Königsberg, Steindammer Thor

The city name of Königsberg may be unknown to some but it was the capital of the German province of East Prussia until the end of the Second World War. Since 1945, the area around the city has been the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, bordered to the north and east by Lithuania and to the south by Poland. Kaliningrad is home to the Baltic Fleet of the Russian Navy.

As Königsberg, it had a standard gauge horse tramway from 1881 with five routes by 1882, all operated by the "Königsberger Pferde Eisenbahn Gesellschaft" (Königsberg Horse Tramway Co.) and, by 1897, it had expanded to eight routes.

In 1895, the first electric trams were introduced, but separately by the city council as the "Staedtische Elektrische Strassenbahn". By 1900, there were five routes which ran on metre gauge so had no connection with the horse tramway. The horse tram company wanted to electrify its own routes but it was forced to adopt metre gauge and the first opened in 1900. All other routes quickly followed and the last horse trams were withdrawn in 1901. At about the same time, the company was renamed "Königsberger Strassenbahn AG", only to be absorbed into city ownership in 1909.

Our postcard shows two trams of the "Königsberger Pferde Eisenbahn Gesellschaft" in 1900 or 1901 (shortly before the company name changed at the end of 1901) near the 'Steindammer Thor' (Steindamm Gate) with its towers in the background, through which trams ran. The tram on the left is on the Poststrasse to Luisenhöh service just to the north-west of the city centre. Note the double overhead wires and the twin trolley poles on both trams, similar to trolleybuses. This arrangement allowed a non-earthed return in the circuit and applied to the city-owned trams as well. This was deemed necessary because earth return through the rails upset delicate magnetic instruments at the nearby Albert University observatory, something also experienced at Greenwich in south-east London where double wire and twin trolley poles were also used until the observatory moved elsewhere.

The two trams in view are numbers 108(?) and 97, both by Waggonfabrik Falkenried in Hamburg and part of a 28-tram batch (91-118) delivered in 1900.

The Königsberg tramway expanded considerably during the 1920s with nearly 300 trams and trailers. By 1945, most of the city and its tramway had been destroyed but slow reconstruction during the Soviet and Russian eras, up to the present day, has resulted in a modest system still operating. It is one of only two metre-gauge tramways in the whole of Russia, the other being at Pyatigorsk in the Caucasus.

The illustrated postcard (published by Reinicke & Rubin of Magdeburg, serial no.306) was sent from Königsberg on 20 June 1903 to Chicago, USA, arriving there 18 days later on 8 July.

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