True Lithuania

Soviet Boroughs in Southern Klaipėda

As an important seaport Klaipėda was rapidly expanded during the Soviet occupation (1945-1990). Its population increased more than fourfold (from 45 000 to 203 000). Most of the newcomers of the 1960s and later received flats in massive apartment blocks in numerous new boroughs. The majority of these were built south of the downtown along the Curonian lagoon, giving the city its present "long and narrow" form.

These densely populated boroughs are anchored on three main north-south thoroughfares: Minijos Street, Taikos Avenue and Šilutės Road. These roads, four-lane or wider, are crossed by similar east-west perpendicular highways, forming a massive grid layout of districts covering some 1 square kilometer each.

Never an example of great workmanship quality these neighborhoods are filled with hundreds of energy-ineffective buildings that are now slowly crumbling, modified by countless ad hoc additions by people living there (glass balcony covers, satellite antennas). All the apartment buildings in the entire borough are built on just several different designs: for example, in southernmost districts, there are 5 and 10 stories versions of similar-looking buildings. There are large open spaces between them, overfilled with cars (it is hard to distinguish a courtyard from a sidestreet or an alley). In other words, save for the irregular grid layout, the Klaipėda Soviet districts are similar to those in any other Lithuanian city.

A typical Soviet residential building in southern Klaipėda, Varpai district, Smiltelės street. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

However, unlike some areas of Vilnius and Kaunas the Soviet boroughs of Klaipėda were not skipped by the progress. Many of the city's modern flagship projects have been taking place here rather than in the downtown. Near the intersection of Taikos Avenue and Kauno Street, you can find Akropolis - 75 000 square meters in gross floor area it is the largest shopping center in the Western Lithuania. Klaipėda's second largest mall BIG is 3,5 km further south on Taikos Avenue now joined by modern office blocks.

Not far away from Akropolis between Minijos Street and Baltijos Avenue, you may find the Klaipėda Arena was constructed for 2011 Eurobasket championship. Seating 5500 spectators this arena hosts many gigs and sporting events, e.g. the home games of Klaipėdos Neptūnas basketball team.

The tall skyscraper you can see north of the area is Pilsotas, the tallest residential building in the Baltic States (112 m high, 34 floors). The owners of prestigious apartments in the middle and upper floors may see the Lagoon, entire width of the Curonian Spit and the Sea through their enormous windows. Less affluent people live in modern new buildings nearby which, together with Pilsotas, form the new Gandrališkės residential development. If not for the financial crisis of 2008 the most magnificent addition of the area, 170 m tall Kuršas apartment tower, would have already crowned the neighborhood.

The 2011 Klaipėda arena with Pilsotas tower visible in the background on the right. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The massive Soviet infrastructural projects still survive, albeit adapted to the market economics. Among them is the formidable International Ferry Terminal in the extreme south of Klaipėda. Opened in 1986 for a railroad ferry service between the Soviet Union and East Germany it still greets ships from the lands beyond the Baltic Sea. However, smaller RORO ferries for cars and trucks largely displaced the enormous train transporters "Vilnius", "Kaunas" and "Klaipėda" once inscribed into the Guinness Book of Records as the largest in the world. More destinations have been added - you may reach southern Sweden in addition to Germany.

A smaller local ferry terminal Naujoji Perkėla at Varnėnų street is the main access point to Smiltynė and Neringa. The entire length of southern Klaipėda is flanked by port buildings and warehouses on its Lagoon coast.

The spiritual vacuum created in Klaipėda by the Soviet destruction of almost every church in the city was filled in the early 1990s by constructing new religious buildings. They were built from scratch in the Soviet districts where the most people live instead of attempting to recreate what was destroyed downtown. In Smiltelės Street a new religious center was built with the Roman Catholic Saint Joseph church on the southern side and the Archangel Michael Russian Orthodox church on the opposite side.

Like many of massive 1990s churches, Saint Joseph's in Varpai-Laukininkai-Jūrininkai district is under construction for more than 10 years, but already consecrated. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Map of the Soviet boroughs in Southern Klaipėda is here.

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