Kant Serves as a Cultural Bridge | Current Affairs | DW | 12.02.2004
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Current Affairs

Kant Serves as a Cultural Bridge

German Foreign Minister Fischer is scheduled to open the first Consulate General in Kaliningrad on Thursday, the 200th anniversary of the death of philosopher Immanuel Kant, the city's most famous son.

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Kant's grave in Kaliningrad is one of the most popular sights for visitors to the city.

Once Fischer has appointed the new Consulate General Cornelius Sommer at the inauguration ceremony, he'll be heading to the Kant Mausoleum to lay flowers at the philosopher's grave, located in the heart of what was once the grand city of Königsberg, the Prussian capital. He'll then continue to Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.

Plans for a Kaliningrad branch have been in the pipeline since the early 1990s, but were held up by Russian concerns that post-reunification Germany might want to reclaim the former Prussian territory. In 1994, then-President Boris Yeltsin put a perfunctory stop to the venture, citing "considerable resistance from parliament and sections of the public." Along with the German embassy in Moscow, Germany has consulate generals in St. Petersburg, Saratov and Novosibirsk.

A welcome move

It was only in 2003 that President Putin and German Chancellor Schröder dusted off the project and agreed to open a German consulate general in the Russian enclave -- the main impetus being the EU's imminent eastward expansion, which will leave Kaliningrad geographically isolated from Russia.

Kaliningrad governor Valdimir Jegerov welcomed the move, saying, "It's an important signal that our concerns are being taken seriously in the European Union," and adding that "more German businesses may now take the opportunity to invest in Kaliningrad."

A home for the consulate general has yet to be found. For the time being, the diplomatic team will work from the Hotel Albertina, situated in a newly affluent district on the northern outskirts of the city.

An influential thinker

The opening date of the new office was picked deliberately to tie in with memorial celebrations for the world-famous philosopher, a personal favorite of Joschka Fischer's.

The German foreign minister has described Kant as a major influence on his own political development, and a thinker whose theories helped shape contemporary politics. His 1795 essay "Perpetual Peace" explored the idea of a world federation of republican states, providing a blueprint for today's concept of the United Nations.

Kant as a cultural bridge

Kant is also seen by many as a bridge between Germany and Kaliningrad, and a symbol of the Russian city's German past, when the city played a significant role as a port and center of academic excellence.

A German territory for hundreds of years, Kaliningrad has been in Russian hands for less than 60. The struggling enclave served as a major military base during the Cold War after it was divided between Russia and Poland following World War II.

Bildgalerie Kaliningrad Lenin Denkmal in Kaliningrad

Not surprisingly, it's a region caught uncomfortably between Russia and the new European world that surrounds it.

Much of the population is increasingly Western in its thinking -- and once its neighbors Lithuania and Poland join the EU in May, some fear the enclave could slowly become culturally estranged from Russia.

After a bitter row between Moscow and Brussels over what President Putin saw as a breach of Russian sovereignty, the EU and Russia reached an agreement in 2002 on travel rules for Kaliningrad residents, which will allow them to travel through the new Schengen zone countries to mainland Russia with a document obtained at the border rather than a formal visa.

But the presence of Germany's new consulate general in Kaliningrad could help to smooth out ruffled feathers.

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