You can definitely call the small city of Zelenogradsk (pop. 16,000) in Kaliningrad Region the “cat capital” of Russia. Everything there is dedicated to these furry animals, from souvenirs to… traffic lights!
The many cats of this city will gladly show a tourist the best photo spots (and the best lunch spots!). But, how did it come to this?
Zelenogradsk (Cranz until 1946) is an old resort city at the shore of the Baltic Sea. Cats usually like to settle in such seaside towns, closer to fishermen, fish and vacationers. But, in Zelenogradsk, they have become a real attraction of the city.
According to legend, centuries ago, cats saved the city from rodents that were destroying their food supply and spreading disease. Caring for stray cats is the locals’ way of expressing gratitude.
Cats have always been living in Zelenogradsk. But, it was only recently that the city itself became the “cat capital”. It all started with the Murarium Museum in an old 1905 water tower. Local inhabitant Irina Klochkova decided to set up an exhibition hall for her cat statuette collection in the unused tower in 2012.
Real cats also live in the museum, with ginger-furred ‘Semyon Semyonovich’ chief among them. He became the prototype for the first museum souvenirs. ‘Murarium’ gained a lot of popularity among tourists; soon after, a lot of everything “cat-themed” began to appear in the city.
As soon as you visit, you’ll immediately notice an incredible amount of cat graffiti on buildings. Souvenir stores, on every corner it seems, sell anything from keychains and magnets to shopping bags and mugs with cats on them.
The city’s central street, Kurortny Prospekt, even has mini-benches for cats, little traffic lights with flashing cats, as well as vending machines where you can buy cat food. The city administration even has the position of cat chief, a cat caretaker. Their responsibilities include feeding and taking care of cats.
And for those tourists who decide to have lunch on an open terrace of any cafe, just know you won’t be able to so in peace and quiet! The local cats will always investigate and will not be against the idea of sharing a meal with you.
By the way, there are plenty of dogs in the city, as well, but they seemingly maintain a neutrality with the cats. There are literally no fights or altercations to speak of these days.
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