On October 14, Lithuanians celebrate the name day of Mindaugas. Meaning “Mentioned by many”, the name was perfect for our only king. Mindaugas united the lands ruled by various dukes and was crowned on July 6, 1253.
July 6 is one of the official State holidays in Lithuania, and Mindaugas is a popular name in our country – one of those strange to a foreigner’s ear, too! The biggest ‘monument’ to King Mindaugas in Kaunas is the wide riverside avenue between the bridges of M. K. Čiurlionis and Vytautas the Great.
The story of the avenue began in the 19th century when the Russian Tsar approved the riverside reinforcement project. The road by Nemunas, so-called cimbruvka, was paved in granite. The names kept changing. First known as Bulvarnaya, the street became Uferstraße during the German occupation. It was called the Nemunas waterfront and the Pier waterfront during the First Republic of Lithuania. During the Soviet occupation, it was first renamed into J. Janonis street after a regime-friendly poet, and then into Victory waterfront. The street was named after Mindaugas in 1991 after we re-established our Independence.
The 3.25 km long essential urban axis is also a walking route (quite noisy sometimes – but the view of Aleksotas on the other side of Nemunas is worth it) – here are the places of interest we suggest you take a look at along the way. Let’s start from where the central part of Kaunas meets the vibrant Šančiai neighbourhood. According to the building numbering system, this is actually the end of the King Mindaugas avenue, but nothing can stop us, right?
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Take a look at the green railway bridge over the Nemunas river. There were no traces of King Mindaugas avenue when it was built, but this route is an excellent chance to know more about the historical landmark built in the middle of the 19th century. In 1862, a Japanese mission travelled along Europe and stopped in Kaunas; according to written sources, they were inspired by the bridge’s structure. Read more about the mission here.
Street art lovers should visit the independent, ever-changing, open-air riverside gallery under the railway bridge. Graffiti jams are often here, so drawings keep changing. For more information about street art in Kaunas, use this map.
When you climb back up, take a look at the recently renovated and converted building complex on the right. What is now apartments and businesses was a top-notch industrial milk business of interwar Kaunas. s office was the Pienocentro building in the heart of the city.
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The most prominent structures hugging the avenue are Akropolis shopping mall and Žalgirio arena. The first one offers numerous shopping and dining activities and is home to one of the most up-to-date cineplexes in the country. Located in the Nemunas island, Žalgirio arena is a must-visit for sports fans, as it’s home of BC Žalgiris Kaunas, Lithuania’s most loved basketball team. The arena is also frequently used as an exhibition space and is the touching ground of numerous international music acts.
The area next to Akropolis is the new business centre of Kaunas. The constructions are still going on, but there is already a lot of energy and life in the finished buildings.
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The Nemunas island is also an essential stop on our route. It’s a favourite destination for nature lovers looking for a quick escape. Dozens of dogs bring their owners here to play. There’s also a sakura garden symbolizing the friendship of Kaunas and Japan. A new National Science and Innovation Centre called Science Island should be built on the island in the nearest future.
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Three bridges connect the Nemunas island and the riverside. The middle one, called S. Daukanto bridge, is best-know for a couple of historical flights underneath it. The Lithuanian pilot Jurgis Kairys flew his plane under the bridge in 1996; he managed to do it upside-down in 2000. The F1 pilot Mika Pauli Häkkinen shook the Lithuanian’s hand right after the trick.
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Keep walking! Here’s a picture-perfect Fire department building waiting to hug you. Designed by E. Frykas in 1932, the building also hosted other institutions before WW2, including a pawn shop and the public library. A fire caused by a bomb destroyed most of its books.
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Hungry after the long walk along river Nemunas? Here’s Momo Grill, a fantastic restaurant offering perfect meat dishes and sublime brunch options. The restaurant is located in a historic building that was once a... public sauna.
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It’s time to cross the busy Birštono street. The only safe way to do it is via underground passages – their walls are full of kaunastic street art drawings.
Slow down and stop in front of a recently renovated historical building. Today, it’s a vocational training centre. Before WW2, it was the Schwabe Hebrew Gymnasium. The school was established in 1927 by a prominent educator Moshe Schwabe. Among its students were the Holocaust historian Dov Levin (1925-2016) and the famous Israeli poet Leah Goldberg (1911-1970).
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Towards the end of our route is the Kaunas Evangelical Lutheran Church. The Lutheran parish in Kaunas, an important Hanseatic town, was established as early as 1558, and the church was built in 1683. During the Soviet occupation, the building was used by the nearby university. In 1989, the remaining Lutheran community came back to the church.
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The ever-happy sundial can be found on the wall of Vilnius University Kaunas Faculty of Humanities, Muitinės g. 8. The project by sculptor Antanas Balkė and architect Ričardas Krištapavičius was installed there in 1986. Its design, inspired by gothic shapes, represents a stream of knowledge coming from the university. Interestingly enough, the sundial is designed to specifically show the exact time in the city of Kaunas, of all places. This was a silent (and entirely secret) protest of the creators against the official “Moscow” time implemented on Soviet-occupied countries. In 2014, when the faculty was celebrating its 50th birthday, the kaunastic sundial received a facelift – it’s now smiling in the dark, too.
We’re now on the Old Town of Kaunas! The cherry on top of the walk is the Kaunas Blessed Virgin Mary of the Assumption (Vytautas The Great) Church. Built around 1400, the church is considered the oldest in Kaunas. It was funded by Vytautas the Great, the ruler of Lithuania, and designated for Franciscan monks and foreign merchants. Its cross-shaped layout is unique for Gothic churches in Lithuania. Its most famous priest was Vaižgantas, a charismatic citizen of interwar Kaunas. You can visit his memorial flat in front of the church and his brand new statue in the churchyard. The dog’s name is Kaukas!
This is it. If the weather permits, sit down at the Daugirdas amphitheatre, take a look at the Aleksotas hill on the other side of river Nemunas and chill. If it’s deep autumn or winter, why not treat yourself in one of the numerous cafes scattered all over the Old Town?