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Appropriating a fractured Past: The story of place-making in Kaliningrad 1945 - 2000

Part 2 Dissertation 2004
Max Kettenacker
University of Cambridge | UK
In 1990, when I was 12 years old, my father, a West German living in England introduced me to an East German female vicar who at the time of reunification was the acting East German ambassador. They married on the 3rd October 1991, precisely one year after the day of German reunification when they first met. The marriage did not last. Ever since, however, I have been fascinated by the demise of the Soviet bloc grappling with abrupt Westernisation and in particular by the fate of the inherited Soviet urban landscape in Eastern Europe. In this respect, the city of Kaliningrad tells a very unique story.

Originally the German city of Königsberg, Kaliningrad became part of the Soviet Union after the Second World War. The German population was completely replaced by Russians and a fierce program of de-historicization, seeking to erase the city's German history, severely impacted upon the urban landscape. With the dawn of the Cold war, Kaliningrad, confusingly also the name of the region, became heavily militarised and was sealed off from the rest of world. Politically, Kaliningrad is an enigma, especially given the recent EU enlargement that has effectively rendered it an exclave within Europe isolated from its Russian motherland, and its future questions the collective identity of Europe.

In post-communist Kaliningrad, the spatial effacement of the Soviet era has led to an increasing desire for discourse on Kaliningrad's multiple identities. This is most notable in the city centre, where the site of the former castle ruins that were blown up in 1969 and replaced by the concrete colossus of the Palace of Soviets, forever defunct and uninhabitable, acts as an illustrious setting for architectural place-making.

Now at last, a dialogue concerning the city's German heritage has been allowed to enter the public domain. However, considering recent nostalgic temperaments toward Königsberg, the question remains what will guide the urgently needed regeneration of the symbolically charged city centre without regressing to reproduction and artifice? And how can two seemingly incongruous urban identities be reconciled to shape a city centre that reflects contemporary post-communist Kaliningrad?

Max Kettenacker

This dissertation was chosen for its outstanding and insightful response to one of the most challenging urban situations imaginable - the forlorn former Soviet city of Kaliningrad. Besides telling the story of its destruction and transformation after1945 from seat of ancient German culture to Russian workers' town more richly than has been done in English before, Kettenacker looks dispassionately at the present haunting townscape of Kaliningrad. While taking account of the present imagery of the city, he refuses either to become besotted by its brutalist image or to accept that the German centre should be recreated, as some have suggested.

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