Vilnius Celebrates German Unity Day with German Language Street Plaque in City Centre

deutsche-strasse-1 The German Street artwork

On October 3, 2015, Vilnius Municipality unveiled the seventh and most recent instalment of its foreign language street art series, by unveiling a plaque in German on German Street (DE: Deutsche Strasse/LT: Vokiečių gatvė) in the heart of the city’s Old Town.

The unveiling also coincided with German Unity day.

Vokiečių gatvė was mentioned in written texts in 1576, but it can be traced back to the 14th century, when German Hanse (or Hanseatic League) traders were invited to Vilnius by Grand Duke Gediminas. The street maintained a status of being a hub of trade and commerce in the city until Lithuania was invaded by the Soviet Union in 1940.

During the Soviet-era, it was known as Museum Street (Muzeijus gatvė), but was given its original title of Vokiečių gatvė upon Lithuania regaining its independence from the USSR in 1991. Prior to the Soviet invasion, it was also known as Gasztoldowska ulica, and Monetowa ulica.

Nowadays, it is one of Vilnius‘ main tourist attractions.

“Welcome to Deutsche Strasse, which is one of the oldest streets in Vilnius,” said Vilnius Mayor, Remigijus Šimašius. “German-speaking traders and artisans first settled here in the 14th century, and it has always been one of the most lively places in the city. We are happy to have it here, and we are happy to be able to thank and honour the role that the German community has played in shaping the city.”

Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Šimašius unveils the sign on German Street Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Šimašius (right) unveils the sign on German Street

At the unveiling, Šimašius was joined by the German Ambassador to Lithuania, Jutte Schmitz, chairman of the German Committee in Lithuania, Ervinas Peteraitis, and the vicemayor of Duisberg – a German sister city of Vilnius – Kocalar Erkan.

“It is no coincidence that we chose to unveil this plaque on Germany’s day of national unity,” commented Ambassador Schmitz. “This year, 2016, also celebrates 25 years of Germany and Lithuania restoring diplomatic relations.

“However, Lithuanians and Germans go back much longer than that, this plaque is a very nice idea to celebrate the role that the German-speaking community played in the development of Vilnius.

“I believe that this place will become a point of attraction, and make many tourists feel welcome here.”

The artwork on German Street is the latest in a series of pieces that celebrate nations, ethnicities, and other groups that have played a significant role in the history of Vilnius.

The celebrations were joined by traditional German dances and music performed by the local German community The celebrations were joined by traditional German dances and music performed by the local German community

Icelandic Street was the first to be marked in a foreign language with a sign in Icelandic appearing under the standard Lithuanian street sign in early 2016. (Iceland was the first country to recognise the reestablishment of Lithuanian independence in 1990.) This was followed by placement of a piece of street art in English marking Washington Square this summer.

In early September, artworks in Russian and Polish were unveiled to mark Russian and Warsaw Streets (“Улица Русских” and “ulica Warszawska” respectively), and the roles both communities have played in the history of Vilnius. Prior to German Street, the latest street art to be revealed was on Jewish Street (“Žydų gatvė”) on September 15 in Hebrew and Yiddish.

Vilnius Municipality will continue celebrating the city’s diverse past on October 14, when it will unveil the eighth part of its street art series on Karaite Street.

Photos by: Saulius Žiūra