Saturday, 12 October 2013

Görlitz - Where's Everybody Gone?

Church of St Peter and St Paul and Görlitz viewed from the Polish town of Zgorzelec across the river Neisse
Görlitz is a town in Saxony (Sachsen) tucked away in a corner of Eastern Germany, on the Polish border and close to the Czech Republic border too.

It is a bit of a journey to get there, as Görlitz is about 210km SE of Berlin, but well worth the effort. In fact, I would rate it up there as one of the nicest German towns we have been to. We set out early on 27th July and reached it via an RE train to Cottbus then a change onto the Ostdeutsche Eisenbahn (ODEG). All in all it takes about 2 hours 40 minutes from Berlin Hauptbahnhof, so take along a packed lunch and a good book for the journey.

First impressions on getting off at Görlitz Hauptbahnhof is of a town deserted. Abandoned and boarded-up buildings top the high street, and there was hardly anybody about.

Hotel on Berliner Str.
'Objekt zu verkaufen'
Any offer please? Please!!!

Merkur Drug Store
Also for sale.
As we headed towards the Altstadt we started to see signs of life, including a modern fountain, though goodness knows what this is all about:

Kunstbrunnen „Die Tanzende“, corner of Salomonstraße
A sign on the fountain says that the fountain is 'In Erinnerung an das einstige Tanzcafé Hohenzollern/Café Fledermaus/Café Central von 1891 bis 1990 im Haus Berliner Straße 51' which means it is in memory of a Dance cafe that stood near here and which went through three names. That might - might - explain the half-naked woman dancing on a table, but what about the forlorn looking pug dog marooned on a chair?

Wandering further down Berliner Straße you soon come to the Straßburg Passage, a shopping arcade dating back to the turn of the twentieth century and showing some classic Art Nouveau style.

Straßburg-Passage entrance, Görlitz

Also here, actual shoppers! You wouldn't think this was a Saturday lunchtime in the city centre. Not that this charming chappy seemed to mind:

Kaiser Wilhelm Teddy Bear in a shop window in the Straßburg-Passage
The Straßburg-Passage runs through to the pleasant open space named Wilhelmsplatz, which used to have an equestrian statue of Kaiser Wilhelm 1 here in 1939, but then was melted down to help with the war effort.

Wilhelplatz, Görlitz
Not Karl-Marx Platz. Definitely not.

Surprise, surprise the square was re-named Karl-Marx Platz in DDR times, and a monument to the memory of the vicitims of fascism erected. Surprise, surprise, the square's name was changed back to Wilhelmplatz in 1990, though the monument was left untouched:

Memorial to the victims of Fascism
From the Eastern corner of Wilhelmplatzy, Konsulstraße leads us North back in the direction of the heart of Görlitz. Once more, on Konsulstraße, you see the abandoned side of Görlitz:

Konsulstraße, Görlitz
I like the time-machine feel of these derelict buildings, and I bet that next time we visit Görlitz they will have been renovated to within an inch of their lives and turned into trendy cafes or night-clubs.

Yet another abandoned drug-store up for sale
Soon we come to Postplatz, and the side of Görlitz that the local Tourist Board want visitors to see.

Next to the Frauenkirche is the former Görlitzer Kaufhaus (now a Karstadt) bedecked with wonderful Jugenstil statues looking down on the one shopper.

Görlitzer Kaufhaus
I do like this style, but I must say, it is a bit odd when the statues in a city seem to outnumber the residents!

Not far from here is der Frauenturm (women's tower), also called the Dicker Turm or tubby tower. It does deserve its nickname, as it is a bit inelegant. It is a matter of form determining function though, as this 13th century tower was part of the city's defences and overlooked a portcullis and drawbridged gate in the city walls.

Frauenturm / Dicker Turm
This is how it gets its name 'Frauenturm'; a 15th century sandstone relief was erected on it in 1856. It depicts the Görlitz coat of arms together with Saints Mary and Barbara. St. Mary is on the left, holding the infant Jesus, whilst St. Barbara is on the right, holding a blood great tower! (she was kept shut up in a tower by her father to protect her from the outside world).

From here, it is a short distance to the Obermarkt, with its elegant town-house, hotels and shops from many different eras; Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Gründerzeit, Jugendstil. Not many (any?) modern architecture though. Except for the blowing up here of bridges across the Neiße and some damage to the corner house on the Obermarkt (the yellow one shown below, restored in DDR times), Görlitz survived the Second World War relatively unscathed. This gives the city, and the Altstadt in particular, an authenticity that is lacking in many German towns.

Görlitz Obermarkt
A pedestrian street leads from the Obermarkt past a fountain down towards the heart of the Altstadt and to the river.

A bridge over the Neiße leads to the Polish town of Zgorzelec. Görlitz and Zgorzelec were at one time both the same town, until the bridges linking them were demolished and the Neiße became the German/Polish border. As ever, stepping across the rebuilt bridge into Poland really is like entering a different country. Which of course it is. We went to a lovely Polish restaurant near the base of the tower shown in the photo below, and sat in the glorious sunshine on the riverside terrace enjoying a meal of pierogis, krokiety, and borscht soup whilst taking in the view of the church of St Peter and St Paul shown at the top of this blog.

Bridge across the Neiße to Zgorzelec
There was some kind of music and acrobatic thing going on.
Another view across the Neiße from Poland:

Zgorzelec looked like it had less to offer the tourist, so after a walk along the river bank we headed back over the border, something that we couldn't have done only twenty or so years ago. No wonder Zgorzelec is now so different from Görlitz.

Zgorzelec Ufer
The copper-roofed, twin-towered church of St Peter and St Paul (Pfarrkirche St. Peter und Paul) that dominates the Neiße river is a massive Gothic construction dating back to the fifteenth century and before.

Entrance to the church of Saints Peter and Paul
Inside the church there is a famous Sonnenorgel (Sun organ) which must sound terrific when it is blasting out some Bach, but it was silent today and we headed back up to the Rathaus and Untermarkt past some gorgeous buildings and intriguing side-streets. Here are just a few impressions to set the mood:

Alley off Neißstrasse

Though my photos seem to show few people about, this was actually the busiest part of town. There were numerous packs of international tourists being led around by guides, people chilling out in the pavement restaurants, and every half an hour there seemed to be a wedding at the Rathaus accompanied by convoys of bridal cars flying 'just married' banners and honking their horns. The picture-perfect spiral steps in the above photo had a guy with a sweeping brush on permanent duty just to sweep away the confetti after the happy couples emerged from the Rathaus and had their photos taken.

We had a cooling ice-cream at the top of the hill, accompanied by a Linux penguin, whilst planning our further explorations of Görlitz.

Pinguin Eisbar, Görlitz
We made a sweep North and West past the Barracks, once the home of a Prussian garrison ...

To the massive defensive bastion known as the Kaisertrutz.

Kaisertrutz Bastion
With floral clock
This formed part of the defensive double wall that lead to the Reichenbacher Turm.

This was once the major gateway into Görlitz on the Via Regia trade-route, with the Obermarkt just beyond:

Back at the Obermarkt again
Once a hot-spot in the 30-Year War, now only a gnome stands guard at the city gates:

Starting to get weary now, we still managed to make time to check out the monument to the 15th meridian (15 degrees longitude). Görlitz straddles this meridian, making it the most Easterly city in modern Germany, and also meaning that on this line local time is exactly one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.

Monument to the exact position of Meridian 15
We also found Görlitz Synagogue, one of the few in Germany to escape fire-bombing on Kristallnacht in 1938. Having lain unused since the war, it is currently being renovated.

Görlitzer Synagogue
We also found lots of examples of buildings that are still to be renovated:

Then we took some last minute snaps of the local residents before heading back to the Hauptbahnhof.

Görlitz Fountain
Our feeling was that we had made a hurried overview of Görlitz, and that there was lost more to explore.

Our lasting impressions are of Görlitz as a beautiful mid-European city with a rich history that has survived intact, but ... where have all the people gone?

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