1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/East Prussia

EAST PRUSSIA (Ost-Preussen), the easternmost province of the kingdom of Prussia, bounded on the N. by the Baltic, on the E. and S.W. by Russia and Russian Poland, and on the W. by the Prussian province of West Prussia. It has an area of 14,284 sq. m., and had, in 1905, a population of 2,025,741. It shares in the general characteristics of the great north German plain, but, though low, its surface is by no means absolutely flat, as the southern half is traversed by a low ridge or plateau, which attains a height of 1025 ft. at a point near the western boundary of the province. This plateau, here named the Prussian Seenplatte, is thickly sprinkled with small lakes, among which is the Spirding See, 46 sq. m. in extent and the largest inland lake in the Prussian monarchy. The coast is lined with low dunes or sandhills, in front of which lie the large littoral lakes or lagoons named the Frisches Haff and the Kurisches Haff. The first of these receives the waters of the Nogat and the Pregel, and the other those of the Memel or Niemen. East Prussia is the coldest part of Germany, its mean annual temperature being about 44° F., while the mean January temperature of Tilsit is only 25°. The rainfall is 24 in. per annum. About half the province is under tillage; 18% is occupied by forests, and about 23% by meadows and pastures. The most fertile soil is found in the valleys of the Pregel and the Memel, but the southern slopes of the Baltic plateau and the district to the north of the Memel consist in great part of sterile moor, sand and bog. The chief crops are rye, oats and potatoes, while flax is cultivated in the district of Ermeland, between the Passarge and the upper Alle. East Prussia is the headquarters of the horse-breeding of the country, and contains the principal government stud of Trakehnen; numerous cattle are also fattened on the rich pastures of the river-valleys. The extensive woods in the south part of the province harbour a few wolves and lynxes, and the elk is still preserved in the forest of Ibenhorst, near the Kurisches Haff. The fisheries in the lakes and haffs are of some importance; but the only mineral product of note is amber, which is found in the peninsula of Samland in greater abundance than in any other part of the world. Manufactures are almost confined to the principal towns, though linen-weaving is practised as a domestic industry. Commerce is facilitated by canals connecting the Memel and Pregel and also the principal lakes, but is somewhat hampered by the heavy dues exacted at the Russian frontier. A brisk foreign trade is carried on through the seaports of Königsberg, the capital of the province, and Memel, the exports consisting mainly of timber and grain.

The population of the province was in 1900 1,996,626, and included 1,698,465 Protestants, 269,196 Roman Catholics and 13,877 Jews. The Roman Catholics are mainly confined to the district of Ermeland, in which the ordinary proportions of the confessions are completely reversed. The bulk of the inhabitants are of German blood, but there are above 400,000 Protestant Poles (Masurians or Masovians) in the south part of the province, and 175,000 Lithuanians in the north. As in other provinces where the Polish element is strong, East Prussia is somewhat below the general average of the kingdom in education. There is a university at Königsberg.

See Lohmeyer, Geschichte von Ost- und West-Preussen (Gotha, 1884); Brünneck, Zur Geschichte des Kirchen-Patronats in Ost- und West-Preussen (Berlin, 1902), and Ost-Preussen, Land und Volk (Stuttgart, 1901–1902).