Konigsberg, East Prussia

The following is a chapter from the first draft of my story. It has been cut because it's a sweeping history of Konigsberg (now Kaliningrad) without any characters although small bits have found their way into my current story. The description may be a just a tad overdone. Something a new author never does in their first draft, right?

However, I enjoyed the research about the area where my character, Amalie, grew up and wanted to share. 

Chapter 9-Castle on a Hill (written in 2013)

A fresh, salty sea breeze blew eastward from the Baltic Sea; up the Pregel river, past the quay, gusting around the castle and ruffling the still green waters of the Schlossteich. Puffy cumulus clouds, suspended beneath thin sheets of cirrostratus, sailed off into a dark, densely crowded horizon, dimming the sun’s brilliance.                                      

Built on a hill in 1261, the stone Schloss signified the end for the Baltic tribes, the Prusai. Living behind long sandy, forested spits that enclosed two brackish lagoons, their marshy low-lying lands graduated into a jumble of rocky ridges, irregular lakes, and dense wilderness. This topography buffered them from neighboring landlocked ethnic groups. 

The northern tribe, living on the peninsula framed between the two lagoons, survived the incursions of the sea faring Vikings between the ninth through the twelfth century. However, the whole of the Prusai tribes would experience a struggle of futility when two unfamiliar forces collided near their back door, piercing their waterlogged sphere.  

 

Militant Christian knights, whose crusading and patrolling of Roman territory had the stamp of approval from the popes of that time, forced evangelization on people living within newly acquired territory. The brutal Mongol Horde, under Genghis Khan and his sons, swept down from the eastern steppe, sacking Moscow in 1238. They then lunged further west, attacking the Holy Roman Empire’s eastern border--the land of the Poles and the Hungarians.

The Prusai, each governing their small domains, lived by fishing, hunting, and the occasional foray south, raiding animals or other possessions from their Polish neighbors. However, the northern tribe living on the maritime peninsula engaged in trade. Amber, gold of the north.

Stormy waves of the Baltic Sea cast amber ashore on their beaches. Mythologized as the encapsulated tears of a goddess grieving the death of a loved one, these ancient fossilized fragments of resin warmed to the touch, reputedly retained healing properties, and conferred courage to its wearer. Desired for perfume, medicine, and jewelry, Rome coveted it for creating rosaries.

The confluence emanating from: Mongol Horde viciousness, terrorized Poles, and Christian military crusaders, excited Rome’s lust for more and precipitated the end for the Prusai. By 1255 the Teutonic knights, at the request of the Poles and under the aegis of the pope, had defeated the Mongol Horde and gone on to conquer the Prusai, either through extermination or baptism.

The castle, leitmotif of European feudal civilization, ushered in a new era, an unfamiliar religion, a different lifestyle. Building up the Teutonic State, the knights drained marshes to create arable land, annexed the amber trade for Rome, claimed Poland’s port cities on the the Baltic Sea, and invited German colonists to repopulate areas decimated by battle.

Settlements burgeoned south of the castle, metamorphosing into Königsberg, a port city designated as a Hanseatic League city in 1340. Appropriate to the era of the time, symbolic additions were made to the stone Schloss through the centuries: a grand hall, a Gothic tower, a palace church, a royal library, and four bay towers surrounding a huge open courtyard in the heart of the castle.

The Teutonic Order’s last Grand Master, Albrecht von Hohenzollern, strategically resigned his title in 1525. With the invention of the printing press, the increase in literacy, as well as the growing unrest under corrupt practices within the Roman Catholic Church, mutiny occurred, splitting Christendom. Within the Protestant Reformation, Albrecht shrewdly professed allegiance to the incoming Lutheran faith, swearing fealty to Poland under his grandfather, the King, who was also the Grand Duke of Lithuania. With the Teutonic State removed, the area was  renamed as the Duchy of Prussia. Albrecht retained his status as Albert I, Duke of Prussia.

Königsberg blossomed into an intellectual cultural center. Unlike the orthodoxy prescribed under the knights, religious variety co-existed within the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth which encompassed Orthodox Slavs, Roman Catholic Polish, persecuted Jews, and Muslim Tartars. Absorbing this lenient philosophy, Königsberg offered sanctuary for persecuted religious group; the Swiss Mennonites, the French Huguenots, in addition to Jews, who flourished during the early 1900s.

Albert I founded a Lutheran university in 1544 focused on sciences, mathematics, and philosophy. Later institutions for learning included a vocational school for construction engineering, a Physical Education teachers’ institute, an establishment for midwives, an upper girl’s department, a commercial college, a painting and a music academy.

Preserving their borders against incursions from their neighbors, the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth continued battles against the Ukrainian Cossacks in the south, the Muscovite Russians to the east, as well as the Swedes from the north. The deposed Teutonic knights and their families evolved into their own social class, the Junker. They retained ownership of large farming estates passed onto their elder sons. The younger sons saturated the political military leadership in the principality.

A subsequent Duke, assessing his options when Sweden attacked the Commonwealth, sided with the Swedish king. A year later, after the Commonwealth had again gathered strength, the Duke negotiated with the Poles for Prussia’s independence. Then together, the Commonwealth and the Duchy routed the Swedes.

The first king, Frederick I, crowned himself at the Schloss in 1701. Later, when the bubonic plague depredated Königsberg’s population during his reign, he extended an invitation for replenishment through emigration; receiving Polish, Lithuanian, Dutch, English, and Scottish immigrants.

After gaining their emancipation, East Prussian kings found themselves overruled twice: first with Tsarist Russians from 1758-1763, secondly through Napoleon’s France from 1807-1813.

William I, continuing the Hohenzollern dynasty, incorporated Prussia into the German Empire in 1871. When World War I ended, Emperor William fled to the Netherlands to live in exile with his family. The Treaty of Versailles gave Poland a port city, the Free City of Danzig, via the Polish Corridor, splitting East Prussia from the motherland of Germany.

In 1939, Königsberg embraced a population of 350,000 people within its 9½ mile perimeter. However, as another era glimmered on the horizon, Jews began migrating, leaving the progroms and bloody cataclysms of the Soviet Union and moving west this time rather than east, searching again for another safe port in the vast ocean of discrimination and persecution.