A Short History of Königsberg – Prussian History

A Short History of Königsberg


Königsberg was the capital of the east Prussia and it was one of the most prominent cities in the history of Prussia in terms of its economic and cultural influence. The city was founded by the Teutonic Order in 1255 and it was the capital of Prussia between 1525 and 1701. In 1701, the elector Frederick III of Brandenburg was crowned in Königsberg as the first King in Prussia. Königsberg maintained its importance as a royal city and an important trade-center in eastern Prussia throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Königsberg was one of the largest German cities in the Baltic region until its annexation by the Russian at the end of the World War II.


Coming into the 13th century, the area of the city was settled by Sambians, who were Old Prussian Baltic people, before the Germans’ colonization of the region through the Crusades of the Teutonic Order. In 1255, the Teutonic Knights built a new castle for the Crusaders to use during the wars in the Baltic region. The castle was named Königsberg, literally meaning “King’s Mountain”, after the King Ottokar II of Bohemia, who funded the Crusade. In the vicinity of this castle, three different establishments were founded; Altstadt, Kneiphof and Löbenicht. Königsberg Castle was briefly besieged by pagan tribes during the Prussian rebellions of 1262-63. After the rebellion was suppressed, expansion of the city to the south of the castle began.


In 14th century, Königsberg became the main seat of the Crusader generals and marshals. Königsberg joined the Hansaetic League in 1340 and developed strong trade relations with other important port cities of Europe. As the Teutonic Order strengthened its authority in the Baltic region through successful battles against the Pagan tribes, Königsberg maintained its steady growth. Many Germans came to Königsberg to take part in the Crusade and colonize the newly acquired lands. By the end of 14th century, demographics of Königsberg drastically changed in favor of Germans. Also, the famous Königsberg Cathedral was built in the 14th century. In early 15th century, Teutonic Order suffered a series of defeats against Polish-Lithuanian forces yet Königsberg remained under Order’s control during the whole war. In 1454, many cities of western Prussia rebelled against the Order and asked for help from the Kingdom of Poland. Grand Master of the Order fled the capital Marienburg and moved to Königsberg. With the Second Peace of Thorn in 1466, western Prussia was annexed by Poland, which made Königsberg the new capital of the Teutonic Order.


16th century brought a new storm of ideas that shook Europe from the ground: Protestant Reformation. Königsberg, along with other Prussian cities, were deeply influenced by the ideas of Martin Luther very quickly. In 1525 the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, Albert of Brandenburg secularized the Order, converted to Protestantism and formed the Duchy of Prussia. Under the Ducal rule, the city flourished through commerce and stability. Duke Albert founded the University of Königsberg in 1544, which in the later years became a center for Protestant studies. Many theologians and scientists studied at the University öf Königsberg, also known as the Albertina University. In 1618, the two branches of the Hohenzollern dynasty united under a personal union through Elector and Duke John Sigismund. The union between Prussia and Brandenburg started diminishing Königsberg’s importance and increasing that of Berlin. The merchants and burghers of Königsberg showed open signs of disloyalty towards their ruler in Berlin and ignored his demands mostly. Towards the end of the century, the Great Elector Frederick William’s absolutism severely weakened Königsberg’s commercial and financial power which resulted in the rise of a rural aristocratic class, the Junkers.



On 18 January 1701, Frederick III of Brandenburg got crowned as the King in Prussia in Königsberg and became Frederick I of Prussia. Königsberg, therefore, became the capital of the new province of east Prussia within the Kingdom. In 1709, a terrible plague broke out and killed about 10.000 people out of the town’s population of 40.000. It was a disastrous catastrophe for the city. In 1724, the three towns we mentioned before were finally merged under one single administration under the name Königsberg. Many bridges connected these separate towns, these bridges also gave the name to the famous problem of Seven Bridges of Königsberg.  Another aspect of Königsberg was that it was a garrison town with traditional regiments and these regiments preserved their existence until 20th century.


In 18th century, Königsberg was a city with many books and newspapers being printed and sold at bookstores. Especially the professors and lecturers of the University of Königsberg kept the intellectual life and print industry alive during that time. One of these students was the famous Immanuel Kant, who was a Königsberger by birth. Kant changed the course of the history of philosophy with his writings and influenced almost all subsequent philosophers. Königsberg was occupied by the Russians between 1758 and 1761 during the Seven Years’ War. Prussian forces were already so overwhelmed by fighting against Austrian and French forces near Brandenburg that Frederick the Great could not afford to start a campaign against Russians to liberate Königsberg. Despite that, the brief Russian occupation of the city was not necessarily an unpleasant one. Russians brought new trade and business opportunities to the city and they did not hinder the freedom of education and thought. In 5 May 1762, Prussians took the city back.


With the First Partition of Poland in 1772, Königsberg finally gained a connection through land with the rest of the territories of the Kingdom of Prussia. At the beginning of the 19th century, the city still had a population of 60.000, making it the fifth most populated German city at the time. After the defeat at the Battle of Jena against Napoleon’s army, King Frederick William III fled to Königsberg from Berlin. During the rest of the occupation, Königsberg organized the strongest resistance against the Napoleonic invasion of Prussia. Königsberg was a stronghold of liberalism in the 19th century. The city sent many important personalities to the Frankfurt Landtag during the Revolutions of 1848. Königsberg became a part of the German Empire after the unification in 1871. As a key stronghold in the eastern parts of the Empire, many new fortifications were built around the city. With the construction of Prussian Eastern Railway, which linked Berlin to St. Petersburg by going through many important Prussian cities, Königsberg gained many new citizens. By 1900, the city’s population almost reached 200.000. However, after the defeat of Germany in World War One, Kingdom of Prussia and the Hohenzollern Dynasty came to an end. Königsberg became a part of the Free State of Prussia, which was separated from the rest of Germany by a Polish corridor.


In World War II, Königsberg garrison was used by Wehrmacht as Army HQ to the Eastern front. By the end of the war, Königsberg was severely damaged by the British bombing attacks and almost destroyed by the Soviet army offensive. After the World War Two, Königsberg was annexed by the Soviet Union and was renamed to Kaliningrad. Most of the population of the city fled from the city during the war and the survivors were expelled after the annexation by the Russians. The city lost its almost entire characteristics of German and Prussian heritage under Russian rule and many architectural landmarks were destroyed and redesigned in accordance with Communist approach.


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2 Responses

  1. Nora Avins says:

    Tragic architectural, and cultural loss

  2. jutta says:

    My mother and I left Koenigsbeg Sept. 1945. With the winter coming we could not survive living in the bombed out house with no roof, no third floor, and no attic. We survived because I daily went begging for some soup or bread at the Russian Red Army kitchen at the Schleiermacherstr. Hard of Hearing institution, now occupied by the Russian Army.
    I have bad memories and good memories of Russian occupied Koenigsberg.
    The good memmory was when two Russian Army soldiers lifted my mother and me of the Autobahn into their cart, and then dropped us of outside a school where German POW’s were standing.
    They told us they belonged to the heavenly commando ordered to detonate the mines in the Autobahn. Mother and I thanked the two Russian Army soldiers for saving our lives.
    Wars are horrible especially for women and children. We prayed daily to our Lutheran God, and we made it safely to Berlin and to the Charite’ Clinic. And the best news: my
    father was alive and already in West Germany. He sent a Red Cross nurse to Berlin to pick us up. I was a “Wunderkind” a fortunate child, having a mother and father who both survived the war.
    Many children in the Berlin Home for children who lost their parents during the war, where I resided briefly when my mother was still in the hospital, and we were waiting for the nurse to pick us up, told me. Yes, I was blessed with both parents alive, and continuing my education in first class schools. Jutta

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