England fans to invade Kaliningrad
England supporters are to expected to cross the border from Poland and Lithuania into the Russian Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad for the final group game against Belgium tomorrow (Thursday).
Security was tight at both borders but fans can exploit weaknesses in the visa system to enter without a ticket to what was the German city of Königsberg until 1946.
The Football Supporters’ Federation has reportedly acquired fake “Fan IDs”, which allow visa‑free travel into Russia to supporters with match tickets.
The organisation managed to obtain a number of them using the same ticket reference number, raising the prospect of hundreds of England fans travelling to Russia without a ticket and hoping to buy a ticket from a tout.
After both teams beat Tunisia and Panama, the loser faces a potentially easier route to the final, creating an odd fixture with many fans keen to see their team lose or at least acquire a red card to send the other side through on fair play. The Football Association, through the England Supporters’ Club, has sold its allocated 1,600 tickets for the match. The newly built Kaliningrad Arena holds 35,000.
There is an increase in English interest in the second round match in either Moscow or Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia depending on the result against Belgium.
Internet searches for flights to Russia went up by 168 per cent after England’s 6-1 defeat of Panama, according to Skyscanner.
Fans are arriving on chartered coaches from the Polish city of Gdansk, formerly German Danzig, and Kaunas in Lithuania on match day. Police have warned of up to five-hour waits for document checks, meaning ticketless fans might miss the dead rubber entirely.
For the tourist
Kaliningrad has a museum at the Friedland Gate with all the signs in Russian, with neither German nor English translations on the displayed dolls and books from a German kindergarten, salvaged from the ruins at the end of the Second World War. The grand Prussian city was heavily bombed by the Royal Air Force and then what was left was largely cleared by the Soviet authorities.
After the war, the remaining Germans fled or were expelled, and the city was renamed after a Stalinist loyalist, Mikhail Kalinin.
In contrast to Gdansk, which was largely restored, the Soviets built wide roads and concrete, brutalist high-rise blocks in Kaliningrad.
Many residents cannot afford the visas required to cross into Poland and Lithuania or to visit Russia and have been trapped in the enclave.
The awful roads and creaking trams in the city underline its long-term neglect although some of Kaliningrad’s remaining German buildings have been given a facelift, suggesting the clearances of the post-war era are now seen with regret.
Kaliningrad Stadium being constructed last year. Picture credit: Wikimedia