View Full Version : Germans in Lithuania

Saturday, May 28th, 2016, 12:45 PM
The Klaipėda Region that was joined to Lithuania after the Klaipėda Revolt of 1923 had been a German-ruled territory since the 13th century Baltic crusades. While it is a part of Lithuania Minor cultural area the Lithuanian majority there was already fragile by the 20th century with the Klaipėda (German: Memel) city itself being predominantly German. In the area Germanization had been taking place with local Lithuanians adopting German language and customs over generations (similar to polonization in Lithuania-proper).

Additionally there were some ethnic Germans in Sudovia and the main cities, although these numbers were far behind those in Latvia or Estonia. German traders came to Lithuania when it was still pagan, German knights followed them, but unlike its northern neighbors Lithuania as a whole was never subdued by German rulers until the World Wars.


German national romantic style is common in the early 20th century buildings of the Lithuania Minor, where Germans made a significant minority until World War 2. These iconic red bricks were also a popular building material for barns and farmsteads in the region. The building in this picture was constructed in 1909 in Šilutė (German: Heydekrug) and now houses a vocational school. İAugustinas Žemaitis.

In the interwar period the Germans made up 4,1% of Lithuania‘s population (41,9% in the Klaipėda region and 1,4% elsewhere). Sadly this community was all but destroyed by the advancing Soviet armies in the World War 2. Most were either killed, expelled or evacuated never to return. A few however remained while some others chose to come back after Lithuania became independent once again. Currently Germans are the 7th largest ethnic community of Lithuania, made up of 3 200 people.

However, according to the 2001 census only 804 (27%) of Lithuania's Germans spoke German natively. The majority (1587, or 54%) spoke Lithuanian, while a significant minority (18%) named Russian as their native language. Additionally, unlike in the interwar period when the German minority was predominantly Lutheran today only 39% of them are Lutherans, another 39% are Roman Catholics and 13% are irreligious. These linguistic and religious shifts were influenced by the Soviet policy which unofficially equalled all Germans to Nazis and discriminated them. Therefore many Germans who managed to remain in Lithuania feared to speak German or to do other things attributed to their German ethnicity while the Soviet occupation continued, and especially so in 1940s-1950s.

A part of Lithuania's Germans are so-called "wolf children". Orphaned due to World War 2 and the Soviet genocide they were wandering through Lithuania of late 1940s and many were secretly brought up by Lithuanian peasants.

Saturday, May 28th, 2016, 12:47 PM
German Lithuania itinerary: Top 10 sights

Prior to 1918 Germany ruled a part of modern-day Lithuania known as Klaipėda region (German: Memelland) while German merchants lived in Lithuanian cities. While the Soviet Genocide destroyed the Lithuania's German communities, plenty of German heritage sites remain to be visited in Lithuania.

1.Visit the central Theater square at Klaipėda Old Town and have your picture taken near its Annike of Tharau sculpture, oriignally erected in 1912 to represent a character of German poet Simon Dach (now rebuilt after Soviets had it demolished). Richard Wagner used to perform in the nearby theater and Adolf Hitler used its balcony as a stage for his speech in 1939 (days after his forces annexed the city).

2.Contemplate at Šilutė Lutheran cemetery and witness its once pretty graves, many of them German, uprooted and ravaged by the Soviet Russians. The cemetery has not been completely destroyed and leveled like the Lutheran cemeteries in Klaipėda and Vilnius however, making it an interesting replacement for the never-built memorials to the Lutheran victims of Soviet Genocide. Under the occupation German minority of Lithuania declined from 4,1% (41,9% in Klaipėda region where Šilutė is) to merely 0,1% of population.

3.Visit the Museum of Lithuania Minor in Klaipėda Old Town which describes the part of Lithuanian nation that formed under the German (Prussian) rule (adopting Lutheran faith and some German customs). Just like the local Germans it was mostly destroyed by the post-WW2 Soviet Genocide. Museum of Lithuania Minor is thus the best location to find remnants of pre-WW2 Klaipėda Lithuanian, German and fusion cultures.

4.Think about the past German luminaries at the Thomas Mann memorial museum located in the famous poet's former summer home (built 1930) in Nida (German: Nidden). By this time Nida was already in Lithuania; however, Mann was so mesmerized by its beauty that he decided to spend summers here rather than in the still-German areas further south. German artists loved Nida as well and held regular meetings there (remembered by a small H. Blode museum not far away from Mann house).

5.Visit Klaipėda New Town, the 19th century annex of the city with its multiple heimatstil buildings. The post office and massive barracks (now Klaipėda University) are the most impressive. One building in the area served as German (Prussian) royal residence during the Napoleonic wars (1807-1808), making Memel briefly a capital of Prussia.

6.Search for nice village/town Lutheran churches in the Klaipėda region, once frequented by the local Germans and Lutheran Lithuanians alike. We recommend the one in Juodkrantė that still offers a German mass. Also, Juodkrantė resort has a multitude of old German resort villas.

7.Visit the remains of the Klaipėda (Memel) castle (Klaipėda Old Town). Erected ~1250 by the Teutonic order this castle never fell in the seemingly eternal wars against the pagan Lithuanians. This castle is the reason why a German city developed on an otherwise Lithuanian soil. The ruins declined until 1990 but had a small museum established inside afterwards and further renovations are planned.

8.Cross the lagoon to Lithuanian Sea Museum in Seaside Klaipėda. Its sea lions, dolphins and Lithuanian shipping memorabilia have little to do with Germany, however it is located in a 19th century German sea fortress so you could witness another era of Klaipėda's German defenses. If you travel there by ferry and then continue on foot a you will pass by multiple cute German era villas that may be even more interesting than the fortress itself.

9.Spend a Sunday afternoon at Memel-Nord beachhead battery used by Nazi Germany to secure the city after they have annexed it in 1939 (Seaside Klaipėda). The former underground barracks are used as a small bowlderised museum about lives of the German soldiers in WW2 Eastern front.

10.Traverse the Vokiečių (Lithuanian for "German") street in Vilnius Old Town, named so after Hanseatic merchants who lived there in the Medieval era. Mikalojaus side-street hides a small gothic St. Nicholas church, built ~1320. The oldest surviving Christian church in Lithuania, it served the merchants as Lithuanians were still pagan. After Germans converted to Lutheranism they built a Lutheran church (also nearby).