The area of the south-eastern coast of the Baltic Sea is a region of substantial cultural diversity. A meeting ground of diverse ethnic and national groups and their rich traditions which developed next to one another on a relatively small territory, not without some interconnectedness.
The originators of this unique phenomenon were the descendants of German knights and of settlers who peopled the military monastic states established on Prussian and Livonian territory, but also, the indigenous Balt inhabitants of today’s Lithuania and Latvia, Masuria and Warmia, and the Slav population of Pomerania. But the image of this land’s past is not born out of ethnic identifications only. The sense of cultural community is associated here with the presence in one and the same landscape of special elements, mutually complementary but rarely seen together: Gothic cathedrals in the medieval towns and holy groves in the countryside, the flamboyant “Sarmatian” lifestyle, culture and ideology of the nobility of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the well-ordered world of the burgher philosophers, the rich Hanseatic cities and the poverty-stricken fishermen’s villages. All these elements are there to be found in the traditions of Königsberg, Riga and Vilnius. And also, in Sambia, Curland, Warmia, Livonia, Lithuania Minor and other regions.
Königsberg may be the most evocative symbol of the complex traditions of the region at large. Named in honour of the king of Bohemia, made famous by a university founded thanks to a privilege granted by the king of Poland, with time, the city became the capital of the German Prussian state. And Königsberg owed its importance not only to its centuries’ old status of an administrative centre but also to its position of the leading centre of culture and learning, interregional in significance and with strong impact on its the neighbouring regions.
Not only did Königsberg help shape the outlook of the entire region, it was also a centre with an exceptional significance for the functioning and development of Polish, Lithuanian, Latvian, Russian and Estonian culture.
This situation altered with the outbreak of World War II. One of its consequences was a major realignment of state borders and the annihilation of a hard to estimate number of objects of cultural heritage across the region. What used to be a single territory now became fragmented and Königsberg gained the name of the “Northern Atlantis”. But some traces of the former glory still survive to make possible reconstruction of this lost world. Some of these are the focus of activity undertaken within the Project Ostbalticum.