Kaliningrad: from the city of Kant to the Russian enclave


Since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, the Russian port of Kaliningrad is receiving renewed attention from NATO. An enclave in the Kremlin between Poland, Lithuania and the Baltic Sea, since 2016 it has been a Russian nuclear outpost capable of reaching key European capitals with a missile strike. But before it became a citadel, it was also, under the name of Königsberg, the city ofImmanuel Kanto

A legacy that sometimes provokes strong anti-Western hostility in Russia for example, in 2015, Kant’s house was tagged. The port city has changed a lot since the time of the “Königsberg Clock” Two centuries ago, the philosopher regarded it as “a place made for the expansion of both knowledge of man and knowledge of the world”

  • Immanuel Kant was born in Königsberg in April 1724. It was in Königsberg that he died on February 12, 1804. If he particularly liked travel stories, he never left the capital of the Kingdom of Prussia, on the coast of the Baltic Sea, in his lifetime. Roommate? No doubt. The philosopher was known throughout the city for his meticulous penchant for routine, elevated to the rank of an art of living. Reinhold Bernhard Jachmanna contemporary says: ‘On school days, he was home at his office at a quarter to seven. At a quarter to seven he put on his hat and at a quarter to seven he took out his cane. He left his house when the first knock of eight o’clock sounded in the church. † Passers-by set their watches as he passed. The story is known : He only deviated from his daily walk twice – the first, every . to buy Social contract (1762) from Rousseau, the second, to buy the newspaper at the time of the French Revolution. Concerned about regularity, Kant is also one of the first great modern philosophers to receive a regular university education.
  • That said, Kant’s life in Königsberg was less bleak than it first appears.† The philosopher liked to receive his friends for dinner – always the same number, always notified at the last minute. He enjoyed the discussion and meeting with them. Königsberg was therefore an ideal place for his way of life at the time. As he explains in a note to theAnthropology from a pragmatic point of view (1798):

“A large city, the center of a state, where the public authorities are located, which, next to a university (destined for the culture of science), is favorably situated for maritime traffic, the relations of rivers flowing from the interior being regarded as favorable are for as well as with the neighboring remote regions, with different languages ​​and customs – a city of this kind, such as Königsberg on the river Pregel, can be regarded as a place created for the expansion of the knowledge of man, but also of the knowledge of the world, and where to acquire it, even without traveling”

  • Königsberg is for Kant the image of a modern citye, as modern as the Prussia of Frederick II, the enlightened despot, of which it is the capital; a cosmopolitan city where the diversity of people does not contradict the philosophical search for the universal, but rather nourishes it. This is what the philosopher will notice Karl Rosenkranz, successor to Kant’s chair at the university, in his Konigsberger Skizzen (Quoted by Gerfried Horst in “Königsberg in Europe” in Poetry2017/2-3):

“It seems to me that the essential property of Königsberg arises from a universality governed by the clearest reason […] This is how the city shows its facilities for progress […] In its universality it is ruthlessly rational at the same time. […] This rationality, coupled with its universality, explains its rare accuracy of judgment. […] The fact that critical philosophy was born in Königsberg is therefore not the result of mere coincidence.”

  • Königsberg has changed a lot in two centuries. Kaliningrad, its post-Soviet doppelganger, has lost much of the cosmopolitan city, the city of reason, progress and universality that its literate inhabitants praised at the beginning of the 18th century.and century. The open city, among other things the center of a European identity made up of dialogues and exchanges, has turned into a post-military front, where missile silos are accumulating. Kaliningrad has turned into a landlocked citadel, overlooking an increasingly sharp border between Western Europe and the Russian-influenced world.

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