"By the Amber sea": the tourism sector in the Kaliningrad region


"By the Amber sea": the tourism sector in the Kaliningrad region
The period from the 1970s to 1991 in the history of Soviet tourism was marked by intensive development. The last decade in the history of the Soviet Union was the heyday of tourism in the Kaliningrad region. At that time, images of the region as the "youngest", the "most amber" and, of course, the "most western" were already formed. Advantageous geographical position, climatic features, proximity of the sea and abundance of recreational resources were the main components of the region’s tourist attractiveness.

The Kaliningrad region was included into the All-Union Tourist Route in 1965. This defined the development of infrastructure, the influx of travelers and the demand for tourist printing material. Guidebooks indicate that tourists often combined visits to the region with trips to the Baltic states and Belarus. As the region was considered an "outlying land" near the borders of the USSR, travellers were warned about the need to obtain an entry permit at their place of residence.

In the 1980s the "Kaliningradets" tourist train that followed the route including Pskov, Leningrad, Ukraine, the Baltics, Belarus and Uzbekistan was popular with residents of the region.

Welcome to Kaliningrad!

The usual introduction to the region began with Kaliningrad. In 1985 the city was described as "the order-bearing capital of the order-bearing Amber region, a port city, a garden city, a monument city, an outpost of peace on the western border of our motherland, a city looking to the future, blessed by the winds of the Baltic".

There was certainly much to see in the city. A philharmonic hall was opened in the old church in 1980. In 1988 an art gallery was opened on Moskovsky Avenue. In 1990 the Museum of the World Ocean was founded, and in 1991 the Museum of History and Art moved into the renovated building of the former Stadthalle.

Among the city’s sights, the authors of the guides usually placed special emphasis on parkland areas and compared the city streets to alleys: there were 85 square metres of greenery per capita! Even in the guidebook of 1983, 6 tours out of the 23 available ones focused on green spaces of Kaliningrad.

Amber's pure light

It is well known that the world’s largest amber deposit is located in the Kaliningrad region. A tourist infrastructure has been developed in the field of this mineral. For instance, at the Kaliningrad Regional Amber Museum you may learn about the history of resin and its processing, admire unique pieces of amber, and art exhibits made of it. Four years after its opening, the museum welcomed its one-million-visitor.
However, only a small part of the range of output made by the Amber Factory was on display at the museum.

Amber jewellery was probably the main souvenir from the Baltic coast. Beads, earrings, pendants, rings, and cufflinks with the Baltic gemstone were sold in the shop "Amber" on Mira Avenue, and designer items were for sale in the art salon on Leninsky Avenue.

The late 1980s saw the abolition of the exclusive right of the state to mine amber. This caused a massive influx of "amber hunters". As for tourists, they continued to stroll along the shore, gazing into the sand to find their unique souvenir of "compressed sunlight energy of incomprehensibly distant times".

Interest in amber has also been fuelled by the legends of the Amber Room. The last time this masterpiece was on display in the halls of Königsberg Castle during the World War II. The search for the Amber Room and versions of its whereabouts in the late 1980s and 1990s have been covered by the press with amazing regularity.

Kaliningrad seaside resorts

One of the main centres of tourist attraction was Svetlogorsk and its surroundings with 11 health resorts, including resorts of republican importance. The resort network consisted of resort houses, rest houses, tourist bases, boarding houses.

Resort houses were in demand among patients suffering from heart diseases, central nervous system disorders, respiratory and digestive system diseases. The range of treatments included pelotherapy (mud treatment), therapeutic exercise, dietary meals, tasting of drinking mineral water from a local spring, and even ergotherapy (work treatment). The efficiency of treatment in some resort houses was estimated at 99.6%. The average spa guests, perhaps unknowingly, underwent climatotherapy based on three practices: aerotherapy (treatment with air), heliotherapy (treatment with sunlight), and thalassotherapy (bathing in the sea).

The tourist attractiveness of resorts contributed to their development. In 1987, for example, work began on the artificial extension of the beach with sand reclamation in Svetlogorsk, and shortly before that a cableway was put into operation.

Against the background of Svetlogorsk, neighbouring Zelenogradsk looked less attractive. The advertising circular of 1974 stated that in Zelenogradsk "you are not going to be surprised by luxurious green attire or any particular exoticism of the town", "the streets are not so cozy", "the seashore is not that picturesque", but, according to advertisement, it would take tourist 30 minutes to get to the resort by diesel train (compared to one-hour road to Svetlogorsk) and that the beach was the widest and longest on the coast. During the 1980s two cafés were opened, a boarding house, a resort house building and a new bus station were put into operation.

The list of must-see tourist attractions on the coast was topped by the Curonian Spit. Tourists were attracted by the proximity to Lithuania and, of course, the unique landscape and ecosystem of the spit. Interesting, that till 1985 the names of the lagoon and the spit used to be written with "s", i.e. Kursky zaliv (Curonian Lagoon) and Kurskaya kosa (Curonian Spit). This was explained by the fact that combination "shsk" was not typical for Russian language and was harder to pronounce, and Kurskaya Kosa was not only more euphonious but also closer to Slavic roots. Two years later another transformation took place: the territory was given the status of a national park.

In the 1980s tourism was a prominent branch of the economy in the Kaliningrad region. Tourist organisations served 1.5 million travellers annually. The whole tourism system reduced to Kaliningrad. Only Svetlogorsk with its resort house infrastructure and the Curonian Spit with its unique natural landscape and geographical location could compete with the latter. The diverse topics of excursions, the opening of routes for various means of transport, deliberate branding of resorts in the Amber region show the restoration of the tourist infrastructure, which existed before the World War II, and its demand not only among holidaymakers from the Soviet republics, but also among residents of the region who joined city tourist clubs.
The resort house "Zelenogradsk". Postcard, 1975