Klaipėda, the third largest city in Lithuania, was established by the knights of the Teutonic Order in 1252. It belonged to the successive German states until the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. Its German name was Memel. It was a part of the province of East Prussia and was for a long time the northernmost of all the German cities.
Because of its German history the architecture of Klaipėda stands apart from that of the other cities in Lithuania. This is especially clear when one looks at the relatively large number of timber frame, or Fachwerk, buildings that survive here. In these buildings, the structural frame is composed of horizontal, vertical and diagonal elements of timber, which are left exposed on the exterior. The spaces between the timber posts and beams are filled with contrasting materials, such as clay or brick, creating a decorative effect. Because timber frame houses are lighter than those made entirely of stone, they are suitable for cities that stand on a marshy soil, like Klaipėda.
Most of the Fachwerk houses that survive in Klaipėda are located in the area formerly known as Friedrichstadt. It was located southeast of the historical city centre, separated from it by the Old Danė (Dangė) River (today’s Didžioji Vandens Street). It was founded in the early 16th century by leather workers, after whom it got its initial name. In the 17th century, when Memel got a new belt of fortifications, the Old Danė River was filled in and the two parts of the city merged. This marked the beginning of a rapid development of the area, which soon became one of the main centres of craftsmen in the city. In 1854, when Memel was ravaged by fire, Friedrichstadt suffered less than the surrounding neighbourhoods. This is also why, today, we can see a larger number of older structures here than anywhere else in the city.
The 13 structures below are the most important and the most visible examples of timber frame architecture in Klaipėda. Most of them date back to the 18th century. Almost all of them were modified or reconstructed in the 19th and 20th centuries. Many were originally used for commercial purposes, mostly as warehouses. Today they are often used as apartment buildings. I took the photos in July 2020.
You will find the locations of these buildings on the map below.
1. Daržų St. 10
These two 18th-century warehouses form the southwestern side of the Arts and Crafts Courtyard, which is one of the most attractive tourist sites in Klaipėda. One of them is notable for the protrusion of its upper floors, which created a larger space for storage and facilitated the movement of vehicles on the street in front of the building. The other one has a wide asymmetrical façade with a clear pattern of horizontal, vertical and diagonal elements of timber.
2. Bažnyčių St. 6
This warehouse closes off the Arts and Crafts Courtyard from the northwest. Its courtyard façade looks quite similar to the Fachwerk warehouse next to it.
3. Bažnyčių St. 3
This cute house, which joins a larger building in its northeast, was used as a potter’s workshop in the 18th century.
4. Bažnyčių St. 11
This is another attractive Fachwerk building on Bažnyčių Street. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find any information about it.
5. Vežėjų St. 4
Late 18th century
This wide-gabled timber frame building was initially the barn of the adjacent house.
6. Daržų St. 1
18th or 19th century
Fachwerk appears only on the upper floors of this warehouse. Its southwestern part, with the full timber frame façade, looks like a different building.
7. Tiltų St. 26A
Second half of 19th century
Around the long and narrow courtyard, which is today known as the Friedrich Passage, there are many different buildings. Fachwerk can be seen here and there on their façades.
8. Aukštoji St. 3 / Didžioji Vandens St. 2
Second half of 18th century
This is the highest surviving timber frame building in Klaipėda, with the height of 16 meters. It was a warehouse, used for the preparation and storage of flax. Today it houses the Baroti Gallery.
9. Didžioji Vandens St. 5
The attractive corner house on Didžioji Vandens Street 5 goes back to the 18th century. On the side of Mėsininkų Street stands its timber frame warehouse, which may have been built in the 19th century. The chimney was added in the 20th century.
10. Sukilėlių St. 18
Second half of 18th century
This is clearly the most attractive timber frame structure in Klaipėda. It was originally a residential building with shops on the ground floor. It goes back to the second half of the 18th century. The building was reconstructed in the 19th century, at which time the Fachwerk elements were replaced by imitations in paint. A renovation took place in the second half of the 20th century.
11. Sukilėlių St. 10
I haven’t been able to find any sources that mention this red-brick Fachwerk building. Its side façade mentions Ännchen von Tharau (Taravos Anikė in Lithuanian), a well-known poem by Simon Dach from 1636. On Theatre Square, where the building stands, is a statue named after the poem, one of the symbols of Klaipėda.
12. Žvejų St. 22
This building, located near the port and the castle, was originally a warehouse. Later it was made higher and turned into a rice mill. It was almost totally destroyed in World War Two. It was rebuilt and opened as the Old Mill Hotel in 2008. The reconstruction follows the volume of the destroyed building. There are glass panels between the timber elements. The hotel has become one of the most recognisable symbols of Klaipėda.
13. Villa Hubertus
Smiltynės St. 11
This Fachwerk villa is located in Smiltynė (Sandkrug), a village on the other side of the lagoon in the northern part of the Curonian Spit, which forms a part of the Klaipėda city municipality. It was built at the beginning of the 20th century. It shows some elements of Art Nouveau architecture. Today the Curonian Spit National Park Visitor Centre operates here.
There are several other villas nearby. Some of these are solely built of wood, while others are Fachwerk buildings. These are all, in the current form, from the 20th century, although their history goes back to at least the early 19th century.