Kaliningrad, end of September, 2000.
Hallo Dear Friends,
Have you ever got an autumn letter from Kaliningrad? No, I thought so. For me it’s also the first time I’m writing one in English!
Autumn here is wonderful. It is warm, sunny, almost like Swedish summer. My college and I are often having lunch out and that means that we are sitting outdoors in front of cafés and bars, which are numerous in the city. Food is also good and prices are for western people very low. For the inhabitants (400.000), who have very small income, it’s terribly expensive.
Kaliningrad is a green city with many parks and trees on both sides of the streets. Now in September there are lots of flowers everywhere, and people, mostly elderly women, are sitting on the pavements trying to sell flowers and fruit from their own gardens, also lots of mushrooms from the forest. 80 % of the population are very poor. It’s really a city of contrasts. You see welldressed, elegant people and luxurous cars in the streets, and at the same time people searching the dustbins everywhere.
There is a small beam of hope when you see how they are repairing and building new houses here and there. Most buildings are grey and ugly, neglected during the communist time. In some parts of the town there are a few houses left from the German time, before World War II, when it was Königsberg. They were beautifully decorated, but now in ruins.
I’m very lucky to have got a nice modern flat right in the centre in one of the main streets. On one side of the building is the Drama Theatre, on the other side the famous Zoo and opposite the Stadium. From my kitchen window I can even watch its result board, when there are matches, and see the crowds of people coming and leaving. Cars, buses and trams are passing day and night, but I’m not disturbed as my flat is on the second floor.
Since I started my job here in February I’ve learnt to like being here more and more. The students at Kaliningrad State University are very eager to learn Swedish. This term we have about 60 beginners divided into four groups. My young colleague Fredrik and I have two groups each, twice a week and also some lessons with the advanced students. Many of them have been in Sweden and speak Swedish fluently. They are all very charming and it’s just a pleasure to go to the lessons.
The cultural life is not so developed here as it was in Vilnius. During my seven years there there were concerts, operas and art exhibitions every week. I also had more friends there because of the Swedish Embassy situated in Vilnius. Here Sweden has only a ”consul honoraire” who is from Poland and we don’t see much of him. Our colleges at the English department, to which we two Swedish teachers belong, are kind and friendly, easy to talk to, but they have never invited us to something. Probably it is a question of time and their financial situation.
Most teachers here work double time to earn money enough for living. We have two good friends, a married couple with grown-up children, who have taken us to the sea-side to show us how to find amber on the beach. We have found quite a lot of small pieces, imagine 55 million years old! When they are polished and made into gems they are really worthy. They say that 98 % of all the amber in the world comes from Kaliningrad, and I believe it, when I’ve seen the mines at the coast. They are now digging several metres below the sea level.
Our friends have also shown us the best places for mushroom-picking, and the best rivers for trout-fishing. In town there are some interesting museums, for instance the Amber Museum and the Museum of Old Koenigsberg with special rooms, devoted to the famous philosopher Immanuel Kant, who lived here all his life. The ruins from the old cathedral is being restored, has recently got a roof. In beginning of 1944 the city was completely destroyed by the allies bombing, only this cathedral is left. There was an old castle from 14th century, where now the most ugly building in town is standing, built in the 60-ies.
Very often I talk to the children and grandchildren in Sweden over the telephone. Of course I miss them, especially after this summer when we met quite a lot. Now I have to wait to see them until X-mas. Although Kaliningrad is not far from Sweden it is rather complicated to travel between the two countries. SAS has a line from here to Copenhagen, but it’s awfully expensive. It is cheaper to fly to USA from Sweden! I mostly take the ferry with my car from Stockholm to Klaipeda (old Memel) in Lithuania and drive 140 km south to K-grad. That route is very interesting and beautiful. Also it’s a bit complicated to go to Russia for foreigners because of the visa constraint. You must have an invitation, wait for some time, and visit the consulat in Gothenburg, Stockholm or Copenhagen in person, sometimes two times and also pay a lot of money. Not easy for people living in the countryside, in Östersund for example!
My eldest brother, Börje, visited me for three weeks in the end of May, and liked it so much that he is coming again now in October. One of his sons has moved ”home” to take care of all the animals, so Börje is free to travel now, which he appriciates very much. He is 84, but still very interested and curious about everything. During his stay we are going to visit friends in Vilnius, which still is my favourite town, even Börje’s. We’ll go by car, 450 km on rather good roads.
Now I’ll finish with all the best wishes, and hope to hear from you some time!
Lots of love from