Medieval historical sources show Kaunas’ Hanseatic trade links

  • 2010-05-20
  • By Linas Jegelevicius

The Baltic Times sat down with Darius Rumsas, director of public institution “Hansa Kaunas 2011”, for an interview.

Kaunas has been awarded the right to organize the International Hansa Days Festival. However, many may wonder whether Kaunas has the traditions the other Western and Central European Hansa Towns embody.
In order to best answer this question, it should be addressed to competent historians. The existing historical sources show that the medieval merchants of Kaunas and the Hansa Town Union used to collaborate. We are going to one of the most important Hansa Towns, Gdansk, where we will have a chance to look at an archive of Hansa merchants, which suggests such cooperation. Furthermore, Kaunas was the main trading center between Hansa merchants and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

I would like to point to a few more things regarding the matter. A large part of Kaunas’ Old Town used to be called Voke. It is still sometimes called that today. Does anyone wonder why? The answer is simple. German merchants used to live in this part of Kaunas in the 15th-16th centuries. Kaunas and its geographical situation, at the confluence of two rivers, Nemunas and the Neris, was an ideal location to expand trade. The trade resulted not only in the economic prosperity of Kaunas. It resulted in the cultural prosperity of the town as well. Many various commodities and goods, including books, music, fashion and popular crafts, reached Kaunas that way. Therefore, Kaunas became an exceptional town regarding culture and trade.

Let us get back to your initial question. The Hansa Town Union is a town union of economic and cultural trade. In order to enhance it, there is one condition that has to apply, which is the diversity of the towns. Therefore, from that point of view, it was not important whether the towns had the trade traditions of the Western and Central European Hansa towns. The most important thing is that the towns trusted Kaunas. We have succeeded in making the best impression on them. They expect a lot from us and we, I am sure, will not disappoint them.

What prompted you to address the government with the request to recognize Kaunas Hansa Days as an event of national importance?
Undoubtedly, the festival is an event of national importance. Approximately four to five thousand guests from Western and Central European countries will come to Kaunas and will get an impression of the entire country, depending on Kaunas’ preparedness. All of Lithuania has to be interested in the success of the event. We will not have a better occasion than this to advertise our country for many years to come. Many expect a lot from the upcoming European Basketball Championship in Lithuania in 2011; however, the event will draw mostly sports fans. Meanwhile, Kaunas Hansa Days’ participants and guests are largely interested in history, heritage, tourism, culture and the cooperation among different towns. Our task is to make sure we will show the best we have in Lithuania, thus, make them want to come back again.

Kaunas City Municipality has already allocated a part of the budget for the upcoming festival. However, in case Kaunas lags behind in the preparation, will the entire event be put in jeopardy?
So far Kaunas City Municipality is meeting its commitments and the preparation is going according to plan. The financial factor in regards to the festival is important, but is not crucial, as everything is about our creative approach to it. If Kaunas and Lithuania fail to organize the event properly, it will be the worst possible advertising for Kaunas, and Lithuania itself. I am sure this will not happen.

Will Kaunas Hansa Days include only trade fairs? Will there be business conferences and seminars?
To call the Hansa Days a trade fair is the same as suggesting that the forest consists only of mushrooms. The would-be trade fair will take up only a one-fiftieth part of the program. It includes seminars, concerts, exhibitions, performances, festivals, art auctions, competitions, etc. Hansa Union’s towns come to the International Hansa Days not to trade, but to revel, frolic and share their cultural experiences. The business point is pushed aside and is brought up only in the official meetings of the delegations of the participating towns, as well in the economic forum being organized during the festival.

What economic issues is Kaunas Hansa Days going to discuss? I mean not only in Lithuania, but in the other Hansa Union’s towns as well?
In my aforementioned economic forum, there will be discussions on the topic of tourism and the topicality of the tourism business. The topic has not been chosen randomly, as Lithuania remains, for visitors from distant countries, one of many stops while visiting the Baltic countries. However, we are not satisfied with that. We do have enough projects that can make a visitor stay in Lithuania for a much longer time than for just a couple of days – for a week or a fortnight. We just need to devise an attractive amount of the information about the places of interest here in Lithuania. Also, we need to put in order our infrastructure and to gear up the connections. All these questions will be discussed by the professionals at the economic forum.

What kind of ingenious events can Kaunas’ guests and participants expect in the festival?
We are going to stage a festival of medieval music and dance, a tournament of knights, as well as  a festival of ancient sacralic music and a fire-form performance on the confluence of the two rivers, Nemumas and Neris. Besides, most participants from the 172 Hansa Union towns will bring their own performers – musicians, circus artists, dancers, jugglers and more. I can guarantee that Kaunas and its guests will not have time to sleep for four days.

Can you tell a bit about the public institution ‘Hansa Kaunas 2011,’ that is in charge of the event? What concerns you most so far?
The institution was established at the end of 2008. Its founders are Kaunas City Municipality and the public institution ‘Hansa Kaunas,’ that is in charge of the annual local Hansa festival. ‘Hansa Kaunas 2011’ was established specially for the International Hansa Days Festival. As we are the main organizers, we are in charge of everything, including the program creation, infrastructure, welcome of guests, feeding the volunteers, etc. Time passes so quickly, as the beginning of the festival is approaching. Though we have quite a lot work to do still, I am convinced we will be on time delivering the pledges. There is no other way.