As you probably have gathered by now, this has not been a chronological description of my time in Lithuania. It wasn’t all cemeteries and dusty churches. Lithuania is a beautiful country. The weather was generally great, and Vidas made sure that I saw the best parts of his beloved country. For example, I stood at platform overlooking a river where there has been human presence since paleolithic times. Lithuania was the last country in Europe to Christianize, and this site was still favored by the young for various revels at the summer solstice. Vidas remembers KGB agents breaking up the festivities when he was a university student.
Kaunus is the second city of Lithuania, known as Kovno or Kowno between the wars, when it was the capital of Lithuania and Vilnius was part of Poland. It looked nice but we only stopped to check on the local Lutheran church, which was undergoing repairs with no pastor to talk to.
Jurbarkas, where my grandfather was born, is a mid size city. Nobody in the Information Center could speak English, or knew anything about a German presence in the city. We stayed in a bed and breakfast run by Eugenia, a delightful lady. At breakfast we met a Canadian couple bicycling across the Baltic states for their fiftieth wedding anniversary; I told Jan that we have a bit of time to get in shape.
of what German life may have been like when we went to Klaipeda, formerly Memel. This area had been part of Germany until after World War II. Klaipeda is Lithuania’s third city and the country’s deep water port on the Baltic. There is a museum of old Memel and also a blacksmithing museum. My blacksmithing forbears came from a rich tradition of German iron workers. Apparently the Soviets decided to level one of the German cemeteries and scrap the iron grave markers, circa 1960. A man decided to save the markers, and started the blacksmithing museum.
The Curonian Spit, curiously named but beautifully situated, is a narrow neck of land along the Baltic. The Russian exclave of Kaliningrad (Koningsburg) is at the southern end of the spit. As we drove, on one side is the sea, and the other, the lagoon, rather like parts of the Outer Banks in North Carolina. Thomas Mann, the German author, had a cottage on the Curonian Spit that has been lovingly restored. Going through it I couldn’t help but notice how small it was. Where did all his family fit?
We stopped for lunch at a restaurant that was mobbed in the nice weather. We saw couples posing for their wedding pictures. And, like Sarah Palin, we saw Russia. Vidas got some smoked fish to take home for dinner. At Palanka, the city at the northern end of the spit, we met a former Marine from Idaho who was living there. He had married a Lithuanian woman, they split, and he had to learn Lithuanian so he could get along.
This is the border post between Russia and Lithuania on the southern end of the Curonian Spit. Now I can say, I can see Russia.
I spent my last night in Lithuania at the Vilnius airport before an early morning flight to Berlin. My days in Lithuania were packed and I learned quite a bit about my family’s background. I have no ties to Berlin; it was a city that I had always wanted to see.