Sea of Plenty

KATARINA STOLTZ / REUTERS

DECLINING ORDERS: An exception to the region-wide boom, the Polish shipbuilding city of Gdansk has struggled to stay competitive

Locals in Riga, the Latvian capital, have a favorite trivia question: what was the biggest city in the 17th century Swedish empire? (Hint: it wasn't Stockholm.) For centuries, the stately medieval port on the shores of the eastern Baltic Sea served as the bustling gateway between Russia and the West. Then, following World War II, it withered after the Iron Curtain fell across Eastern Europe, cutting it off from the outside world. But Riga is now experiencing a renaissance. It may not have re-established the prominence it enjoyed 400 years ago, but as any of its trivia-wielding residents will tell you:...

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