Back in the USSR? First full day in Kaliningrad Oblast

Two days into Kaliningrad…

Fascinating to have arrived in Kaliningrad Region – looks, feels, smells even so much like the Russia/Soviet Union Jutta and I knew so well.

Our two-day slow route in mapped on the right, from Mauerwald with its crazy WWII bunkers, to Gusev/formerly Gumbinnen.

Pre-WWII Gumbinnen was solidly German, of course, but no question who’s here now. Possibly the shiniest golden domes on any Russian Orthodox church either of us have ever seen. A statement, to put it mildly.
The charming post-Soviet view from the back of our hotel (The Imperial, via Booking.Com!) over Gusev towards the new Orthodox church. The Russians were never very good at town-planning. Beauty isn’t a widely understood concept, it seems…
Well, short of a reference to the CPSU, this poster comes straight from Soviet days. Thanks to our grandfathers for victory, peace and happiness, and eternal glory be unto them.
When the Germans of old built roads, they built them to last. Cobbled segment of the ride up from the border, through landscape strikingly different from Poland’s half of the old East Prussia. Here, so far, very little arable land, and rolling pastures with huge cattle herds. Not a lot has happened here for decades.
Wells still in action, and fencing so familiar…
Side road with bungalows. Life here clearly isn’t easy for the migrants and their families brought in here to populate Russia’s new strategic outlet to the warm Baltic after 1945.
Not a lot of traffic just into Kaliningrad Region. Relief at being so warmly processed at the border, by a young ~Russian lady thrilled to see her first-ever tandem. Visas (secured in advance in the UK – it’s no longer possible to visit Kaliningrad visa-free for 3 days) were expensive, but no hassle – quick checks of a couple of panniers, question where we’re going and we were off. Would have like to have photographed the actual border – with its barbed wire, fencing, sand strip and cleared forest looked very much like Cold War Berlin. But given sensitivities, thought probably best to avoid…
Here in Poland still – it’s what street lamps are for. We saw 73 storks in all in one day – a record, by miles.
Another bird family, on Mamry Lake as we awoke to a beautiful Polish day.
Wolfsschanze – Hitler’s forest command centre for most of the latter years of the war. This marks the spot where Stauffenberg and his plotters tried and failed to kill Hitler in July 1944. What might have unfolded if they had succeeded…
Full-size, undamaged bunker at Mauerwald, of the kind Hitler used nearby in Wolsschanze for 800 days between 1941 and the end of 1944. EIGHT METRES of concrete above the small rooms within, to protect against airraids that never came.
Bunker at Wolf’s Lair
Hidden in the forest, with trees on the roof, these bunkers were never identified by Russians or Allies while Hitler was here.
Hitler’s troops blew up the bunkers as best they could as they left in early 1945, just before the Russians got here on their fight towards Berlin. In Communist days, there was no tourism here to speak of – now it’s well organised and very well frequented – so different, Jutta says, from when she was here with her mother in 1975. Still spooky though, and a pretty grim reflection on how recent and devastating that war was, as Hitler directed German strategy rather like a video game, sequestered here in the woods of East Prussia.

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