Kaliningrad’s German churches will be in ruins within 5 years

Koenigsberg Castle

Koenigsberg Castle 

Russia

Historical Background: The territory of the Kaliningrad Oblast of Russia was the East Prussia province of Germany (with the ancient city of Koenigsberg founded in 1255 being its capitol) until 1945 when it was conquered by the Soviet Union and annexed into it. Most of its German population was killed or fled westward to what would become West and East Germany during the last months of the war. Remaining ethnic Germans were expelled between 1944 and 1950. Joseph Stalin settled the annexed territory with ethnic Russians, who have been the majority ethnic group ever since. Administratively, the territory was added to the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, even though it has no land connection to it. Geographically, it is being surrounded by Poland to the south, Lithuania to the east and north, and the Baltic Sea to the west.

Old engraving showing Königsberg

Old engraving of Königsberg

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.

Edited by: A. N.

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