On February 16, 1918, the Act of Independence of Lithuania was signed in Vilnius. In less than a year, however, the capital of the new-born republic had to be transferred to Kaunas as Vilnius was occupied by Poland. Kaunas, a fortress city of Russian Empire, was not exactly ready for the new title, which in fact served as a great catalyst for what soon became a bustling European capital.
The corps diplomatique became an inseparable part of the cultural life of Kaunas as the diplomats who resided in the city helped spread the European trends and customs – both official and those only acceptable when night falls.
Consul of Argentine Arnaldo Barsanti (center) in a reception at the Kaunas Officers Club in February 1938. Property of the National M. K. Čiurlionis museum of art.
The diplomatic missions of the USA, Great Britain and France were first to visit the new capital and others soon followed. By 1939, 22 foreign countries were represented in Kaunas. In fact, only one building was specifically designed for corps diplomatique, interestingly enough, the Apostolic Nunciature did not have the chance to move in it.
As Vilnius was then fought back and very soon the country fell under the reign of Soviet regime, the buildings once used by foreign embassies and consulates were soon reused for other purposes. Here’s the catch – you can visit most of the heritage of diplomatic Kaunas without any prior arrangements. Today, we stroll down V. Putvinskio street, one of the most important diplomatic hubs in the interbellum.
V. Putvinskio g. 68
The owner of the building was the Petras Vileišis, mayor of Kaunas – before taking this position he served as the ambassador of Lithuania to the US, where he worked to obtain recognition of the state de jure. Designed by Aleksandras Gordevičius in 1930, the building served as his residency and part of it was for rent. The US Embassy used the building from 1934 to 1938.
Property of autc.lt
General consulate of Sweden
V. Putvinskio str. 64
The closest neighbours of the US were the Swedes. From 1930 to 1931, the cosulate rented part of an early modernist building (designed by Vytautas Landsbergis-Žemkalnis) owned by Antanas Žmuidzinavičius, a famous interwar painter who was also the founder of world’s only Devils Museum, still one of the major tourist attractions in Kaunas.
A Finnish-Swedish author Henry Parland worked as a secretary here up until his early death in 1930. He wrote his most important work, “To Pieces”, while leading quite a bohemian lifestyle in Kaunas.
Henry Parland in Kaunas
Today, the building is home to the museum of A. Žmuidzinavičius and the Devils Museum can be found next door.
Now that’s a diplomatic beehive! Designed by Bronius Elsbergas and built in 1933 for a lawyer Kazimieras Škėma, the building was used by three countries. The office of Czechoslovakia could be found on the third floor from 1934 to 1939; Sweden moved in in 1939 and Argentina in 1940.
Photo by N. Tukaj
A stand of Czechoslovakia during an event at the Kaunas Officers Club in February 1938. The envoy minister of Czechoslovakia Jan Skalicky (right) stands next to his wife, Mrs. Skalicka. It is said that Mr. Skalicky arrived to Kaunas from Washington in his car. Photo by M. Smečechauskas. Property of the National M. K. Čiurlionis museum of art.
V. Putvinskio g. 56
This is the sole building in Kaunas designed by request of the corps diplomatique and the only in the street allowed to be built without being attached to the others. Vytautas Landsbergis-Žemkalnis designed the building in 1930 but the nuncio had to leave the country as the relationship between the Church and Lithuanian government went South. The building was then rented out and became a children hospital. A new nuncio arrived in 1940 but he didn’t have enough time to settle as the Soviet Union occupied the country.
A kindergarten opened its doors here after the war and, in 1971, the building was devoted to the needs of artists. The Kaunas Artists' House, home to various clubs and unions, will celebrate its 45th birthday on the 28th of November with a bang. Is the nuncio attending?
Photo by N. Tukaj
Consulate of Hungary
V. Putvinskio g. 54
The diplomats only occupied one apartment of the building suited for residents with home offices, such as doctors and lawyers. The consulate operated here from 1938 to 1939. It moved here from Totorių street and later relocated to another building on V. Putvinskio street.
Photo by N. Tukaj
Embassy of France
V. Putvinskio g. 14
Having first opened its embassy in Kaunas in 1924, the corps diplomatique of France rented out a building on V. Putvinskio street (designed, as many more on the same street, by V. Landsbergis-Žemkalnis) in 1929. The embassy officially moved out in 1932 but the envoy minister continued living there until 1940.
The article was based on the information found on www.diplomatiniskaunas.lt and architectural guide “Kaunas 1918-2015” (Lapas publishing house).