The literal meaning of the city's old name is 'King's Mountain'. In the local Low German dialect, spoken by many of its German former inhabitants, the name was Königsbarg. Further names included Russian "Кёнигсберг" Old Prussian: Kunnegsgarbs, Knigsberg, , , and the modern Russian and current official name, Kaliningrad.
Königsberg was founded in 1255 on the site of the ancient Old Prussian settlement Twangste by the Teutonic Knights during the Northern Crusades, and was named in honour of King Ottokar II of Bohemia. A Baltic port, the city successively became the capital of their monastic state. After the Second Peace of Thorn (1466), from 1469-1641 it was a vassal of Poland.Since 1525 it was the capital of the Duchy of Prussia until 1701 when the capital was moved to Berlin. During the period from 1701 until 1757 it was the regional capital of the Prussian province of East Prussia. Between 1757 to 1763 it became a city in Russian Empire before becoming part of Prussia again, and from 1871 the German Empire. It was the easternmost large city in Germany until it was captured by the Soviet Union near the end of World War II.
A university city, home of the Albertina University (founded in 1544), Königsberg developed into an important German intellectual and cultural centre, being the residence of Simon Dach, Immanuel Kant, Käthe Kollwitz, E. T. A. Hoffmann, David Hilbert, Agnes Miegel, Hannah Arendt, Michael Wieck and others.
Between the thirteenth and the twentieth centuries, the inhabitants spoke predominantly German, but the multicultural city also had a profound influence on the Lithuanian and Polish cultures. The city was a publishing centre of Polish language literature and of Polish Lutheranism. The first Polish translation of the New Testament was printed in the city in 1551. Also, the first book in Lithuanian language and the first Lutheran catechism were both printed in Königsberg in 1547. Under Nazi rule, the Polish and Jewish minorities were classified as subhumans and persecuted by the authorities. The city housed thousands of interned people of the Jewish faith who were forced to undertake tasks under the most deplorable conditions during the Second World War. The city also housed captured Russian prisoners of war.
By the end of the war, Königsberg was heavily damaged by Allied bombing in 1944 and during its siege in 1945. The city was captured and annexed by the Soviet Union. Its German population was expelled, and the city was repopulated with Russians and others from the Soviet Union. Briefly Russified as Kyonigsberg (Кёнигсберг), it was renamed "Kaliningrad" in 1946 in honour of Soviet leader Mikhail Kalinin. It is now the capital of Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast, an area completely cut off by land from the rest of Russia.