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 annual Isaiah Berlin Day in Riga

Since 2009, the centenary of Berlin’s birth, an annual Isaiah Berlin Day has been held in Riga, featuring a keynote lecture and other lectures and events. Some have been recorded:

Excerpts from the 2009 centenary celebration

Later lectures


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 fourth 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 3, 5 and 7 in green); (right) the interior of flat 6 in 2011 2a Albert Street interior

log book 1 log book 2

Log book for 2a Albert Street, showing entries for Mendel and Marie (‘Musya’) Berlin which read in part: ‘Berlin, Mendel Berkovich, merchant, grandson of a merchant of the first guild of Velikie-Luki, Jew / Berlin, Musya Zalmanov[n]a, wife of the grandson of a merchant of the first guild of Velikie-Luki, Jew’. It also shows that they moved out on 2 August 1915. The numerical references in the entries about permission are to the Russian Passport Charter of 1903, article 68, which governed ‘the permanent or temporary residence of Jews, both within and outside their [pale of] settlement’. Click on the images to enlarge.


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