Over the years, Jelgava’s street names have been changed many times. There is one street, the origin of its name unknown for a long time – a small street - Egas Street, where there are only private homes, no public buildings. The street itself was founded around 1900. There is a legend associated with its name.
In 2001 the museum was visited by an elderly gentlman, a local Baltic German named Katerfeld, who revealed interesting details about the Egas Street name. They concerned the period from 1915 to 1919, when German troops occuped Jelgava, chased out in 1919 by Pavel Bermont’s troops. Near the German barracks on Dambja Street was what is now known as Egas Street, but at that time it did not have a name because it was only a laneway with very few houses on it. In one of those houses lived several lively young women who were frequently visited by German troops. To make it easier to remember the location and to direct their comrades to the house, the German soldiers put up a sign at the corner of the street with the initials E.G.A.S., the first initial of the first name of each of the young ladies. Mr. Katerfeld deciphered the abbreviation: ‘E’ for Elizabeth, ‘G’ for Gertrude, ‘A’ for Annemarie, and ‘S’ for Sigrid. The Latvian version of the names would be Elizabete, Ģetrūde, Annemarija and Zigrīda.
After the Germans departed in 1919 and the Republic of Latvia resumed jurisdiction over Jelgava, the hand-lettered street sign remained, and the new authorities adopted the name formally. And so the street name created by German soldiers in honour of their young ladies has survived until today. The street is currently lined with private homes and the residents have no idea how Egas Street came by its name. Until now, this history was known by only a handful of museum staff who were present at the serendipitous meeting with Mr. Katerfeld in the summer of 2001.
The museum collection includes photographs and postcards depicting scenes of picturesque bridges over the old Hercog Jēkab Canal, which at that time flowed through what is today’s Dambja Street. Romantic meetings between soldiers and their young ladies took place frequently on these bridges. In the 1920’s these bridges were a favourite strolling and meeting place for couples of all ages – from students to seniors. Canal excavation was completed around 1660, and the total length from the Svēte River to the Driksa River estuary was about 5 km. Not far from Egas Street and the Canal were Skolotāju Street with its beautiful homes, the German secondary school, the Zemgales tobacco factory and the aforementioned barracks, which were approximately in the same location that is now home to the 52nd Militia Battalion headquarters in Jelgava, and the Jelgava City Courthouse. These old places can be visited now only in old photographs and postcards.
A foreign collector who corresponds with our museum has published on the internet photographs featuring scenes from life in the German occupied OberOst* territory, taken between 1915-1919. These include some photographs of women (presumed to be German) with the comment that German women were forbidden from entering the OberOst. It is possible that they were girlfriends of the unknown photographer, or perhaps spouses of German officers, who occassionally gained entrance into the territory.
Usually women seen in pictures from this period were nurses or doctors, carrying out their duties in wartime infirmaries and hospitals, of which there quite a few in Jelgava at that time. The Latvian War Museum also has an album of these scenes, presumably obtained as a trophy in Jelgava upon its liberation from the Bermontians.
It is likely that the previously mentioned Elizabete, Ģertrūde, Annemarija and Zigrīda were local girls, born and raised in Jelgava, but it is also possible that they were refugees from other areas of Latvia, as was frequently the case during the war.
As documents from the Museum of Literature and Music attest, the Dambju Street promenade beside the Jēkab Canal was also a favorite of our beloved poets Rainis (Jānis Krišjānis Pliekšāns) and Aspazija (Johanna Emīlija Lizete Rozenberg) around 1896. They both went for long walks along the Canal to the Rētiņa Dam ( the lock at the start of the Canal) and then back to Skrīveru Street 48 ( now Krišjan Barona Street) - home again to their house, which was located near St . Anna's church, alongside of which the Canal further stretched right up to Jelgava market square. Perhaps during these walks the two poets gleaned inspiration for their creative works, or solved philosophical puzzles , or had romantic conversations. We can only speculate. These romantic bridges over the Jēkab Canal existed in Jelgava until 1932/33, when work began to fill in the Canal. By the start of World War II, the Jēkab Canal had been filled up as far as Dambja Street, to the Bebru Road and Kungu Street intersection. The remaining bridges up to the Ģintermuiža remained intact for a while, but in the 1950’s the Canal was eliminated altogether.
It should be noted that the Dambja Street name has also seen some interesting changes - originally Dambja Street, then George Washington Prospect ( June, 1931), then Sarkanarmijas (Red Army) Street ( August 27, 1940) , and later Paul Hindenburg Street (from October 16, 1941), then back again to Sarkanarmijas Street (from 1944 ) and, finally, on the 26th of April 1990, it regained its historic name.
That is our small tale with a romantic twist about Egas Street, Dambju Street and the Hercog Jēkab Canal.
Aldis Barševskis ,Head of the Museum's Main Collection
* OberOst (shorted form of Oberbefehlshaber der gesamten Deutschen Streitkräfte im Osten): East German army high command – the regulatory structure of the occupied Baltic territories during WW1