Many of the prettiest buildings in Latvia have been conceived or funded by ethnic Germans: the palaces, the castles, the churches… Having came to Christianize the land Germans amassed immense power, becoming the lords of the land.

Remains of Bauska castle
Remains of Bauska castle, built by German crusaders in 15th century. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

While Germans lost sovereignty over Latvia in the 16th century, even under the subsequent alternating Polish, Lithuanian, Swedish and Russian regimes they remained the elite, controlling Latvia’s lands and businesses. They were known as “Baltic barons” and still made up 6,2% of population in 1897.

Urbanization and enlightenment of the Latvian peasantry ~1900 broke the German monopoly on leadership and culture. After Latvian independence (1918) emigration and lower birth rates made German share decline to 3,2% by 1935.

Fraktur script in Kuldīga
Restored German Fraktur sign in Kuldīga. This script was well-visible in Latvian cities well into 20th century. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

But the complete end to the Latvia’s German community came with World War 2 and the subsequent Soviet Genocide, which all but destroyed the German community. Germans had to flee the land that was their home for centuries, those who couldn’t or didn’t were murdered. Much of the remaining cultural heritage in Latvia was destroyed. Since then Germans make up merely 0,1% of Latvia‘s population.

Historically Germans were primarily concentrated in southern and western Latvia (Semigallia and Courland) as well as Riga. Well into the 20th century they made 25%-50% of population in many towns and cities there. Beyond the city limits however there were very few Germans.

Rundale palace of dukes of Couralnd and Semigallia
Rundale palace of German dukes of Couralnd and Semigallia (18th century) is arguably the prettiest building in Latvia. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

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