related car plants (produced by Avtotor). Currently, Kaliningrad's major industries are manufacturing, shipping, fishing and amber products. In 2006, Moscow declared it would turn the region into "the Russian Hong Kong".
The European Commission provides funds for business projects under its special programme for Kaliningrad. With an average GDP growth of more than 10% per year for three years to 2007, Kaliningrad grew faster than any other region in Russia, even outstripping the success of its EU neighbours. By early 2015, the BBC reported the region's trade with the countries of the EU was increasing, with improved economic growth and industrial output.
Kaliningrad Oblast used to be the most heavily militarized area of what is now the Russian Federation, and the density of military infrastructure was the highest in Europe. It was the headquarters of the former Soviet Baltic Military District. Kaliningrad also functions as the headquarters of the Russia's Baltic Fleet, ringed by Chernyakhovsk (air base), Donskoye (air base) and Kaliningrad Chkalovsk (naval air base).
Access and control to the Baltic Sea was imperative because of Soviet perceptions that this meant that the hegemonic power had "influence on European and global affairs". Russia had replaced Sweden as the hegemon since the 18th century, but during the late 19th and early 20th century it was increasingly ousted by Germany's growing naval power. At any point in time during the Soviet era, there would be at least 100,000 troops stationed in Kaliningrad (though there are some estimates that run up to 300,000). Therefore, the population of the city was fluid and almost always temporary. Many military officers and their families would refer to the Kaliningrad Oblast as "the West". The Soviet Union also kept nuclear weapons for use in case a war occurred.
The overwhelming majority Kaliningrad's residents are of Russian ethnicity. As the Soviet Union and the Russian Empire which preceded it were both multi-ethnic states, the area's annexation into the USSR resulted in the city being settled by a slew of other peoples, mostly Slavs. Kaliningrad today is home to communities of Ukrainian, Belarusian, Tatar, German, Armenian, Polish, and Lithuanian descent. Although there is a lack of continuity between the inhabitants of Koenigsberg and contemporary Kaliningrad, these ethnic groups were all present when the city was part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
In the 1940s and 1950s the Soviets resettled Poles from Belarus, the Baltic states, Ukraine, and Russia to Kaliningrad. According to Wacław Podbereski after the Second World War and the takeover of the administration in these areas by the Soviets, the development of the Polish element in this region effectively ceased. The oldest church in Königsberg was the Polish church of St. Nicholas, which had been founded with the city in 1255 in the historic district of Steindamm and was dismantled in 1950. Change came with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, due mainly to pastoral activities that began the repolonization of the Poles in Russia. The first steps were made by a Polish priest from Grodno (Hrodna), Fr. Jerzy Steckiewicz.
The "Polish Cultural Community in Kaliningrad" operates as the main Polish organization among Kaliningrad's Polonia, one of six such Polish organizations within Kaliningrad Oblast. Wspolnota Polska estimates that it is likely there are between 15,000 and 20,000 Poles living in the entire oblast. The "Polish Cultural Community in Kaliningrad" organizes poetry contests and is the publisher of the local Polish language newspaper "The Voice from the Pregel". The whole Kaliningrad Oblast has witnessed an increase in Polish cultural activity since the fall of the Soviet Union, partly due to the immigration of Polish families from Kazakhstan, who had been deported by Stalin during the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939.
Kaliningrad is home to the football club FC Baltika Kaliningrad, which plays in the Football Championship of the National League (formerly Russian First Division). It played in the Russian Premier League for 3 seasons between 1996 and 1998.
Kaliningrad will be the host of some games in the 2018 FIFA World Cup.