Juodkrantė (literally: Black Shore, German: Schwarzort [Black Place]) with permanent population of about 720 people is a quiet Lithuanian seaside resort village located on the Curonian Spit. A part of Neringa municipality, Juodkrantė is the second largest settlement on Lithuania's part of the spit.
Situated in Old Prussian territory it was for centuries a fishing village named Schwarzort, which underwent a tourist boom in the late 19th - early 20th century. After World War I this northern part of East Prussia was severed from Germany and the village became known as Juodkrantė
Juodkrantė was first mentioned (as Schwarzort) by the Teutonic Knights in 1429 in a letter describing storm damages. It was initially situated along the Baltic Sea shore, about 2.5 km from the present location. In the early 17th century, due to the Black Death, and moving sand dunes threatening to bury the village, it lost almost all of its inhabitants. In the 1680s, the village relocated to its present location along the Curonian Lagoon shore. After 1724, the sources do not mention the village along the Baltic Sea shore any more. The village did quite well in the new location: a tavern was opened in 1673, a school in 1743, and a wooden church in 1795. Until 1740 the village belonged to German: Kreis Memel (Klaipėda County), then from 1740-1795 to Church District German: Kirchspiel Karwaiten (Karvaičiai). It grew in importance after Carwaiten/Karvaičiai/Karwaiten village was swallowed by traveling sand and the seat of the Church District relocated here. The wooden church burned down in 1878 but was soon replaced by a red brick Lutheran church in 1885.
Major developments took place in 1860s. In the late 1850s the lagoon waterway was deepened and now ferries could arrive. It was the easiest way to travel. In te course of the work, samples of amber were found. In 1860 the Stantien & Becker company was founded to dig amber just north of the village. During 30 years of operations, it dug out about 2,250 tonnes of amber. At its peak the company employed about 1,000 workers. The company had a positive effect on the village as it built barracks for its workers, a second school, a luxurious villa Flora, and a dock suited for ferries. The earth dug out was used to reinforce the shore and swampy areas. After the company relocated to Palmnicken (now Yantarny) in 1890, the population of Schwarzort dropped from 851 in 1885 to 423 in 1895.
The tourist business was started in 1860s by Edward Stellmacher, who turned an old tavern house into a hotel named Kurischer Hof (Lithuanian: Kuršių kiemas, now Gintaras). Because of the amber business, a new Juodkrantė was developed north of the old fishermen village. Many villas and hotels were built there. In the beginning of the 20th century there were 5 hotels, 20 villas, and a convalescent home Luisenbad (Lithuanian: Luizės maudykla). The new town was considered a luxury resort and attracted about 3,000 visitors a year. World War II destroyed the tourist business. Neringa was a strictly regulated border region. Only in the early 1960s tourists started to come back. However, Nida became a more popular destination for tourists. This allowed Juodkrantė to retain its old business - fishing. Sometimes it is referred to as the "capital of fishermen" and holds annual fishermen festival in July.
Stantien & Becker would dig up many pieces of amber shaped as amulets or knick-knacks. At first they would give them out as souvenirs, but then started collecting these items from the Mid Neolithic and the Bronze Ages. Richard Klebs, professor at Königsberg University, described 435 items (pendants, buttons, tubular beads, discs, and figurines of humans and animals) in his book Stone Age Amber Adornments in 1882. These ancient Schwarzorter Funde are considered to contain the earliest known amber carving finds from the Baltic Sea area (with amber carvings thousands of years older in other locations). About 150 items have detailed images. The collection was exhibited in Berlin, St. Petersburg, London, Chicago. After Klebs' death, Königsberg University purchased his collection. However, during the turbulent times of World War II and the expulsions from East Prussia most of the large collection in Königsberg was destroyed or stolen and only a few items were saved at Göttingen University, previously the sister university of Königsberg. But scientists were able to make replicas from detailed illustrations in Klebs' book.
Most of genealogical information was recorded in Church books "Kirchenbücher" when the wooden church was built in 1795. Records are stored in Evangelisches Zentralarchiv Berlin and Bundesarchiv. Some families moved to Juodkrantė from Karvaičiai when sand buried this site completely in 1797.
Hill of Witches
A large collection of wooden sculptures by various artists is displayed on the Hill of Witches (Lithuanian: Raganų kalnas). The sculpture park was started in 1979 and now has more than 70 wooden objects. Most of the figures are based on Lithuanian legends or folk tales. Before the surrounding area was planted with trees, visitors could admire a view of the sea and the lagoon.
Sculpture park "Land and Water"
Another sculpture park was finished in 2002. It houses 31 stone and metal sculptures created during an international symposium "Land and Water." The sculptures are located on the recently built quay, 2.4 km in length, along the lagoon shore.
A Museum of weathercocks is maintained by Daiva and Remigijus Žadeikiai. The gallery has information on the Nerija cultural heritage. There is also a gallery maintained by the Lithuanian National Art Museum.
The heron and cormorant colonies
Of interest to nature watchers are the large great cormorant (2000 pairs) and grey heron (500 pairs) colonies west of Juodkrantė. It is believed that the herons have nested near Juodkrantė since 17th century, but the cormorants arrived only at the beginning of 19th century. The cormorants were exterminated at the end of the 19th century due to Prussian administration regulations and started to reappear only in the 1970s. The large cormorant colony has damaged the old and fragile forest because the birds' excrement burns tree roots. During last 15 years about 10 ha (25 acres) of forest has died. Fishermen blame the birds for diminishing fish catches, but unlike in Prussia, the regulations now do not allow killing them as both grey heron and great cormorant are protected species in Lithuania.
Sport and sailing
Juodkrantė is on inland waterway from Nida to Klaipėda. There are two piers in Juodkrantė for yachts and boats. A yacht club is under development. Navigation - Juodkrantė Lighthouse (20m) int.no 0049 (C3334) - White rectangle on black square metal framework tower with viewing platform. From sea visible only top part.
Juodkrantė is a place of choice for eastern winds. Paragliding sand dune site is south-east from town. Western side - beach dunes are hard to fly.
- (Lithuanian) Nijolė Strakauskaitė, Klaipėda, Kuršių nerija, Karaliaučius (2005). R. Paknys Publishing. Pages 94–103. ISBN 9986-830-82-6.
- History: Juodkrantė (former Schwarzort or Schattenort), Direction Kuršių Nerija National Park. Accessed August 19, 2006.
- Matas Mizgiris, Treasure of Juodkrantė, Amber Museum-Gallery. Accessed August 19, 2006.
- (Lithuanian) Asta Aleksėjūnaitė, Prieš kormoranus - balionais, L.T., March 28, 2005. Delfi.lt. Accessed August 19, 2006.