Vanished Kingdoms – Borussia

So where exactly is “Borussia”. In this chapter of Norman Davies‘ Vanished Kingdoms, he visits a little isolated fragment of Russia on the Baltic Coast centered on the city of Kaliningrad.

A thousand or so years ago, this was one of the last pagan areas in Europe, something that didn’t sit well with the neighbors.  Finally the order of the Teutonic Knights were given a free hand there in exchange for converting the heathen.  They had just been ejected from the Holy Land by the Arabs and were looking for a new place to rule.  This seemed ideal.  And how hard could a primitive tribe called the Prussai be?

Well, not easy, but eventually they made it work.  The area began to center around the city of Konigsberg.  Having given the area away, the nearby Poles began to regret the generosity, not merely because the Knights were bad neighbors and raided their lands. They also lay across the route to the coast, with only a narrow corridor at the mouth of the Vistula resting between this new district of Prussia and Brandenburg to the west.  Matters became worse when the two joined into one ‘dual state’ in 1308.  From then on it was a tussle for centuries as to which would come out on top – Poland or Brandenburg-Prussia.

By the 1700s, the answer was Prussia.  The state partitioned Poland with Austria and Russia, and began to extend into more of central Germany.  Prussia began to be identified more with Berlin than Konigsberg.  After World War I, when Poland was granted the Polish Corridor to give access to the Baltic, the district was called “East Prussia” as if it were an add-on instead of the center.   With the defeat in World War II even this was divided between the neighbor states and the vanishment was complete.