Fot. Katarzyna Madoń-Mitzner

Klaipėda(Polish: Kłajpeda) is a port city with a population of 200,000 located in the western part of Lithuania on the Baltic Sea. In addition to Lithuanians it is inhabited by ethnic minorities, chiefly Russians, quite large Ukrainian and Belarusian communities, and some 1,000 Poles or people of Polish descent.

Klaipėdawas founded by the Teutonic Knights in the 13th century. By the early 20th century the Klaipėda Region belonged in turn to the Duchy of Prussia, Kingdom of Prussia, and then Germany. For a few years it was under the French administration. Only in 1923 it was incorporated into Lithuania as an autonomous district. One year before the start of World War II a Polish consulate was established in Klaipėda and operated only until the Germans captured the city. After the end of the war — until 1990 — the Klaipėda Region was within the borders of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic. Over centuries different cultures, languages and customs mixed with one another in the region. All this had an impact on the nature of that land which is most evident in Klaipėda. Lithuanians use to say that the city is a Lithuanian window to the world. In addition to the picturesque port, one of the most interesting places in Klaipėda is the 19th century theatre building which used to be Wagner’s favourite theatre. The theatre was also visited by Adolph Hitler who delivered a speech from its circle in March 1939, one day after the annexation of Klaipėda. In administrative terms, Klaipėda also includes Smiltyne — the northern part of the Curonian Lagoon – which attracts many tourists. Its tourist attractions include authentic fisherman’s cabins, the largest dunes in Lithuania and Kopgalis Fortress, an old Prussian Fortress housing the Lithuanian Sea Museum where dolphin shows are staged. These mammals were trained for military purposes at the times of the USSR. In the early 1990s Poles accounted for 0.5 percent of the population of Klaipėda. They came to Klaipėda in search of work from the Vilnius area and Soviet Belarus in the early 20th century. Poles in Klaipėda live several hundred kilometres away from Vilnius which is a Polish centre in Lithuania. Over decades strong assimilative processes occurred there. There is no Polish school in Klaipėda and most people of Polish descent do not speak fluent Polish. A dozen or so years ago, local Poles established the Klaipėda branch of the Union of Poles in Lithuania. A school of the Polish language has been operating there for a few years teaching young city inhabitants Polish often from the very beginning. Polish history and culture is also taught at the school. The Polish Club is a meeting place for local Poles. Roman Catholics of Polish origin also gather around the Order of Conventual Friars Minor. The Franciscans have been saying masses in Polish for a few years now. There is also a Polish consulate in the city.

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