The first recorded mention of the city of Görlitz was in 1071. For decades, the city flourished at the intersection of one of Europe’s oldest and most important trade routes, the Via Regia. The route connected Kiev to Santiago de Compostela and the Salt Road which linked Prague to the Baltic Sea. Given its place on the Via Regia, Görlitz became an influential centre of trade and fortune.
Unlike many other Germany cities, Görlitz was not destroyed during the Second World War. As a result, its unique collection of late Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and Art Nouveau buildings remained completely intact. This stunning collection of architecture, however, did not fare well under the East German government and many of the city’s most impressive buildings fell into disrepair.
In the past few years over 700 of these buildings have been fully restored to their original beauty. In total, 4,000 buildings in the city have received heritage designation – the highest number of protected properties in any German city today. One mystery remains, however. It seems that many of Görlitz’s historic buildings have been restored with money given by a mysterious donor, who gifted the city with over €500,000 a year between 1995 and 2010, arriving at a total of over €10 million. According to official sources, the donor has requested to stay completely anonymous. To date, their identity has not been revealed, so please let me know if you find any clues on your next trip to Görlitz.
Here are ten tips to make the most of your trip to Görlitz.
1. Take a tour of the film sets of Görliwood
The overwhelming beauty of the city, combined with its empty and rather derelict spaces, has made Görlitz a top film location. In 2017, it was named the top European film location of the decade. As of February 2020, the city has created a pop-up revival project called the Walk of Görliwood to showcase the top filming locations in the city. You can also book official tours to visit film locations, including the Görlitzer Warenhaus, the Art Nouveau department store where Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) was filmed.
2. Climb the stairs at the Görlitzer Rathaus
The Görlitz town hall takes up the entire western side of the Untermarkt, but the oldest and most noteworthy section is the tower building with the curving Renaissance staircase fronted by a sculpture of the goddess Justitia. Take a moment to observe the lower of the two tower clocks and you’ll notice that the helmeted soldier in the middle briefly drops his chin every minute.
3. Admire the Library of the Upper Lusatian Society of Sciences in the Barockhaus
The beautiful Barockhaus in Görlitz is home to a cultural history museum and a stunning library. The building can be found on the southeast corner of the Untermarkt.
The Barockhaus is also home to the most extensive library between Dresden and Wrocław and one of the most beautiful libraries that I’ve ever seen! The library has 140,000 volumes with numerous rarities and treasures, including medieval manuscripts and incunabula, which are the earliest printed books, from the dawn of European movable type in 1450-1500.
The library was established by the Upper Lusatian Society of Sciences, whose members felt that the region was lacking in great libraries. They wanted to promote learning and science in Upper Lusatia and so the members donated books from their private collections. Also housed in the library is the collection of a man named Johan Gottlieb Milich, who died in 1726 without heirs and left his library to Görlitz with the stipulation that his collection be made available for public use.
The oldest book in the library’s collection is a handwritten codex from the 11th century. The library also has an extensive collection of Jakob Böhme’s works, a famous mystic who lived in Görlitz. During WWII many important works were transferred to the eastern part of Görlitz, across the Neiße River, for protection from air raids. After the war ended, this area that was once Germany became Poland and the books were not returned to the library. You can now find many of these important works in Wrocław. In 1945 the Upper Lusatian Society of Sciences was dissolved by the Soviets. Since 1950 the house and its collections have been the property of the city of Görlitz.
4. Whisper secrets to to your friends at the Flüsterbogen
Also found on the Untermarkt is the late-Gothic arch, known colloquially as the Whispering Arch (in German: Flüsterbogen). The physical peculiarity of the late Gothic portal is far more attractive than the decorations. If you put your ear up to one end of the arch, while someone whispers into the other, you can hear them clearly at your end. Others in the immediate vicinity, however, hear nothing – at most a whisper.
5. Make a stop along the Via Sacra at Peterskirche
Crowning the Görlitz skyline, this Gothic church is especially famous for its Sonnenorgel (Sun Organ), fashioned by Silesian-Italian Eugenio Casparini in 1703. It boasts 88 registers and 6095 pipes and derives its name from the 17 circular sun-shields integrated into the organ case.
Today, Goerlitz is part of the Via Sacra (Holy Route) The Via Sacra meanders for 550 kilometers through Germany, Poland, and Czechia, connecting some of the most significant religious sites in Europe. The 15th-century Peterskirche is one of the stops along this route. The church, with its soaring towers and copper roof, is the most famous landmark in Görlitz and has a lavish, ornate interior that befits its splendid façade.
6. Listen to the bells ring at The Trinity Church
The Trinity Church is a Protestant church in Görlitz. It was built between 1234 and 1245 as a church of the Franciscan monastery on the present Obermarkt. In 1564, the monastery was transformed into a school and in 1712 it became a parish church.
Fun fact: The clock at Holy Trinity Church rings the hour seven minutes too early? It happens to commemorate the 1527 uprising when the traitor demanded to ring the bells earlier – as a result, the uprising collapsed.
7. Take a stroll to Zgorzelec, Poland
Görlitz. is Germany’s easternmost city and you can easily cross from Görlitz. to the Polish town of Zgorzelec over the Neisse River. You can cross directly from one side to the other without passing any checkpoints and even take an Instagram shot as you straddle the two countries at once.
8. Visit the city’s replica of Jerusalem’s Heiliges Grab
A close replica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem as it looked in the Middle Ages during the time of he Crusades. Among the Crusaders was local boy Georg Emmerich, who made the trip to Jerusalem, allegedly to atone for getting his neighbour’s daughter pregnant. Absolved from his sins, he returned, became the town mayor and, in 1480, instigated the construction of the Heiliges Grab. Entry to the site is around 2 euros.
9. Taste local beer at the Landskron Braumanufaktur
Take a couple of hours out to learn about local beer production at the Landskron Brewery. This particular brewery has been busy brewing beer since 1869 using traditional craft methods and with open, hand-guided fermentation. After almost every tour they offer, you’ll be welcome to stay for a beer tasting and some tasty snacks. While most daily tours are conducted in German, if you contact the brewery in advance you will be able to arrange for an English tour.
10. Find beauty among the decay
Although many of the buildings have been restored to their former beauty, many others remain empty, abandoned, in a state of decay. A quick stroll out of the historic city center in any direction will reveal the crumbling facades that are symbolic of this city’s difficult past.