Famous people of the region

Martin Ludwig Rhesa (Lith – Martynas Liudvikas Rėza) was born 9 January 1776 in Karvaičiai village. When his parents died in 1782, the orphaned boy was taken in by a fisherman named Radmacher in the nearby village of Nagliai. Later between 1782 and 1783, he moved to his distant relative by the name of Boehm, who was the owner of the post house in Rasytė.
From 1785 to 1791, Rhesa lived in Kaukėnai (in the region of the Nemunas river delta) with a theologian by the name of Christian David Wittich, the husband of his mother’s sister. Here, he continued his studies zealously and as a 15-year-old, he got into Lebenicht Shelter for the Poor in Königsberg (current-day Kaliningrad). In 1795, as a 19-year-old, Rhesa was accepted into the University of Königsberg’s faculty of Theology. Aside from theology, Rhesa studied ancient languages, the history of literature, and rhetoric, and listened to lectures on history. He was most interested in philosophy and Eastern languages, however. The biggest influences on his personal character were the philosopher I. Kant, orientalist J. Hasse, historian K. Mangelsdorf and C. Kraus, who all taught in the university. Although J. Hasse’s theory was not based on science, it stimulated his imagination and prompted him to take an interest in the history of his homeland, a part of which was the Curonian Spit. Rhesa finished his studies in the University of Königsberg in 1799, and even though he was tempted to pursue a career in academics, he did not follow this path right away: for fifteen years he served as a chaplain for the military. After finishing his studies, Rhesa was constantly preparing for academic work: he studied philosophy, history and Hebrew, Chaldean, and Arabic languages; and in 1807, he defended his doctoral dissertation in philosophy. In 1811, Rhesa was an active member of Königsberg’s Royal German Society where he read accounts on the subjects of history and folklore. For his studies on the history of the Lithuanian Bible, Rhesa was additionally awarded a doctoral degree in theology. In 1819, he was appointed dean and later rector of the faculty of theology. After earning fame for his work in Lithuanian linguistics, Rhesa was chosen as an honorary member of the Society of Curonian Literature and Art. This was a more liberal society established by Germans in 1816, which upheld the local, authentic culture. In 1828, Rhesa became the senior professor of the faculty of theology. Rhesa’s academic and public work was highly acclaimed: in 1840, he was awarded an order from the Prussian State.
Professor Adalbert Bezzenberger (1851-1922), a famous German academic, was an ethnographer, archaeologist, cultural historian, a founder of academic Baltic linguistics, and devoted a great deal of attention to research on East Prussia, and Prussian Lithuania – particularly on the Curonian Spit’s history and language.
For four decades, the academic would spend his summers in Juodkrantė, without ever missing a year. His last summer holiday in Juodkrantė in 1922 lasted up until October 1. He would stay in the villa that he had purchased in 1906. He used his time in Juodkrantė not only for rest, but for archaeological and linguistic research as well. Due to the professor’s efforts, the linguistic and ethnographic data collected from the Curonian Spit were included into the European context. His diverse inquiries still have not lost their relevance in today’s academic environment.
In 2017, next to the site of his former home (nearby “Kuršių Kiemas” hotel), a monument was built in memory of Adalbert Bezzenberger by K. Musteikis.
According to Thomas Mann, when he and his wife Katia visited Nida for the first time in the summer of 1929, they were “captivated by the inexpressible beauty and uniqueness of nature, of the fantastical world of the wandering dunes.” They soon decided to “build a permanent residence” there. In 1930, following the project of Herbert Reissmann, an architect from Klaipėda, their summer home was built in Nida, on Uošvė hill. On 16 July1930, Thomas Mann and his family arrived at their new summer residence, where they spent three summers (1930-1932). He kept to his daily routine, continuing to work on his novel Joseph and His Brothers along with essays, articles and letters to editorial offices, publishing houses, translators and friends. Unfortunately, in 1933, Thomas Mann was forced to emigrate from Germany and never returned to Nida. Neringa residents are proud that Nobel Prize laureate Thomas Mann used to spend his holidays in Nida. Thomas Mann was 55 when he was working on his tetralogy “Joseph and His Brothers” here. When he arrived, he was already well-known in the field of literature and cultural life. He had spoken in favour of democracy and warned both his countrymen and the people of other nations of the growing threat of fascism in Europe. In 1939, the summer residence of Thomas Mann was nationalised and turned into a hunting lodge “Briedžių giria” (Eng – “Moose Woods”). During the interwar period, the building was severely damaged. Through the initiative of Antanas Venclova, the chairman of the Lithuanian SSR Writer’s Union, the building was restored in the 1960s and specialists working in Neringa were housed here. In 1965, ownership was transferred to Klaipėda’s City Library; after two years a reading room with a small memorial display opened its doors. In 1975, the building was renovated and new exhibits were added to the exposition. Following the remaining blueprints from H. Reissmann and memories of Elisabeth Mann, the daughter of Thomas Mann, the house was renovated again in 1995 and 1996 with the goal to recapture the original authentic environment. As of 2014, a new exhibition opened in the museum. Thanks to modern technology, the exhibit not only recalls the Nobel Prize laureate’s life and creative works, but also poetically recreates the atmosphere of the summer days spent in his residence.
Somewhere around the middle of the 18th century, the innkeeper F.K. Kuwert ran Nida’s inn and post house. The fate of the whole village of Nida relied on his descendants. The Kuwert family became the most influential and wealthy people. Gottlieb David Kuwert (1748-1827) purchased the materials from the closed church in sand-covered Kuncai and after transporting them to Nida, he erected a large building in the middle of the village. The building contained a tavern, an apartment, accommodations for staying overnight and a post office.
At the beginning of the 19th century, when the third settlement of Nida was under the threat of being covered by sand, Gottlieb Kuwert began to fortify the shifting dunes and plant vegetation on them in order to protect his establishment. Kuwert was helped by his son George David, who, after his father’s death, claimed his inheritance and continued the work related to the post house. The afforestation work started by the Kuwert family prepared the soil for more planting later on. George David buried his father in a cemetery situated in a grove of saplings. Before his death, he also requested to be buried next to him. The residents of Nida ordered a memorial for the Kuwerts of a vase standing on a pedestal, which was used to safeguard both valuables and water – nature’s most precious object.
Nida, and the experiences that he had there, were life changing for Eduardas Antanas Jonušas. He discovered the remains of the disappearing Curonian lifestyle. There was a small group of Curonians still living there and he got to know some of them fairly well after moving to Nida in 1971. The artist spent 30 years recovering the ethnic culture of a region that was consciously being destroyed during the interwar period. He gave special attention to the most significant cultural symbols such as: krikštai (traditional burial monuments), vėtrungės (ornate weather vanes), kurėnai (traditional Curonian ships) and architectural elements of fishermen houses (decorative roof gables and other weather vanes). Inspired by the Curonians’ deep understanding of the spiritual world, Jonušas drew up plans for a project to reconstruct the old, deserted graveyard in Nida and restore the traditional burial monuments – krikštai. He was one of the pioneers in analysing a very distinct phenomenon of Curonian culture – weather vanes. He gathered a collection of their drawings and with artist Rimantas Dichavičius, prepared a book on weather vanes. Unfortunately, the authorities of the day did not allow it to be published. He also put together exhibits for Neringa’s Museum of History. When Lithuania’s independence was restored, upon receiving blueprints Eduardas Jonušas built the first traditional fishing boat – a kurėna – of the post-war period. “This is [to show] my gratitude for the people who were born, raised and became one with this land,” declared Jonušas. This kurėna, of the name “Kuršis” (Eng – “The Curonian”) can still be seen in Nida’s port or rocking on the distant waves of the lagoon.
Eduardas Jonušas was not just a reviver of the region’s ethnographic heritage, but an artist as well. As a sculptor, his first piece was made in Nida – a decorative composition called “Neringos vartai” (“The Gate of Neringa”), which stands by the entrance of Neringa. It is an embodiment of the rich symbols of this region: three sails with weather vanes. Jonušas contributed much in reviving the memory of Martin Ludwig Rhesa, the prominent academic and cultural figure from the Curonian Spit: on Skirpstas Dune, not far from Pervalka, a memorial was created by Jonušas for him in 1975. The creative work of Jonušas can be seen in many of Neringa’s public places: an art piece called “Darbas” (“Work”) decorates the foyer of Neringa’s municipality building, and the decorative composition “Pašto karieta” (“The Mail Coach”) can be seen on the façade of Neringa’s post office.
Eduardas Jonušas’s paintings and especially the pastel drawings of his earlier years were dominated by the scenes of the Curonian Spit and its ethnographic motifs. Later, he spent his creative periods of time making various series of paintings which symbolically conveyed his experiences in the hell of the Soviet gulag.
As one of Neringa’s most famous contemporary artists, an honorary citizen of the city, a knight of the Order of the Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas, and a laureate of the M.L. Rhesa prize, Eduardas Jonušas was a living legend. He died in 2014 and was buried in the ethnographic cemetery in Nida. The sculptor and painter’s workshop, in which the public institution “Eduardo Jonušo namai” (“Eduardas Jonušas’s Home”) was established in 2016, stands on the outskirts of Nida.
The writer, playwright and translator Viktoras Miliūnas lived and worked in Nida from 1961 to 1986.
In 1961, the Miliūnas family bought half of a semi-detached fisherman’s hut on G.D. Kuverto Street in Nida.
Although V. Miliūnas did not know it back then, Nida would become everything for him – a newly discovered world of sand and forests between the lagoon and the sea; and a place where he would find himself, his peace, his inspiration to create and the seaside fishermen that became so dear to his heart. As one of the first intellectuals settling in Neringa, Miliūnas “infected” others with Nida: writers, theatre-goers, and painters. Until the building of the Writers’ Literary House on Urbas Hill, Miliūnas’s home was unofficially named “The Writing House” (Lith – rašytnamis), a place of the people’s cultural meetings and conversations.
The writer spent a significant portion of his life in Nida, where he wrote his most important works of prose. A collection of about 10 novels and short stories were released: Pirmoji meilė arba nusikaltimas (Eng – “First Love or The Crime”), Juoda upė (“The Black River”), Vestuvės Paryžiuje (“A Wedding in Paris”), Evalduko vasara (“Evaldukas’s Summer”) Meilė ir neapykanta (“Love and Hate”), Žaidimas be taisyklių (“The Game With No Rules”), Piknikas Grabšto rage (“A Picnic on Grabštas Cape”) and Koncertas muziejuje (“A Concert at the Museum”),Vienas iš trijų (“One out of Three”), and Evalduko metai (“The Years of Evaldukas”). Almost all of the short stories revolve around Neringa’s fishermen: their lives, customs, households, love lives, work, daily routines and the relationships between them. All of these are explored in dramatic stories, full of subtle humour and in the talented tone of a storyteller. By Miliųnas’s will, the simple people of the spit found themselves on the centre stage of literature. From the abundance of Miliūnas’s literary works, the most esteemed are the realistic portrayals of life in Nida, put together into short stories and novellas.
In August 1990, by the house of Viktoras Miliūnas, a commemorative carved oak plaque “Nidos metraštininkui” (Eng – “For Nida’s Chronicler”) was uncovered. The plaque, which was made by artist and Nida-resident Eduardas Jonušas, a close friend of Miliūnas, says that from 1961 to 1986, the writer Viktoras Miliūnas lived here. Now all that is left is a small office in a fisherman’s house, a well of clear water and three apple trees. Neringa municipality’s public library, named after Viktoras Miliūnas, safeguards a part of the writer’s archives: books, manuscripts, letters, photos, personal documents and their copies.