Sunday, December 31, 2006

Not Half the Fun

[posted by Callimachus]

Kaliningrad: This airport has a sort of holding pen in which passengers are kept before being released onto the tarmac. Surveying the assembled crew, with their standard-issue gangster coats and tattoos, it becomes obvious why Kaliningrad has a reputation as a smugglers' haven.

It used to be Königsberg, city of Kant and celebrated Prussian architecture. By the time the Nazis, British bombers and the Red Army had finished with it, little of pre-war Königsberg was left. Then Stalin took a shine to it, deported the remaining Germans and incorporated the region into the Soviet Union. It is now an island of Russia in a sea of European Union—an anomaly that is profitable for a certain class of businessmen. As well as contraband, the exclave boasts most of the world's amber and Russia's ageing Baltic fleet.

The Kremlin worries that the Poles or the Germans might try to take Kaliningrad back; but, in truth, no one else really wants it. As the aromas of vodka and Dagestani cognac waft around the airport holding pen, the consolation for the nervous traveller is that if one group of dodgy passengers starts something nasty on the flight, another one will probably finish it.

From a delightfully written gazetteer of Russian airports in the Economist.