Isaiah Berlin and Riga

Isaiah Berlin was born in Riga (then part of the Russian Empire, now capital of Latvia) on 6 June 1909, and lived there until June 1915, when his family moved to Russia proper. He returned in October 1920, when the family left the Soviet Union, and emigrated to England in February 1921, having spent only four additional months in the city. Apart from a brief visit in 1926 or 1928 (depending on which statement of IB’s one believes), he never saw Riga again.


The plaque at Berlin’s birthplace

Alberta iela 2a Alberta iela Alberta iela plan

(far left) 2a Albert Street, the house designed by Mikhail Eisenstein where Berlin was born (in flat 8 on the top floor) and spent his early years; (centre left) postcard of Albert Street at about the time of the Berlins’ residence there (is Berlin standing in front of 2a?); (near left) original architect’s plan for the upper flats (flats 4, 6 and 8 in green); (right) the interior of flat 6 in 2011 2a Albert Street interior

Dubulti wedding

Berlin’s family often repaired to the seaside at Dubulti, near Riga.

Click photo to enlarge and see identifications

Tērbatas iela 86

86 Dorpat Street, now Tērbatas iela, where the Berlins lived from 15 October 1920 to (probably) mid‑February 1921, in a room in flat 3, which belonged to Uriah Berchin. Mendel left for England at the beginning of January 1921 to find a home for his family, who joined him on 20 February.

Dzirnavu iela 2

Berlin’s maternal grandparents Salman and Rodsia-Freude Volshonok originally lived in the Red Dvina ‘ghetto’ district in the north of the city, but they later moved to smart downtown Riga. There they lived first at Dzirnavu iela 2 (left), now a hotel, then at Pulkveža Brieža iela 13 (right), flat 16, in the same building (now part of a hotel complex) as Salman’s brother Victor/Avigdor. Pulkveža Brieža iela 13

Wolfson bust

Anthony Stones’s bust of Berlin has been cast twice: the results may be seen (left) in the library at Wolfson College, Oxford; (right, without the spectacles) in the National Library of Latvia in Riga Riga bust

The third annual Isaiah Berlin Riga Memorial Lecture, on ‘The Pleasures of Liberalism’, was delivered on 6 June 2011 by Ian Buruma as the culmination of an Isaiah Berlin Day in Riga’s Maza Gilde (Small Guild). A video of the lecture may be viewed below. The second video is of a talk by Henry Hardy on the same day about Berlin’s links with Riga. Details and recordings of previous Isaiah Berlin Riga Memorial Lectures are available on the ‘Isaiah Berlin in Riga’ website.

Ian Buruma, ‘The Pleasures of Liberalism’

Henry Hardy, ‘My Name Is Isaiah Berlin, and I Come from Riga’