It seems the Teutonic Knights left their mark in Lithuania, at a port city where the Baltic Sea meets the Danė River. They built a castle here and collected tolls to use the waterways, and eventually named the town, Memel. In the 16th-century, the Lithuanian name, “Klaipėda,” was believed to mean, “bread eater,” as the city dwellers used to eat bread made by the folks in the surrounding countryside. After 1945, all things German were removed from the city. Klaipėda was used for the name of the city, rather than Memel.
As we have seen with other Baltic countries, Lithuania always seemed to be in transition. Settled by the Poles, the Lithuanians, the Germans, the Russians. One never knew, who would be next………..
In pre-war WWII, Europe tensions grew and Germany was expected to move against Lithuania to re-acquire the region. On March 20th, 1939 the German Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbontrop, delivered an ultimatum to the Lithuanian Foreign Minister demanding the surrender of Memel. Lithuania, unable to secure international support, submitted to the ultimatum. In exchange they were supposed to receive the right to use the new harbor facilities as a Free Port. Adolf Hitler visited the harbor and delivered a speech to the city residents and that was Hitler’s last territorial acquisition before WWII.
It only got worse…….
When an allied victory looked promising the inhabitants of Klaipėda fled as the fighting came closer. On January 28th, 1945 the Soviet Red Army captured the near empty city. After the War, the Memel territory was incorporated into the Lithuanian SSR. It was the end of the city’s belonging to German speaking lands. All German names were changed. All buildings were torn down.
Guerrilla warfare, under the leadership of General Zamaitis,(we learned all about him in a previous post) took place from 1944-1953, when 50,000 Lithuanians took to the forests trying to re-establish national values and freedom of religion and re-gain an independent state. It didn’t work and thousands of Lithuanians were captured and killed or sent to Siberia.
The Soviets transformed Klaipėda, the foremost ice-free port in the Eastern Baltic, into the largest marine base in the European USSR. Gigantic shipyards, dockyards and a fishing port were constructed and by 1959, the population of the city had doubled it’s pre-war population. After WWII, all the new residents came to Klaipėda from Russia, Belarus and the Ukraine, replacing the German speaking population. As we have seen in the other Baltic countries, this was a favored tactic by the Russians. Move Russians into the newly acquired states, set up a Russian government, give the arriving Russians the good jobs and erase any trace of a previous country. Klaipėda, to this day, has the highest percentage of people, whose native language is Russian.
All Lithuanian national symbols were banned. Many, if not most, of the original German and Scandinavian architecture in the Old Town was torn down by the Soviets to make large block buildings to house the workers from Russia. All the churches were torn down.(More about that further in the post) Remaining, is the uncharacteristic geometrically correctness of the streets. The angle of the intersection is always straight. This is unusual to any other town in Lithuania.
In 1990 , a year before the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union, Lithuania became the first Baltic state to declare itself independent. The Soviet response was to impose a economic blockade, by ceasing to deliver supplies of raw materials. (primarily oil) Even hot water was turned off and with the lack of essential goods and fuel, the population felt enormous pressure to cave in to the Soviet demands. The blockade lasted 74 days and Lithuania did not renounce their declaration of independence. On October 25, 1992, the citizens of Lithuania voted to adopt the current constitution and on February 14th, 1993, they held general elections and Algirdas Brazauskas became the first president. By August 31, 1993 the last units of the Soviet Army left Lithuania and by 2004 Lithuania became part of NATO. In May of 2004, it became a fully-fledged member of the European Union.
Walking along the canal, today, we see a lot of folks strolling the canal and looking at a sailing ship docked along the promenade. Some folks are floating along the canal in pedal boats made to look like cars……..Others are having a beer at one of the canal side restaurants.
The buildings along the canal are a mixture of old and new, with an occasional empty lot. There are a lot of restaurants along the canal and one of my favorites was in the old red-brick, port warehouse on the corner, the Memelis Bar.
So, what are the favorite foods in Lithuania? One of the oldest foods is rye bread. Rye bread is eaten everyday for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Lithuania and other nations once formed part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and many of the food and drink recipes found here, have been shared and adapted. German traditions introduced pork and potato dishes such as potato pudding and potato sausages. Kibinai, from an Eastern cuisine, are popular here too. They are traditional pastries filled with mutton and onion, similar to the Cornish pastie. Many of the Lithuanian nobles had French chefs, so french cuisine can be found here also. From the 11th-century, Lithuanian farmers have been known for their farmhouse beers, (which is the most common beverage here) because it was brewed for Baltic Festivals and rituals.
There was plenty of outdoor seating along the canal……….covered for cooler weather……..
and open seating for warmer weather………
My favorite floral display was the sleigh full of flowers!
And inside the Memelis Bar, it looked like this………
I had to try a beer! Beer is served with a bowl of pickles!
Walking to other sections of the Old Town you can see the different architecture………
The older buildings are mixed in with the new buildings…….
And the young folks are the same everywhere……just give them some music and they’ll be fine!
We’re getting close to the Teatro Square, where there are more restaurants and stalls selling souvenirs……….
and more floral displays…….
Teatro Square is the main square, where many things have taken place. Richard Wagner lived and preformed here in his early career (1836) This is also the square, where Hitler used the balcony of the theater to announce in his speech to the Lithuanians that Germany was taking the country over. Standing in the center of the square stands the Anne of Tharau statue. It is a small statue, dedicated to a character in a poem, by the 17th-century German poet, Simon Dach. The 17-stanza poem was named after Anna Neander, the daughter of the parson from Tharau (East Prussia) The poem was written for her marriage in 1636 and had been set to music by 1642. Simon Dach, was also noted for the writings of hymnals. The Germans tried to suppress all things Lithuanian and then when the Soviets took over they destroyed everything that was Lithuanian or German in design or tradition. Another ploy the Russians used was to appear at times to be giving up their grip of Lithuania. After all the churches had been destroyed they allowed the Catholic priests to collect money from the already down trodden population, in the hopes to re-build their churches. In 1960, using people’s donations and volunteer work ( they had to raise one million rubles!) they wanted to re-build the Our Lady of Peace Church. Initially, the Soviets permitted the works, but this was only a trick. Once the building was complete it was nationalized and the priests and builders were arrested and sent to Siberia. The tower was demolished and a concert hall established in the naves. Finally, in 1988, the building was returned to it’s intended use and the tower was re-built as a monument to the builders.
Well, it’s the end of our day in Klaipėda and we must return to the ship. Tomorrow we are headed to Germany………What will we find there? The other side of the story, I am sure……
PS While strolling around Klaipėda, I did find an authentic amber jewelry shop. You know, the kind of shop where the sales ladies are coifed perfectly and dressed to the hilt, wearing loads of jewelry and high, high, high, heels. All the goods here were under glass, lock and key. I didn’t come out empty handed, but I did not come out with the butterscotch amber either, which is favored right now. I chose the light, light, light yellow-white! I’ll always remember Lithuania!