There are dozens of reasons to visit Görlitz, Germany’s easternmost city. A quick day trip from either Berlin or Dresden, this is certainly one of Germany’s prettiest towns.
The first recorded mention of the city of Görlitz was in 1071. For centuries, 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 center of trade and fortune.
Unlike many other German 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 remains completely intact. Unfortunately, this stunning collection of architecture did not fare well under the East German government. As a result, today many of the city’s most impressive buildings are in a state of disrepair.
Over 700 buildings have been fully restored to their original beauty in the past few years. 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. This generous person gifted the city over €500,000 a year between 1995 and 2010. In total, that is €10 million. According to official sources, the donor has requested to stay completely anonymous. To date, their identity remains unknown.
Here are ten tips to make the most of your trip to Görlitz.
1. Take a tour of the film sets of Görliwood
The first reason to visit Görlitz is that it is a top film location. The overwhelming beauty of the city, combined with its empty and rather derelict spaces, makes it a natural choice. The city was named the top European film location of the decade in 2017. The city has even recently created an initiative called the Walk of Görliwood that showcases the top filming locations in the city. You can book official tours to visit film locations. These tours include a visit to 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 second reason to visit Görlitz is to admire the beautiful Rathaus. The Görlitz town hall takes up the entire western side of the Untermarkt. However, the oldest and most noteworthy section is the tower building with the curving Renaissance staircase guarded by a sculpture of the Greek goddess, Themis. If you take a moment to observe the lower of the 2 tower clocks, you will 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 third reason to visit Görlitz is to go to the stunning Barockhaus. The Barockhaus is home to a cultural history museum and a rare library. The building is located on the southeast corner of the Untermarkt.
This is the most extensive library between Dresden and Wrocław. It is also perhaps one of the most beautiful libraries that I’ve ever seen! The library holds 140,000 volumes with numerous rarities and treasures. This includes a large collection of medieval manuscripts and incunabula. Incunabula are some of the earliest printed books, dating back to the dawn of European movable type in 1450-1500.
The library was established by the Upper Lusatian Society of Sciences. Members wanted to promote learning and science in Upper Lusatia and so they donated books from their private collections. For example, the library owns the extensive collection of Johan Gottlieb Milich, who died in 1726 without heirs. He left his personal effects to the city of Görlitz with the stipulation that his books be made available for public use. The library also has an extensive collection of Jakob Böhme’s works, a famous mystic who once lived in Görlitz.
During the Second World War, many important works were transferred to the eastern part of Görlitz for protection from air raids. After the war ended, this area 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 your friends at the Flüsterbogen
The fourth reason to go to Görlitz is to tell all of your secrets. In the Untermarkt is the late-Gothic arch, known colloquially as the Whispering Arch (in German: Flüsterbogen). The physical peculiarity of this 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
The fifth reason to visit Görlitz is to see the magnificent sun organ. Crowning the Görlitz skyline, St. Peter’s 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, Görlitz 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 gothic 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 sixth reason to go to Görlitz is to listen to the bells of The Trinity Church ring. The Trinity Church is a Protestant church in Görlitz. It was built between 1234 and 1245 as a church of the Franciscan monastery. The monastery became a school in 1564. 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 a traitor demanded to ring the bells earlier – as a result, the uprising collapsed.
7. Take a stroll to Zgorzelec, Poland
Another reason to visit Görlitz is that you can easily walk across a bridge to the Polish town of Zgorzelec. You cross directly from one side to the other without passing any checkpoints. You can even take a selfie for Instagram as you straddle the two countries at once.
8. Visit the city’s replica of Jerusalem’s Holy Grave
The eighth reason to visit Görlitz is so you don’t need to travel all the way to Israel. That’s because a close replica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem exists here. It looks exactly as it did in the Middle Ages during the time of the 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 Holy Grave. Entry to the site is around 2 euros.
9. Taste local beer at the Landskron Braumanufaktur
The ninth reason to come to Görlitz is so you can 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 can stay for a beer tasting and some tasty snacks. While most daily tours are 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
The top reason to visit Görlitz is to search for beauty among the decay. Although many of the buildings have been restored to their former beauty, many others remain empty, abandoned, and in a state of disrepair. 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.