Kaliningrad and Cultural Memory

Cold War and Post-Soviet Representations of a Resettled City

by Edward Saunders (Author)
Monographs VIII, 312 Pages
Series: Cultural Memories, Volume 12

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures
  • Introduction Memory, Nostalgia and Place-Writing in Eastern Europe
  • Part I Resettled City: Königsberg–Kaliningrad as a Memory Site
  • Chapter 1 Königsberg as a Lapsed and Unfulfilled Site of Germany’s Collective-Autobiographical Memory
  • Chapter 2 Renaming Debates and Local Strategies of Collective-Autobiographical Memory in Kaliningrad
  • Chapter 3 Lost ‘Cultural Intimacy’ and Individual Forms of Nostalgic Memory for Königsberg
  • Part II Literary Allegories of the Philosophical Canon: ‘Kant and Königsberg’ as a Co-ordinate of Cold War Memory
  • Chapter 4 Toppling a Monument: Adapting Biomyths in Satires on ‘Kant and Königsberg’
  • Chapter 5 ‘Kant and Königsberg’ and Failed Revolutions in Bertolt Brecht’s Adaptation of Der Hofmeister
  • Chapter 6 Countering Loss through Literature: Johannes Bobrowski’s Imagined Königsberg
  • Part III Intertextual Memory: Psychogeography in ‘Real-and-Imagined’ Visits to Kaliningrad
  • Chapter 7 Joseph Brodsky in Kaliningrad: Postcards, Photographs and Reflections at the ‘Earth’s Border’
  • Chapter 8 Ecocritical Post-Communism? Visits to Kaliningrad after Perestroika
  • Chapter 9 Ruin Ethics and Aesthetics: ‘Kant and Kaliningrad’ in the Photography of Joachim Koester and Norbert Wiesneth
  • Conclusion Writing Place and Bearing Witness
  • Chronology
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index

Kaliningrad and
Cultural Memory

Cold War and Post-Soviet Representations
of a Resettled City

Edward Saunders


Oxford • Bern • Berlin • Bruxelles • New York • Wien

About the author

Edward Saunders teaches literature as a member of adjunct faculty at the Center for Liberal Arts, Webster Vienna Private University. He completed his PhD in German Studies at the University of Cambridge in 2013. He has published in the areas of comparative literature, cultural memory and life-writing, with a Central and East European focus.

About the book

In 1945, the Soviet Union annexed the East Prussian city of Königsberg, later renaming it Kaliningrad. Left in ruins by the war, the home of Immanuel Kant became a Russian city, a source of historical and cultural fascination for settlers, former inhabitants, visitors and observers alike. New settlers replaced the German population in the years that followed. This book looks at three aspects of Kaliningrad’s relationship to the memory of Königsberg through cultural and literary sources and visual representations. First, it addresses the symbolism of Königsberg as a memory site in German culture and nostalgia for the city after 1945. Second, it discusses imagined and satirical literary-cultural adaptations and deconstructions of the idea of ‘Kant and Königsberg’ during the Cold War and afterwards. Third, it explores and reflects on discourses of memory, history and nostalgia in representations of the city by poets, photographers and filmmakers visiting Kaliningrad from the 1960s onwards. The book provides an introduction to the memory debates relating to Königsberg-Kaliningrad, as well as new critical readings of literary texts, films and photographic works.

This eBook can be cited

This edition of the eBook can be cited. To enable this we have marked the start and end of a page. In cases where a word straddles a page break, the marker is placed inside the word at exactly the same position as in the physical book. This means that occasionally a word might be bifurcated by this marker.


Memory, Nostalgia and Place-Writing in Eastern Europe

As a representation of the most Western of Eastern European cities, the introduction to Aleksandr Pushkin’s poem ‘Mednyi vsadnik’ [‘The Bronze Horseman’] (1833) has legendary status in Russian literature. It describes Peter the Great standing on the desolate banks of the River Neva, watching a poor ‘Finn’ [chukhonets] paddle past in his canoe. Unphased by blackened huts, thick woods and mist, Peter decides to create a ‘window into Europe’ there, to build a grand capital, and invite the world to be his guest.1 St Petersburg’s founding myth in Pushkin’s poem, a blend of literary artifice and historical fact, helps illustrate the prejudices and stereotypes Westerners hold about Eastern Europe. A visionary man brings light to the darkness, culture to the wilderness, Europe to Asia. The image channels centuries of imperial and later colonial archetypes relating to the civilizing influence of Western culture. In Alexander Etkind’s more recent, historical take in terms of ‘internal colonization’, ‘the new Russian capital embodied the universalist imaginary of ancient Rome. The results […] erased not only the memory of the native semi-Christian, semi-shamanistic tribes of Ingria, but also the traditional culture of Russia’.2 The imperial-colonial moment thus changes not only the world of the colonized, but also that of the colonizer.

Highlighting imagined images of Eastern Europe such as a ‘jewel ill set’ and a ‘fine and fruitful land that was uncultivated and uninhabited’, the historian Larry Wolff has described how Western Europe constructed the East as its mysterious, economically exploitable and culturally barbaric←1 | 2→ counterpart, particularly during the Enlightenment.3 Works by prominent Eastern Europeans, such as Pushkin’s panegyric to St Petersburg, which reflects a moment of intellectual ‘internal colonization’ if you will, did nothing to alter such perceptions during the nineteenth century. However, Wolff also links such images of the East to the geopolitical situation during the Cold War. ‘Eastern Europe could only be surrendered’, Wolff argues, ‘because it had long ago been imagined, discovered, claimed, and set apart’.4 In his view, the ‘Iron Curtain’ from the Baltic to the Adriatic reinforced a pre-existing ‘work of intellectual artifice and cultural construction’.5

Perceptions of Eastern Europe have a special place in German culture too. Over centuries, Germans imagined Eastern Europe in terms of barbarism and oppression, contrasted with German ‘Kultur’.6 As Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius notes, Johann Gottfried Herder thought of German culture as a ‘“living wall” against the East’, while Kant and Hegel ‘both dismissed Eastern Europe in their writings’.7 He hints at the way the twin concepts of ‘Kulturlandschaft’ [cultural landscape] and ‘Lebensraum’ [living space], the well-intentioned inventions of a geographer named Friedrich Ratzel, encapsulate Germany’s awkward relationship to the East.8 Seeing Eastern Europe as a German-influenced ‘cultural landscape’ describes the tradition Germans have sought to hold on to, while ‘living space’ and its connotations with Nazi atrocities deflates the myth immediately. For Liulevicius, no latter-day revanchist laments about Kaliningrad can compete with the danger posed by older German myths of Eastern Europe, ‘the excitement produced by imagining alluring futures’.9

Reading Wolff’s account in particular, I puzzled over the place of the former East Prussian city of Königsberg, now Kaliningrad in the Russian←2 | 3→ Federation within Western visions of Eastern Europe. Two things struck me. First, Wolff’s use of the phrases ‘an open border to Eastern Europe’ to describe the Baltic coast in the eighteenth century, as well as ‘the eastern outpost of the German Enlightenment’ to describe Königsberg.10 Second, the recurrence of names connected with Königsberg – Kant and Herder, of course, but also Fichte, whom Wolff describes travelling through Poland on his way to visit Kant, reinforcing stereotypes as he went.11 Instead of seeing a porous border, or even an ‘enlightened’ (also prejudiced) outpost, today commentators perceive a once Western city on which the East has apparently encroached. In its pre-World Cup sports coverage of December 2017, the Sun newspaper described Kaliningrad as a ‘derelict Cold War outpost’, a ‘Cold War crucible’, ‘a bleak city of decaying brutalist tower blocks’ and an ‘isolated backwater’.12 In what follows, I seek to differentiate some of the clichés, by focusing on how the city’s history is imagined and remembered as part of the peripheries of both Western and Eastern Europe.

‘Königsberg in Prussia’, to give Kaliningrad its full, former name, is commonly associated with one man: Immanuel Kant. By chance, Kant’s grave was one of the very few structures of central Königsberg to survive the British-led air-raids of 1944 and the Soviet assault of 1945 intact. If ‘classical’ Weimar with its proximity to Buchenwald concentration camp came to be seen as representing the ‘worst and best’ of German history, something similar could be said of Königsberg-Kaliningrad.13 Having been rebuilt during the Weimar Republic, the memorial to the author of the essay ‘On Perpetual Peace’ (1795) stood amidst the rubble and ruins as an unintended emblem of Germany’s abandonment of its rational tradition in the twelve years of the Nazi dictatorship. The subsequent disappearance←3 | 4→ of Königsberg from Germany’s national map also meant the loss of part of the nation’s symbolic geography. Such constructions and contestations of the historical and spatial meanings of place is the domain of collective cultural memory.

‘Cultural memory is not the Other of history’, writes German memory theorist Astrid Erll. Instead, ‘historiography is one medium of cultural memory alongside other media, such as novels, architecture or rituals’.14 Following Maurice Halbwachs and others, Erll embraces and defends the ‘integrative power’ of a broad understanding of memory as an umbrella term but differentiates systematically between ‘collected’ and ‘collective’ forms of remembering. In her usage, ‘collected’ memory refers to individual memories that are culturally formed. In examining this form of ‘cultural’ memory, we look at ‘sociocultural contexts and their influence on individual memory’.15 ‘Collective’ memory, the main topic of this book, encompasses external shared ideas, media, practices or institutions. It indicates the collectively organized, archived or intertextual elements of remembering within cultures, in which ‘memory’ functions as a metaphor.16 Erll further identifies various facets of these forms of memory, whether ‘episodic’, ‘semantic’, ‘procedural’ or ‘autobiographical’, as well as between different functions of memory within cultural/collective forms of representation, such as art and literature.17

What is the significance of Kaliningrad as a site of cultural memory? How does it figure within literary, photographic or film history? Can we learn something from these mediations of history and place about the dynamics of nostalgia? This book seeks to answer these questions, matters to which cultural memory’s ‘dynamic interplay between text and context, the individual and the collective, the social and the medial’ are key.18


VIII, 312
ISBN (Book)
Publication date
2019 (March)
literature and history urban representation nostalgia Cold War and Post-Soviet Representations of a Resettled City Kaliningrad and Cultural Memory
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2019. VIII, 312 pp., 9 fig. b/w

Biographical notes

Edward Saunders (Author)

Edward Saunders teaches literature as a member of adjunct faculty at the Center for Liberal Arts, Webster Vienna Private University. He completed his PhD in German Studies at the University of Cambridge in 2013. He has published in the areas of comparative literature, cultural memory and life-writing, with a Central and East European focus.


Title: Kaliningrad and Cultural Memory