History of the village
The populated area Bernāti first appears in periodicals in the middle of the 19th century. In the 1863 edition of “Latvijas Avīze” No.17 it reads: “An Englander ship, which was to go to Ventspils with ballast, ran into sandbank at the Bernate Pub, not far from Liepāja”.
Since ancient times, the main occupation of people in Bernāti was fishing. Besides, they collected amber. Amber has always been a good medium of exchange and payment. There is information that the Amber Road already existed in ancient Roman times, and that amber was transported from the Baltic Sea to Rome. In the 17th century, during the time of Duke Jacob, amber was also collected and used as an export commodity.
You may wonder, who was the first person to come up with the idea of creating a resort in Bernāti? It is possible that this interest in Bernāti emerged due to its vicinity to Liepāja, or more precisely, it was close to one of Latvia’s largest cities and its port. Since the deepening of the Liepāja Port and the rapid growth of trade relations, Liepāja has been developing rapidly. Then a wealthy class emerged, and they looked for entertainment not only in the city but also looked for recreational opportunities outside the city in the summers. In the second half of the 19th century, the industry began to develop in Liepāja, there was the Liepaja-Romna railway opened, and resort and bathing establishments were opened. It encouraged the foreign merchants and aristocracy to come to the city. Jēkabs Janševskis in his historical novel “Dzimtene” mentions that three Russian emperors visited and hunted in this area in the middle of the 19th century. A doctor in Liepaja had an idea to establish a sanatorium in the beautiful forests, but it was not made into reality because he was transferred to Karalauči. According to the information on www.periodika.lv, on 20 August 1881 the Crown Property Board of the Baltic Governorate announced an auction of ten rents for building plots. Each plot was 800 square metres large and located in the 13th quarter of the Crown Forest, close to the Bernāti tavern, 15 versts South of Liepāja. It is not known what happened to these plots, but 46 more plots for villa development were separated from the Crown Forest and rented out to various persons in 1897.
At the very beginning of the 20th century, Liepāja City Councillor K. Burkevics had the idea to establish a railway between Liepāja and Palanga, later it was planned to connect it with Mēmele (now Klaipėda).
“In the case of the Liepāja Third Railway, a report has arrived from Saint Petersburg: The project for the construction of the Liepaja Third or Southern Railway, after having been approved by the Council of Ministers as well as the State Council, was approved by the Supreme Court on 14 July this year in the name of former State Councillor K. Burkevics. This new railway, which is currently estimated to reach Rucava, 43 versts South of Liepaja, will later extend to Lithuania and the Prussian border.”
A public limited company had already been set up and shares had been traded to make this idea into reality. Unfortunately, the project was never implemented. It is also known that in 1909 the contracts with those who had rented the 46 plots for the construction of villas in 1897 were broken because no villas were built in twelve years due to the poor access roads and the plots were given to Burkevics. Further plans were disrupted by the First World War.
When the independent State of Latvia was established in the early 1920s, the idea to build a resort in Bernāti was revived. On May 5 1923, the owner of “Pēterpils” hotel in Liepāja, Jēkabs Zelmenis, called a meeting of public workers in Liepāja “Kūrmāja” Hall to decide on the establishment of a society that would take care of the construction of bathing places in Liepāja and the establishment of the Bernāti resort.
By the beginning of the Second World War, the summer cottages “Matīsa”, “Bāna” and “Lamberta” had been built in Bernāti.
After the war, the summer cottages were nationalised and handed over to the Liepāja factory “Sarkanais Metalurgs”, where they established a camp for pioneers. The southernmost villa “Lamberta” the Soviet military used for their children. Later it was demolished.
At the end of the 1970s, “Meža Paviljons” burnt down. In the area among summer cottages “Villa Alma”, “Sērdieņi” and “Matīsa” there were built the buildings necessary for the pioneer camp – a canteen, a residential complex, a boiler house, and activity rooms. The place lost its first-time magic.
After Latvia regained its independence, Zelmeņi and Sērdieņi families regained back their properties. Sērdieņi continued to manage their property, while the Zelmeņi sold their villa to local entrepreneurs. They renovated the building, set up a hotel and started a tourism business, but due to structural defects of the building, it burnt down on 3 January 2008. Now there has been built a sports field in the place of the burnt-down building.
History of Bernati village by years
In the autumn of 1924, the President of Latvia Jānis Čakste arrived in Bernāti. A memorial stone was made to commemorate the visit and Pastor Goldberg consecrated it on 16 September 1928.
On 23 May 1926, on Whit Sunday hundreds of people came to the grand ceremony of laying the foundation stone of a new health resort in Latvia. Pastor Zanders consecrated the foundation stone and J. Zelmenis gave a speech. Each participant could donate to the development of the resort and received a nail, which could be hammered into a commemorative plaque (currently located in the holiday home “Sīpoli” in Bernāti).
On 15 August 1926, the first building of the resort – the Pavilion was opened. At the end of the year, the land division and surveying work was completed and in February 1927, the Bernāti resort plan was approved, and it anticipated the division of the forest into 248 units of land.
In August 1928, the first 159 building plots, 63 ha in total, are announced in “Zemes ierīcības vēstis”. The construction of two summer houses was started – Zelmen’s “Villa Alma”, named after his wife, and summer cottage “Sērdiene” in the name of its owner. Zelmen’s summer cottage was built in the style of Dutch villas. It was a two-storey building, made of wood, with attics, with a complex roof structure covered in red profiled tiles and it had balconies. The buildings blended perfectly into the surrounding landscape.
There were sought various sources of finance and infrastructure development opportunities to develop the resort. On 6 December 1930, the newspaper “Brīvā zeme” wrote that the “Liepājas Jūrmalas Labierīcības biedrība” had an idea to open a casino in Bernāti to attract more foreign tourists and further invest the funds in the development of the resort. The idea of a railway or tram line between Liepāja and Bernāti was also revived. At the government level both ideas were rejected.
In 1931, a new road was built from the existing Liepāja–Nīca highway to the summer cottage “Zelmeņi”. Unemployed people from Liepāja were used as a labour force.
“Villa Alma” opened in 1933. They offered comfortable rooms, a restaurant with a buffet, toilets inside as well as hot and cold water. “Meža Paviljons” had a similar offer. You can find various criminal events, including smuggled alcohol, fights, jealousy scenes and even a murder in the periodicals.
On 28 June 1935, the news broke that Mr Zelmenis, the leading force behind the idea of the resort, had died at the age of 57. The Society lost its leader, and its activities came to a stand.
In 1938, on Līgo Eve, the first electric light bulbs came on in three houses in Bernāti. Electricity was connected to “Villa Alma”, “Meža Paviljons” and “Jēkuļi” houses.
During the First World War, many villagers fled from Latvia. It is known that Jānis Smiltnieks found refuge and worked in Yaroslavl, and his cousin worked in Vitebsk.
The before-mentioned Šauris Miķelis worked on ships and wrote letters from the far north – Archangelsk.
With the establishment of independent Latvia, the villagers returned to their homeland and started farming in their own lands. The freedom and experience of the world also encouraged other villagers to educate themselves.The fishermen strived to learn knowledge of maritime, acquired the right to drive motorboats and on 7 November 1922 they founded the Fishing Society “Vilnis”.
Then the Second World War broke out, with all its consequences.
After the war, Latvia was incorporated into the USSR and the Communist Party took control of all everyday life. The villagers had to found a fishing artel and it was named “Sarkanais karogs” or “The Red Flag”. Klāvs Dravenieks was elected as the head of the Artel. To have someone to work with, they invited a boat building specialist Jānis Rēķis from Medze. A boat-building workshop was set up in the Dravenieki drying-house.
This artel was given the opportunity to work independently until 1959, when it was incorporated into the fisherman’s collective farm “Bolsheviks” as the Bernāti Brigade. Fishing practically ceased after the great storm of 17–18 October 1967, when all the motor boats and most of the fishing equipment were destroyed.
By the decision of the Council of Ministers of the LSSR No 692 of 28 December 1970, it was decided that the land of the Liepāja district collective farm “Sarkanā blāzma” should be added to the sovkhoz “Nīca”.
Some of the greatest catches as remembered by Kārlis Tamužs
In 1961 or 1962, the villagers found a lot of herring near Sventaja. They caught herring for three weeks without rest. Fishing was finished around the time of Whitsunday just outside of Liepaja.
Tamužis went with pole-line so far to the North that he could see the towers of Gotland churches. He came home with a boat full to the brim with cod fish.
Around 1964 or 1965, 1.5 tonnes of eels were caught with a seine net.
There was one occasion when the seine was pulled right across of the house “Kumpis” and the seine was thrown around the house. Six men at each wing. The seine had been very heavy. In the end, it turned out that nine tonnes of “zebra”, as the locals called the vimba, had been caught in the seine.
Once the boat of Tamužis was the last to be put to sea (delay due to the formalities and border control). All of them, the Bernāti villagers, the seafarers, and the people from Pape, had taken their places up on the “18 axes”, behind the ship pass. When he approached them, there were no places left. He did not think twice and went even further up. The partner Pēteris had been saying that there was no point. But they threw out the nets anyway and started to nibble on their dinner bread when Tamužis noticed that the floats were not really floating on the water. He pulled the tip and realised that the nets were full. They managed to haul in eighteen nets (only half of them, as there were four men in the team and each usually had 9 to 10 nets) and the boat was full of fish to the brim. They ran ashore to empty the boat and then returned to collect the rest of the catch, which was just as prolific. In the end, it turned out that the others had caught nothing.