The 133 German churches in Kaliningrad oblast, many of which are irreplaceable cultural treasures, will all be in ruins within five years, according to the region’s chief archivist, the result of the transfer of control over them to the Russian Orthodox Church and the failure of the Russian government, because of the crisis, to provide funds to restore them.
Anatoly Bakhtin, a historian who head Kaliningrad’s State Archive, says that this tragedy is ongoing, with one of these churches having been destroyed by artillery fire during a recent Russian military exercise (newizv.ru/culture/2015-01-15/213102-istorik-i-glavnyj-arhivist-gosudarstvennogo-arhiva-kaliningradskoj-oblasti-anatolij-bahtin.html).
The reasons for this disaster are somewhat complicated, he says. In 2010, the regional government transferred control of these churches to the Russian Orthodox Church both to avoid these churches falling into the hands of Protestants or Catholics and to serve as the state’s agent to rebuild them.
The Russian Orthodox Church expected massive state financing, but the economic crisis ended any possibility of that, and the transfer of these churches from undefined ownership to the Moscow church meant that funds for restoration work from Germany dried up almost completely, a combination that condemned them to decay given the lack of local congregations.
“Even those churches which in 2010 were still in excellent condition today look pathetic,” Bakhtin says, for which many in addition to the Russian state and church must be blamed. Another contributing factor is that there are no specialists on Gothic architecture in Russia; those who know about church architecture know only about Orthodox structures.
There now seems to be no way forward to prevent the decay of these churches, the archivist says. There isn’t money, there aren’t congregations, and there are no domestic specialists. Consequently, “all will have collapsed within the next five years, regardless of who owns these objects of cultural heritage.”
And the ordinary residents of the oblast are contributing to this sad outcome, Bakhtin continues, by their “barbaric attitude.” Many of them steal bricks from these churches, and others use them as trash dumps.Because the situation is so dire, he says, those who want to visit them had best do so now because in no time at all they will simply be ruins.