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Maritime madness to mark big birthday

  • 2002-07-25
  • Ausrine Bagdonaite
The Lithuanian city of Klaipeda will mark its complex past with a gigantic birthday party, as Ausrine Bagdonaite reports.

In summer, just about every Lithuanian heads for the Baltic Sea, and this year Klaipeda's port is giving them a double reason to watch the waves splash and hear the gulls squawk. Besides the usual fun of the city's Sea Festival, added attractions are scheduled to celebrate its 750th birthday.

One million visitors are expected for the event and thousands of litters of beer are waiting for them.

The party will run from July 29 to Aug. 4, and a sign of how big it will be is that the presidents of all three Baltic countries plus Poland and delegations from Klaipeda's sister cities in 14 countries will attend.

Stormy history

Klaipeda (or Memel in German) was established by German crusaders in the 13th century, and has always been a vibrant multicultural place. It first attracted Germans, and then from the 16th century the English, the Dutch, Swedes, Scots, Danes and Jews.

It only became Lithuanian in 1923, when French troops stationed there after the end of German rule were expelled. Following the 1939 Soviet-Nazi pact, Lithuania was forced to give Klaipeda and its surroundings to Germany, and Hitler made a personal visit to the city that was once again called Memel.

But today, Klaipeda is the third biggest city in Lithuania, and its most important seaport. The festival and the birthday celebrations will reflect this as well as giving many nods to the city's past, present and future.

The most serious event will be the official city birthday ceremony and the opening of the Castle Museum in central Klaipeda on Aug. 1. After this, theatrical events depicting the history of the city will be staged in the Old Town.

The highlight will be the "Sermuksnis" 10th annual street theater festival, involving troupes from Germany, Hungary, Finland, Russia, Sweden, Ukraine and Lithuania.

The city's waterway, the Dane River, will symbolize the present, and an "action of feet" on its embankment will dramatize one of the accounts of how Klaipeda came by its name. In this tale the city's name derives from the Lithuanian words "klami peda," meaning "cloggy foot."

Fittingly, on Aug. 2 residents and guests will have the opportunity to immortalize their own footprints in cement at Theater Square.

On Aug. 1 a sailors' parade and a concert called "Jurai istikimi" (Loyal to the Sea) is intended to portray Klaipeda's openness to all the cultures of the world.

Children meanwhile will not be forgotten during the festive turmoil. Danes Square will be converted into a Sea Avenue for kids, with scouting events, funfairs and ice- cream bars. There will be dramatizations of the classic tale "Pinocchio" and students from the Yamaha music school will also be performing at full throttle.

Klaipeda has been holding fairs, or "Jomarkas", in Lithua-nian since 1597, and this year the country's best crafts people will be on hand to show visitors the arts of woodworking and grinding grain using traditional millstones - all to the accompaniment of stirring folk music.

Aug. 1-4 numerous food stalls along the river embankment will showcase Klaipeda's favorite food, fish, as well as delicious treats from Lithuania, Italy, Germany, China, Japan, Mexico, Poland and the Middle East.