Königsberg Castle

The Königsberg Castle (Königsberger Schloss, Кёнигсбергский замок) was a castle in Königsberg, Germany (since 1946 Kaliningrad, Russia), and was one of the landmarks of the East Prussian capital Königsberg.


At the beginning of the first century AD, the Germanic tribe of the Goths erected Tuwangste Fortress near the Pregel River at an important waypoint in mostly Prussian Baltic territory. It was alternatively known as Twangste, Tvangeste, Twongst, Twoyngst. The name of this fortress was derived from the Gothic word "wangus" and describes cutting down trees in an acorn forest. As the oak was a symbol of Perkūns, the God of Thunder, it was held in high regard, forbidding even native Baltic Old Prussians to touch the trees.

After conquest of the area by the Teutonic Knights in 1255, the fortress at Kneiphof in Königsberg was renamed and a new Ordensburg castle was developed in 1257. The castle was greatly enlarged and refortified in several stages during the 16th to 18th centuries.

The fortress, later designated a castle, was the residence of the Grandmasters of the Teutonic Order and later residence for Prussian rulers.

The 1815 Encyclopaedia Britannica refers to "the magnificent palace in which is a hall 83.5 m long and 18 m broad without pillars to support it, and a handsome library. The gothic tower of the castle is very high (100 m) and has 284 steps to the top, from where a great distance can be seen". This extensive building, enclosed in a large quadrangle and situated almost in the center of the city, was formerly a seat of the Teutonic Order. It was altered and enlarged from the 16th to 18th centuries. The west wing contained the Schloßkirche, or palace church, where Frederick I was crowned in 1701 and William I in 1861. The arms emblazoned upon the walls and columns were those members of the Order of the Black Eagle. Above the church was the 83 m long and 18 m high Moscowiter-Saal, one of the largest halls in the German Reich.

Until the latter part of World War II, the apartments of the Hohenzollerns and the Prussia Museum (north wing) were open to the public daily. Among other things, the museum accommodated 240,000 exhibits of the Prussian collection, a collection of the state and university library as well as many paintings by the artist Lovis Corinth. During World War II, various pieces of captured Russian art were stored there, possibly including parts of the Amber Room. An extensive collection of provincial archives was also housed there. Also the Blutgericht, a wine selling tavern, was situated within the castle.

Following the bombing of Königsberg by the Royal Air Force in the Second World War in 1944, the castle completely burnt out. However, the thick walls were able to withstand both the aerial bombing and Soviet Artillery, as well as urban fighting in April 1945, allowing the ruins of the castle to stay standing. The largely destroyed Königsberg became part of the Soviet Union and was renamed Kaliningrad in 1946.

Kaliningrad was to be rebuilt as a model town on the remains of Königsberg, without a reminder of the German past left standing. Leonid Brezhnev consequently ordered that the remains of the castle be disposed of so they would no longer be seen as a vestige of Prussian militarism in the eyes of the Soviet Government. Despite protests from students and intellectuals from Kaliningrad, the ruins of the castle were destroyed in 1968.

Current situation

Today, the centre square of Kaliningrad resides on the site of the castle, which despite its name, actually lies to the southeast of the town centre. Adjacent to the centre square on the filled-in moat is the "House of Soviets" which in 1960 was intended to be the central administration building. Continuation of development was stopped in the 1980s as the massive building gradually sinks into the structurally unsound soil stemming from the collapse of tunnels in the old castle's subterranean levels. The building was finally completed in 2005.

The current Kaliningrad city administration debated whether to rebuild the castle with the financial assistance of the Russian Department of Culture. In contrast to the Königsberger Dom, there would be the difficult task of erecting the castle upon new ground, so plans were dropped for the time being. Instead, the centre square is cobbled.

Since September 2001, the German magazine Der Spiegel has financed the excavation of parts of the castle's cellar, which was carried out with the Kaliningrad Art History Museum. It is hoped that various buried treasures of the previous castle museum are uncovered, and possibly the rest of the Amber Room. So far, thousands of articles have been discovered. In June 2005, an occult silver casket with medals and amulets was found, causing a sensation among experts. It is planned that after completion of the excavation, parts of the castle's vaults will be made accessible as an open air museum.

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