I first became aware of Kaliningrad while looking at maps when travelling in the Baltic. This piece of Russian land squeezed in between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea - cut off from its motherland, evoked my curiosity and appeared like something of a geopolitical oddity. Kaliningrad was founded after the end of WWII, on Stalin's demand, when parts of the German province of East Prussia, were divided. The German population was forced to flee and citizens from all over the Soviet Union were called upon to settle on the new land. The Moscow government was determined to erase the Prussian past. Königsberg, the main city and once a pearl of the Hanseatic League was, along with the rest of the region, renamed Kaliningrad, after the then recently deceased titular head of state in the Soviet Union; Mikhail Kalinin. A famous city had vanished from the world maps without a trace. The same destiny awaited all other places and street names in the region. Soviet architecture and monuments to war heroes were erected with furious determination to create a strong Soviet identity. During the Cold War the region was a closed military zone and served as headquarters of the Baltic fleet. It was after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 that Kaliningrad became an exclave separated from the rest of Russia. Russia has held on to the territory since it is considered too strategically important to let go of, being the only ice free port in the winter, and as some claim of psychological importance; Kaliningrad is the only piece of land left conquered from WWII and a war trophy. Kaliningrad's geographical location has become more complicated in recent years. In 2004 Poland and Lithuania became member states of the EU and both countries signed up to the Schengen Agreement in 2007. This has meant that Kaliningraders cannot travel by land to the rest of their country without applying for transit visas.

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