A more specific image of the Curonian Spit’s development can be formed only from XVIII century, when the Germanic Order conquered this territory and started to record events related to the adaptation of the Spit – strategically significant territory – in historical sources. For that reason, the Germanic Order built several castles at the Curonian Spit, of which the most important was the Rasyte castle (Rossitten, currently Rybachy settlement), mentioned for the first time in 1372. It stood there till the end of XV century. By that time, the Curonian Spit was a focal intermediate traffic link between Marienburg (currently Malbork) and Riga. Hostelries were founded there to secure the traffic function, which thus conditioned establishment of settlements. The following names of places were mentioned during the times of the Curonian Spit subjection to the Germanic Order till the beginning of XVI century – Sarkuva (Sarkau), Kuncai (Kunzen), Rasyte (Rossitten), Pilkopa (Pillkopen), Nida (Nidden), Karvaiciai (Karwaiten), Nagliai (Negeln), Juodkrante (Schwarzort), and Smiltyne (Sandkrug).
The beginning of XVI century was the time of the significant changes: the state of the Order fell into decay, in place of which the secular Duchy of Prussia emerged with the Curonian Spit as its integral part. The Reformation brought respect for the vernacular language, i.e. from those times to the middle of XX mentury, Lithuanian language was heard in the churches. A firmly established Lutheranism and harsh subsistence shaped spiritual world of the Curonian Spit inhabitants, their moral principles in assessing truth, hard work, and order. Besides, at the intersection of XV and XVI centuries, the Curonians, who spoke Latvian and distinctly represented an ethnic originality of the Spit up till the World War II, settled at the Curonian Spit. Those fishermen had been cutting the waters of the Curonian Lagoon on the kurenas – sailing boats of especial construction, the masts of which were adorned with weathercocks. Woesome existence lead the Curonians to master hunting crows and consume them as food, as well as determined the ascetic habitation and dress code of the Curonians.
Nida as a summer resort fancied by famous people
By the end of XIX century, German expressionists (Max Pechstein, Lovis Corinth, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Ernst Mollenhauer and others) started to place Nida on the map by spending their summers there. They had established Nida Artists’ Colony with its “quarters” in the “Hermann Blode” hotel, which was one of the oldest Nida hotels and was built in 1867. During the semicentenary heyday of the artists’ community, “Hermann Blode” Hotel was visited not only by many great artists, but also by litterateurs Hermann Sudermann, Ernst Wiechert, Agnes Miegel, Fritz Kudnig, psychotherapist Sigmund Freud, and others. A Nobel prize winner, writer Thomas Mann was one of the respectable hotel’s guests, who had visited Nida for the first time in August 24, 1929 and had spent several memorable days in the “Hermann Blode” Hotel. Fascinated by the Curonian Spit landscape and Nida fishermen’s village aura, he decided to build a summerhouse in Nida, where he spent three summers (1930 – 1932) and wrote part of the trilogy “Joseph and His Brothers”.
Geographical and Political Situation After 1923
In 1923, for the first time in 700 years, the Curonian Spit was intersected by the state border: a section from Nida to Smiltyne became a part of autonomic Klaipeda region of the Republic of Lithuania. It did not yield significant changes in the life of the Curonian Spit inhabitants, although, some of them became German citizens and others – Lithuanian citizens. Resort business kept on flourishing in Nida, attracting up to 10 thousand holidaymakers per season. In 1939, that part of the Curonian Spit, which belonged to Lithuania, along with the Klaipeda region, were annexed to Germany again. However, that event and even the commencing World War II did not unhinge the accustomed resort life too much. However, the summer of 1944 became fateful for the Curonian Spit: With battle line drawing closer, all of the local inhabitants had to leave for the depth of Germany, and majority of them did not come back. Suddenly, the age-old cultural tradition of the Curonian Spit, in which German, Curonian, and Lithuanian languages and heritages were intertwined, had ruptured. After 700 years, the wheel of history had ended up drawing one trajectory and started to roll a completely different track, enriching new experience with historical memory.
Prepared by: Nijole Strakauskaite