Travel

Stolpersteine

The German word Stolperstein means stumbling stone, and today you may “stumble” over one of these 70,000 small brass stones placed all over Germany as well as Europe. This is a project initiated by German artist Gunter Demnig in 1992 to commemorate victims of the Nazis at their last place of residency or work. Most stones remember Jewish victims of the Holocaust, but there are also stones remembering other groups or individuals persecuted and murdered by the Nazis. When you “stumble” over the 10 x 10 cm stones while walking by, it’s meant to make you stop and think about the impact of Nazi terror and the lives that were destroyed.

In Görlitz, the first stones were placed in 2007. As of 2018, there are 21 Stolpersteine commemorating the victims of Nazi terror in Görlitz, and in the future we will probably have more.  Engraved on the stones is usually the text “Here lived/worked….” with their name and their fate, if known.

On November 9th each year, Germany commemorates the November pogrom in 1938, coordinated attacks carried out against Jews throughout Nazi Germany in which their homes, businesses and synagogues were looted and destroyed and many Jews were arrested or murdered.

In Görlitz in 2018, this date was commemorated through several events, including a tour of the Stolpersteine in our city that I participated in. It was after taking part in this tour that I felt compelled to seek out all the information that I could about the 21 people commemorated and to share this information with you about the Stolpersteine in Görlitz:


Stolperstein for Eugen Bass in Görlitz, Luisenstraße 21

Eugen Bass was a veterinarian who was born in Berlin but lived in Görlitz at Luisenstraße 21.  His stone was placed there in 2007. In 1930 he published a book “Der Praktische Tierarzt” (The Practical Veterinarian). He was first sent to the Jewish ghetto in Tormersdorf, today a deserted village north of Görlitz on the Polish side of the Neisse River. In 1942 he was deported to Theresienstadt, today Terezín in Czechia. Theresienstadt was not an extermination camp, but the conditions there were appalling. Eugen Bass died there at the age of 80.


Stolpersteine for Paul and Jenny Boehm in Görlitz, Vogtshof

The artist Paul Boehm and his sister Jenny Boehm were both born in Breslau (Wrocław, Poland) and lived in the Vogtshof in Görlitz beside the Peterskirche where their stones were placed in 2007 near the entrance. Paul died in the Jewish ghetto of Tormersdorf at the age of 74, his sister Jenny was deported to Theresienstadt in 1942 and murdered at the extermination camp Treblinka.

Vogtshof in Görlitz

Stolpersteine for Sigmund and Betty Fischer in Görlitz, Demianiplatz 25

Sigmund Fischer and his wife Betty Fischer were textile dealers in Görlitz. They owned and operated the Textilhaus Fischer on Bismarckstraße, which was plundered and damaged during the November pogrom in 1938. They lived at Demianiplatz 25 and today when the doors are unlocked, you can step inside the entryway and read information about the Fischers and their descendants on the walls. Their stones were placed there in 2007. Betty was born in Görlitz, her husband Sigmund was born in Aussee (Usov in Czechia). They were both deported to Theresienstadt in 1942. Betty died there at the age of about 62, while Sigmund was murdered in Auschwitz in 1944 at the age of about 65.


Stolpersteine for Erich, Charlotte and Werner Oppenheimer in Görlitz, Jakobstraße 3

Erich Oppenheimer and his wife Charlotte Oppenheimer lived with their son Werner Oppenheimer at Jakobstraße 3 in Görlitz. Erich and Charlotte’s stones were placed there in 2007 and their son Werner’s later in 2012. Erich was a doctor born in Berlin and his wife was born in Görlitz Moys, now a neighborhood in Zgorzelec. All three were sent to the ghetto in Tormersdorf in 1942. Erich and Charlotte committed suicide by drowning themselves in the Neisse River to avoid being deported at the ages of about 48 and 46. Their son, about 21 years of age, was sent to the ghetto in Lublin in 1942. His fate is unknown.


Stolpersteine for Hugo, Robert and Elsbeth Schaye in Görlitz, Salomonstraße 41

Hugo Schaye lived at Salomonstraße 41 in Görlitz with his wife Elsbeth Schaye and son Robert Schaye. Their stones were placed there in 2007. Hugo and Elsbeth Schaye owned a hide and fur trade in the neighborhood of Rauschwalde. Hugo was born in Görlitz but his wife was from Bernsee. They were deported to Theresienstadt in 1942 and died there at the ages of about 78 and 71,while their son was sent east and murdered in the concentration camp Madjanek at the age of about 47.


Stolpersteine for Carl and Hans Jacobsohn in Görlitz, Bismarckstraße 16

Carl Jacobsohn and his son Hans Jacobsohn lived at Bismarckstraße 16 in Görlitz, where their stones were placed in 2012. Carl was born in Gollub and Hans was born in Görlitz. They both fled to Holland in 1938 but were sent to Auschwitz in 1944 and murdered there at the ages of about 67 and 35. Their son and brother Walter Jacobsohn escaped and lives today in Israel.


Stolpersteine for Fritz and Käthe Warschawski in Görlitz, Postplatz 10

Dr. Fritz Warschawski, a dentist, and his wife Käthe Warschawki were wealthy and influential citizens in Görlitz. Sensing that life was becoming increasingly dangerous for them in Germany, they fled in secrecy to Palastine in 1938.  Their grandson wants to remember his grandparents, who lived at Postplatz 10 in Görlitz where their stones were placed in 2012. Käthe struggled to cope after fleeing to a strange new country and killed herself in 1935.


Stolpersteine for Paul and Margarete Arnade in Görlitz, Jakobstraße 31

Paul Arnade and his wife Margarete Arnade owned and operated a suitcase and leather goods factory in Görlitz, which Paul’s father Julius Arnade founded in 1872. The factory was on Peterstraße until it was destroyed in a fire in 1876. Arnade took the opportunity to start a larger factory in Görlitz Moys. His business profited from a prosperous economy and increase in tourism. Julius Arnade died in 1915 and his tombstone can be found in the Jewish Cemetery in Görlitz. Paul and Margarete, both born in Görlitz, took over the business after his death and lived at Jakobstraße 31 in Görlitz. Their stones were placed there in 2014. Paul became chairman of the tourism association in Görlitz, but was pressured to resign in 1933 because he was Jewish. In 1936 the family was forced to sell the factory for a paltry sum. In 1941 both Paul and Margarete were sent to the ghetto in Tormersdorf. Paul and Margarete were both deported to Theresienstadt in 1942 where he died at the age of about 68. Margarete was murdered in Auschwitz in 1944 at the age of about 58.


Stolperstein for Martin Ephraim in Görlitz, Zittauer Straße 64

Martin Ephraim was born in Görlitz. His father, Lesser Ephraim, founded a successful ironmongery trading business. After it outgrew its premises on the Neißstraße in Görlitz, he acquired property on Jakobstraße 5. Today, you can see the initials EG on the beautiful ornate golden door, standing for Ephraim Görlitz. After Lesser Ephraim’s death in 1900, Martin Ephraim took over the business. Lesser Ephraim’s gravestone can be found in the Jewish Cemetery in Görlitz. Martin Ephraim had a villa built on Goethestraße 17 – one of the first houses in Görlitz built in art nouveau style. The villa was a youth hostel for many years and is now a hotel.

Martin Ephraim was a public benefactor who made huge contributions to Görlitz both culturally and commercially. He donated art collections to museums and helped to build the Ruhmeshalle (Dom Kultury) and the New Synagogue and to rebuild the railway station in Görlitz. His Stolperstein was placed outside of the office of the factory manager’s house on Zittauer Straße 64 in 2014. In 1944 at the age of 84 he was deported to the ghetto in Theresienstadt and he died there the same year.

Jakobstraße 5
Today the Ephraim Villa on Goethestraße 17 is a hotel

Stolpersteine for Wilhelm and Elsbeth Ucko in Görlitz, Elisabethstraße 10/11

Elsbeth Ucko and her son Wilhelm Ucko, both born in Görlitz, had a photo studio at Elisabethstraße 10/11, where their stones were placed in 2018. Her husband had died earlier in WWI. In 1944 at the age of about 63 Elsbeth was deported to the ghetto Litzmannstadt (Łódź) where she died. Her son Wilhelm was deported to Theresienstadt in 1944 but he survived and went to Sweden.


Stolperstein for Alfons Wachsmann in Görlitz, Struvestraße 19

Alfons Wachsmann, born in Berlin, studied theology and was ordained as a priest in Breslau in 1921. From 1921-1924 he was the chaplain of the parish of the Holy Cross Church in Görlitz on Struvestraße 19, where his stone was placed in 2018. Alfons Wachsmann took an early stand against National Socialism, using his pulpit to criticize and speak out against the regime. He was declared an enemy of the state and his calls and correspondence were monitored. In 1943 he was arrested and sentenced to death. In 1944 they executed him at the age of 48.

The Heilig-Kreuz-Kirche in Görlitz

The 21 stones scattered around Görlitz remind us of the 21 lives that were destroyed by National Socialism. Some of them are well-remembered as influential citizens of Görlitz, and some of them were “average” people who left little behind to remember them by. One thing they all have in common – their lives were cruelly taken away from them. These stones remind us of the history everywhere we walk. So if you’re in Görlitz, and you happen to stumble upon one of these small brass stones, take a moment to think about what was lost.

Frýdlant – Day Trips in Czechia

I continue to be amazed by the many interesting and beautiful places that surround Görlitz, and Frýdlant in Czechia is no exception. We recently had a friend from the U.S. visiting us and he wanted to “check off” as many countries from his bucket list as possible. I told him that Görlitz was the perfect place for that, because we are so close to Poland and Czechia. Crossing Poland off the list was simple, since it only required a walk across the bridge. But we didn’t have a lot of time to go to Czechia, so I started looking at the map and saw that there was a small town called Frýdlant just a forty minute drive by car from Görlitz (about 30 km). I noticed that there was a castle and a brewery there, but I knew nothing else about the town before arriving. Sometimes it’s more fun that way! But I discovered that Frýdlant is a charming little town with a castle full of treasures, and the Duke who owned it became embroiled in a feud with Görlitz in the 14th century resulting in a gift to the city.

View of the Castle Frýdlant from the brewery
Castle Frýdlant
Castle Frýdlant

Frýdlant (sometimes also called Frýdlant v Čechách to avoid confusing it with the other Frýdlant nad Ostravicí in eastern Czechia) is a town in the district of Liberec in Bohemia, near the border of Poland with a population of about 7,600. The area, which is near the Jizera Mountains and on the Smědá River, was probably settled beginning in the 6th century by Sorbian tribes from Lusatia, while the castle in Frýdlant made its first appearance in the history books in the 13th century when it was acquired by Rulko of Bieberstein. The castle sits perched atop a hill above the river in the center of town, and has known many different owners over the course of time.

Important trade routes crossed through the area, including those to Görlitz and Lusatia. From Görlitz one could get on the Via Regia, or Royal Highway, which ran west-east through the Holy Roman Empire.  Bieberstein had a moat and curtain walls built to further protect the castle, but it was still raided several times during the Hussite Wars (1419-1434). The originally gothic castle was rebuilt into the style of a Renaissance chateau.

Frýdlant Castle
Frýdlant Castle

The castle in Frýdlant changed hands many times over the centuries due to death, politics, assassination and intrigue. Some of the famous people that owned it were the families Bieberstein and Redern, or Albrecht Wallenstein, a prominent military leader during the Thirty Years War who was later assassinated for treachery. But one of the owners worth mentioning here, because of his relevance to the history of Görlitz, is Friedrich von Bieberstein. He was a baron and one of the most powerful men in the kingdom of Bohemia, he also owned the castles Landeskrone and Tauchritz. In 1349 von Bieberstein became involved in a feud with the city of Görlitz.

The cause of the feud was a warrant for the arrest of a thief and general mischief-maker named Nitsche von Rackwitz. Görlitz wanted to lock him up, and they knew him to be a vassal of von Bieberstein, so the city sent a delegation to Tauchritz to demand the delivery of the criminal Nitsche, but von Bieberstein refused to hand him over. The delegation decided enough was enough, and they rode with an armed crew to the castle Frýdlant, where they suspected Rackwitz was staying, and they stormed the castle to capture and arrest him. Von Bieberstein anticipated this move, however, and he met the armed crew there and ordered his guards to slay them as enemy invaders. Two men from Görlitz lost their lives at the castle, the rest of the men ran but the guards caught up with them in the square and left five more dead.

Naturally, this angered the people of Görlitz, and they demanded some recompense for the lives lost in the pursuit of justice. After much negotiating, von Bieberstein agreed to pay Görlitz 200 Shock (the coin currency used at the time), so that a church could be built for the salvation of the seven slain men from Görlitz. That church is the Frauenkirche, which today stands beside the Kaufhaus in Görlitz. Read more about the Frauenkirche here. 

The Frauenkirche in Görlitz

Today the castle Frýdlant (Zámek Frýdlant) is open for tours and contains an incredible collection of original decorations, furniture and historical artifacts since it escaped damage or raiding after WWII. If you tour the castle you will see the Countess’ and children’s rooms preserved with decorations and contents, an exhibit on  Albrecht von Wallenstein, an armory containing thousands of historic weapons dating from the Hussite period up to the 19th century, the chapel of St. Anne which has both a Catholic and Protestant altar, the uniforms of staff at the castle, an impressive antique pipe collection, and a working kitchen. I am used to visiting castles that are beautiful from the outside, but quite empty inside as a result of war and looting, so I was quite blown away by the historical treasures this castle contains. The castle interior can only be visited during a guided tour – we took a tour in Czech language but were given a script to read along in German and English.  I can only show you pictures of the exterior of the castle and the kitchen, as photography wasn’t allowed inside. You will just have to go and see it for yourself!

Kitchen in Castle Frýdlant
Kitchen in Castle Frýdlant
Castle Frýdlant

The town square in Frýdlant is small but charming, lined with colorful houses and the town hall building which was erected in 1893 according to plans by the Viennese architect Franz Neumann. Located inside of the town hall is a city museum with archaeological and historical exhibits. The square is named after Thomas Masaryk, the first president of Czechoslovakia after independence from the Austro-Hungarian monarchy in 1918. The town of Frýdlant, with a majority German population, became part of the newly-founded country. Masaryk was one of the first politicians to voice concern at the rise of Hitler, but he didn’t live to see the Nazi occupation of his country in 1938. After WWII ended, the Germans living in the area were expelled and replaced by Czech settlers.

Town square in Frýdlant
Statue of Albrecht von Wallenstein in Frýdlant town square
Frýdlant Town Hall
Frýdlant Town Hall
Church of the Holy Cross in Frýdlant

Just south of the town square is the Church of the Holy Cross (Kostel Nalezení svatého Kříže), which was built in the 16th century by Italian architects contracted by the Bieberstein family, and today has a mixture of architectural styles due to renovations over the years. The church contains the tombs of the family Redern.

North of the town square you will see a small half-timbered home hidden away on Zahradní, a tiny side street. This, one of the oldest buildings in town, is called the Bethlehem House and inside is an amazing construction – a moving, mechanical nativity scene. The man who created it, Gustav Simon, dedicated 60 years of his life to the construction. Today you can visit for a very small fee, make sure to peek underneath to see how all the figures are moved by string. Every so often they have to crank the machine to wind it up again. Watch the video below to see the nativity scene in motion:

We enjoyed a traditional meal and Czech beer at the restaurant U Wéwody fridlantského near the town square, and also stopped by Pivovar Frýdlant, the historic castle brewery that was built at the request of the Emperor Ferdinand I and has been restored today to a microbrewery. You should stop here not only to taste their Albrecht beer, named after castle occupant Albrecht von Wallenstein, but for the great view of the castle sitting atop the hill.

Bethlehem House in Frýdlant
Restaurant U Wéwody fridlantského in Frýdlant
Albrecht beer from the microbrewery in Frýdlant

On the way out of town we stopped at an observation tower, Rozhledna Frýdlant, which you can climb for a nice view of the town and the area. While we were there they were having some kind of marathon and at the tower they were grilling and playing live music. There were many hiking trails here and people out enjoying the unusually sunny and warm autumn weather.

I was really impressed by this small town that I had never heard of: a castle stuffed full of beautiful treasures, an intriguing historical link to Görlitz, and all just a forty minute drive away! Discovering places like this in the area are a big part of why I absolutely love living in Görlitz and can’t wait to discover more.

Lookout tower Rozhledna Frýdlant

Książ – Castles in Poland

The beautiful castle Książ is located north of the Polish city Wałbrzych in Lower Silesia and is the third largest castle in Poland (Polish: Zamek Książ, German: Schloss Fürstenstein). Pronouncing the castle’s Polish name is half the fun! Książ is easily reachable from Görlitz (156 km) and is therefore just one of the many beautiful places one can go for a day or weekend trip.

Situated in a landscape park and protected area in the Waldenburg Mountains, Góry Wałbrzyskie, part of the Central Sudetes, the castle is distinctive not only for its size and blend of architectural styles, but also for its setting, perched on a rock face 395 meters above sea level and overlooking a beautiful forest and river. When you first approach Książ, you view it from across the river gorge, a fairy tale castle in the distance, in shades of pink.

“The house is said to have five or six hundred rooms; I don’t know as I never counted them. What I do know is that from every window it commands superb views over the world-famous Waldenburger Gebirge, one of nature’s masterpieces. The Fürstenstein, that is the Prince’s rock, itself rises three thousand feet above sea level and the views from the castle towers are wonderful. The wild, spacious land of this part of Silesia is indescribably beautiful.” – Maria Theresa (Daisy) Hochberg von Pless

The castle was first built by Silesian Duke Bolko I the Strict in the 13th century and was known as Książęca Góra, or “The Prince’s Heights”, selected for the beauty and security of its location in the heart of the forest.

The castle changed hands several times over the centuries and, just like the region, belonged to many different states until 1509 when the Hochberg family was entrusted with the estate. Beginning in the mid 16th century, thanks to this powerful Silesian family, the castle was rebuilt in a lavish Renaissance Style. The castle stayed in the possession of the Hochberg family from 1509 until the 1940s.

Visiting the castle Książ, we first decided to try hiking down the gorge to look for a good vantage point for photos. It’s a beautiful area and we got lost in the wilderness trying to find a path back up. While out there, we stumbled across the ruins of an earlier fortress at the same location.

After climbing back up we realized there is only one way to approach the castle, this was obviously intended as a form of defense. When you approach the castle you are met by imposing statues and carefully manicured lawns. There is no doubt that the castle is striking and beautiful, but it also comes across as a bit stark and vacant. Most of the furnishings were looted by the Nazis or the Soviets and so the castle today stands mostly empty and can seem a bit cold and impersonal as a visitor. It is hard to imagine someone living out their lives in its giant, empty halls with ornate ceilings.

What really brought this castle to life for me was learning about the fascinating people and the lives that inhabited it over the years. In my opinion, the best part of the castle tour is the photo exhibition. Many of the photos are from an extraordinary collection of family photos taken by the castle chef from 1909-1926. Louis Hardouin was in charge of the kitchen in the castle and lived there, along with his family and thousands of other staff. The Frenchman enjoyed photography and took many photos of his wife and his children, who were playmates to the the sons of Hans Heinrich and Princess Daisy. He also photographed many of the servants who lived and worked in the castle, offering a look into the lives of the many people behind the scenes. Thanks to his passion for photography, one is able to get a sense for the more personal side of the history of the castle and its inhabitants.

Some of the photos on display by the castle chef Louis Hardouin

Perhaps the most intriguing resident of the castle Książ and the one who receives by far the most attention is Princess Daisy. She was born Mary Theresa Cornwallis-West. The daughter of a British politician, Daisy was renowned for her beauty. Because she published her diaries in a memoir in 1928, we know quite a bit about her life at the castle.

Princess Daisy (Source: Wikipedia)

Although her family was well-connected, they were not wealthy and Daisy had a fairly ordinary childhood (if you can call it ordinary to be acquainted with the royal family). She was encouraged by her parents to “come out” early and it was expected that she would marry someone of rank or money.  She met Hans Heinrich XV, a Hochberg and current heir to the castle Książ, and they were married in 1891. She was very young, and quite a bit younger than her husband. There were also many cultural differences that came along with marrying into a German family like the Hochbergs. Although they had three sons, it was not a happy marriage – Daisy and Hans Heinrich had very different interests and priorities in life.

“I told Hans I did not love him. He said that did not matter ; love came after marriage. Perhaps it does sometimes, but I fear not often.” -Princess Daisy

As Prince and Princess of Pless and Baron of the Castle, the couple owned large estates and coal mines in Silesia, bringing them enormous fortune and affording an extravagant lifestyle, and one filled with scandal and eventually disaster.

It was not easy for Princess Daisy to adjust to life in the castle. She was constantly surrounded by hundreds of servants who opened doors for her and turned down her covers. She had very little freedom and her husband’s family cared a great deal about tradition and proper etiquette for someone of their class.

 “I soon found the etiquette was unbelievably boring. I knew no German and could not make my wishes known. When I wanted to leave one room for another a bell was rung, a servant opened the door and a footman walked in front of me to wherever I wished to go…one of the first things I did was to learn enough German to tell them that this ceremony was no longer necessary. This my husband disapproved of and, all our lives together, we had constant corroding bickerings about what he called interfering with the servants” – Princess Daisy

Daisy was a beautiful woman who attracted a lot of attention from men. She was also a foreigner who never really learned the language well. As a result, rumors and gossip followed her wherever she went. Her husband gifted her the famous Pless pearls – at 6.7 meters long, it was one of the most expensive necklaces in the world. Because people love gossip & intrigue it was later said that the pearls were cursed by the diver who died while collecting them – attributing the misfortunes in Princess Daisy’s life to this curse.

Although she struggled to come to terms with her strange new life and her disappointing marriage, Princess Daisy tried to make the best of it. She spent lots of time tending to her gardens and raising her sons. She took an interest in the welfare of the people who lived and worked around the castle, many of them having difficult lives working in the family’s coal mines. She fought to improve their working and living conditions. She also campaigned for the rights of lace makers in Silesia who were being exploited, and petitioned the government to regulate and clean up the nearby river that was being polluted by industry. She frequently met with Emperors, Czars and Princesses and sought to use her influence and relationships with these powerful people to encourage peace between her home country and her adopted one. Her close relationship with Kaiser Wilhelm II was the source of much gossip.

While the local people loved her, she was viewed with suspicion and dislike by other high-ranking German families who saw her social work as criticism of her own class. Her social engagement was viewed as overly “progressive” and she was seen to have overstepped her bounds as a women and as a foreigner.

In 1907 after his father died, Hans Heinrich began a massive renovation of the castle, spending lavish amounts of money to expand, redecorate and fill it with treasures. Around the time that WWI began, economic hardships and a decadent lifestyle started to take its toll on the family’s wealth – they amassed large debts. Princess Daisy was met with even more suspicion as an Englishwoman in Germany during the war. Nevertheless, she became a nurse and spent her time tending to wounded soldiers and prisoners of war.

Finally, in 1922 Hans Heinrich divorced Princess Daisy and a few years later married a Spanish noblewoman named Clotilde de Silva y Gonzales de Candamo. They had two children, but this marriage also ended in disaster with the couple divorcing in 1934 and Clotilde marrying her ex-husband’s (and Daisy’s) son, Bolko.

With the rise of National Socialism, Daisy supported the opposition. She was active in charities that supported prisoners of the nearby concentration camp Gross-Rosen. Viewed as an enemy of the Reich, she was removed from the castle and it came under the ownership of the Nazis.

It is said that perhaps she sold her famous pearl necklace to free her son who was being interrogated by the Gestapo. Divorced, with her ex-husband’s family deep in debt, Princess Daisy died penniless and alone in Wałbrzych in 1943. Her remains were moved several times to prevent her body being looted, and for many years there were rumors about its whereabouts and the location of the famous pearls. Many people have searched, but her final resting place remains a secret kept by the family.

During WWII, the inmates of the concentration camp Gross-Rosen were forced to labor at the castle, building a vast complex of tunnels through the rock beneath it. The purpose of the tunnels is unknown, but it is said that perhaps the castle was being prepared as a future residence for Adolf Hitler. During this time, parts of the castle were destroyed and its many treasures vanished. If anything was left of the castle’s treasures after WWII, it was looted later by the Red Army.

Recently, rumors of a Nazi gold train being discovered in the tunnels under the castle have caused treasure hunters and tourists to flock to the region. Some believe that the train might contain the famous Amber Room which has been missing since WWII.

Shrouded in mystery, scandal and intrigue, the castle Książ draws many visitors today not just for its beautifully restored exterior and rooms. The lives of the people who inhabited these walls remains far more intriguing and a trip to the castle will surely reward you with not only a beautiful and impressive view, but a very interesting story!

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Day Trip to Großschönau

Slate tiles on a house in Großschönau Schieferhaus

This article originally appeared in the digital magazine Görlitz Town and Country in August 2018

One of my favorite things to do since moving to Görlitz is to take little day trips to explore my new home & all of its surroundings. I am always on the lookout for a new location to “discover”, so when I saw a special on MDR about Großschönau (Teure Tücher – Meterware aus der Oberlausitz), I was intrigued by the story of this small Upper Lusatian town that has such a long history of damask weaving.

Großschönau Mandau Fachwerk river
Along the Mandau River in the center of historic Großschönau

Großschönau is a small and picturesque town of around 5,800 people in Saxony, Germany and it shares a border with the Czech town Varnsdorf. Named for its location on a big, beautiful meadow (große schöne Aue), the Upper Lusatian town is about an hour drive away from Görlitz (47 km) and is also easily reachable by public transportation through connections in Zittau. Taking the bus from Zittau to Großschönau, I was transported back in time as we drove along curving narrow roads through rolling fields and little villages full of historic half-timber houses. I had read up about the town’s history with textiles before departing on my journey, but what I didn’t realize was just how gorgeous Großschönau would be.

View from Hutberg of Großschönau and the Zittauer Gebirge
View from the Hutberg of Großschönau and the Zittauer Gebirge in late winter

The town lies at the foot of the highest mountain in the Zittau mountain range, the Lausche (793 m) and on the floodplain of the Mandau and Lausur rivers. In fact, the town suffered a great deal of damage during August of 2010 when heavy rainfall caused the rivers to flood. Although this caused a great deal of destruction & loss of property, one can barely see the signs of this damage when walking through the historic center of the town as it has all been nicely repaired.

The most remarkable thing about Großschönau, besides its history of cloth-making, are its many half-timber houses (Umgebindehäuser). Dating back to the 17th to 19th centuries, these buildings are typical to the Upper Lusatian area and are characterized by their distinct architecture – a supporting wood frame with vertical and horizontal beams embraces the ground floor, and the upper floor rests on this frame. I found myself getting lost down various streets in the historic center of Großschönau, wanting to see all of these unique houses that have been so lovingly restored. Many of them also have slate tiles on the sides in varying patterns, which to me resemble the scales of a fish.

slate tiles on houses in Großschönau Germany Schiefer

The first mention of Großschönau in historical documents was in 1352 and it was founded as a blacksmith’s village but soon became world-renowned for damask and linen weaving. It all began in 1666 when the Zittau council sent two linen weavers, the brothers Lange, to Holland so that they could learn the art of damask and linen weaving and bring it back to the region. This industrial espionage was successful, as the two brought back with them the knowledge they had gained. The skills they had learned needed to be protected and so there were very strict rules for the weavers about leaving town or meeting with outsiders.  These cloths and the knowledge of the weavers were jealously guarded just as Meissen guarded their “white gold” porcelain.

old textile loom at the museum in Großschönau

Damask weaving, which took a great deal of time and effort to produce, is characterized by its beautiful and complex designs woven into the often single-color fabric by contrasting the weaving patterns. The small town of Großschönau became the center for artful design and technical perfection in damask weaving and their cloths were coveted by the elite. Unless you had money to spend on table cloths that were as costly as gold or silver, as an average person you would probably never lay eyes on some of these exquisite pieces. It’s lucky for us that today you can see over 600 examples of these beautiful works of art and skill in the German Damask and Terry Museum in Großschönau (http://www.ddfm.de).

The museum is housed in the Kupferhaus (copper house) built in 1809. Named for its copper roof, the building was home to the damask manufacturer Christian David Waentig. This small but fine museum in Großschönau is home to, not only an extensive collection of historic woven cloths and designs, but also to many historic weaving machines, like the Jacquard machine which revolutionized the way cloth was made in 1804. The Jacquard technique simplified the weaving process by controlling the loom with a chain of cards with holes punched into them. This invention turned out to be not only revolutionary for the weaving industry but for computing as well.

The Kupferhaus (copper house) has been home to a museum since it was gifted to the city in 1947.

Although there are much fewer people now employed in cloth-making in Großschönau than in former times, the textile industry continues to shape the economic structure of the community. Today there are two companies which sell their cloths worldwide: Damino GmbH (https://www.damino.de) and Frottana Textil & Co (http://www.frottana.de/), the former of which produces damask cloth in the form of table linens and sheets that are used frequently in hotels and on cruise ships and even damask clothing that are very popular with consumers in Africa. While visiting the town you can stop at the Damino outlet store and purchase a piece of the legacy of this town to adorn your own table at home.

While visiting Großschönau, whether you choose to explore it by foot or by bicycle, make sure to get lost along its curving little streets full of charming houses and to cross the numerous pedestrian bridges that cross the Mandau. While wandering, one should also take the opportunity to follow a path up the Hutberg mountain (371 m) for a view of the town from above and the Zittau mountains in the distance.

Although it’s a small town, Großschönau is brimming with beauty, charm and history and an important reminder to us explorers that veering off the well-traveled tourist path can pay off with some unique and memorable discoveries!

If you’re looking to travel to around the area using public transportation for the day, I recommend the Euro-Neiße ticket. It becomes cheaper if you are travelling with a group!

Church and cemetery in Großschönau
The Protestant-Lutheran church in Großschönau (1705) is the second largest village church in Saxony, able to accommodate 2000 churchgoers. Its greatest treasure is the altar piece “Christ’s Resurrection” painted by the artist Johann Eleazar Zeissig, born to damask weavers in Großschönau in 1737.

 

You might be interested in these other day trip locations in Germany that are easily reachable from Görlitz!

Mount Oybin Ruins

Mount Oybin is located near Zittau and is about an hour’s drive away from Görlitz (45 km). This mountain is famous for its castle and monastery ruins. Also famous is the narrow-gauge-railway where you can take a steam train from Zittau to Oybin.

oybin germany train station schmalspurbahn
Oybin Train Station

Mount Oybin is made of sandstone and 514 meters high. It’s a little bit of a hike up to the top (about 15 minutes), but mostly paved. There is an entrance fee to enter the ruins of the castle and monastery on top of Mount Oybin, so be sure to check out the opening times and prices on their website.

View from Mount Oybin in summer
View from Mount Oybin in winter
The Restaurant on Mount Oybin

We’ve now been to Mount Oybin twice, once in the summer and once in the winter, so don’t be astonished by the abrupt change in weather between my photos! These ruins are truly impressive and one feels transported back in time, imagining the monks who lived here. In the 1300s a church and residence were built on the mountain. The fortress proved impregnable after successfully fending off two attacks during the Hussite Wars. The castle and monastery fell out of use around the end of the 1500s when lightning struck the church and it burned down.

The ruins were “rediscovered” during the 1800s by artists such as Caspar David Friedrich, who appreciated the aesthetic of the massive, overgrown monastery ruins.

Caspar David Friedrich – The Dreamer (Ruins of the Oybin Monastery) Source: Wikipedia

Once on top of Mount Oybin, you can take a walk all around the summit, providing stunning views of the spa town Oybin as well as Zittau. Up here you can also find a restaurant and a graveyard. There are stairs that will take you to the top of the ruins for an even better view of the surroundings.

I really enjoyed our walk around Mount Oybin and was impressed by the preservation of these ruins and the views. It’s incredible when you think of the amount of work that went into creating something like this, on top of a mountain and without modern tools. There is a passageway through the stone that leads to the graveyard on top and a sign that tells you that this was chiseled away by hand from 1512-1515. If you look closely, you can see hundreds of thousands of chisel marks in the stone!

Passage chiseled through the stone

You might be interested in reading about these other day trips around Görlitz:

 

A Weekend in Loket

When I heard that there was a Becherovka museum in Karlovy Vary (Becherovka is a Czech brand of herbal liquor), I became very interested in going there, but I noticed the accommodations in Karlovy Vary were a bit pricey. I also tend to like smaller towns when I travel because I like the slower place and getting to know the town better in a short amount of time. So I started searching on the map for places that were nearby and I came across a town called Loket, or Elbogen in German, both words meaning elbow.

Loket Czechia old town castle bridge czech republic

When I looked up some pictures of Loket online I was stunned by how picturesque it was and knew I had to go there! Loket is about 285 km from Görlitz, so it took us about 3.5 hours to drive there. It’s not really the right distance for a day trip, but perfect for a weekend getaway. Loket gets its name from the shape of the river Ohre, which surrounds it on three sides. It made a perfect location for the fortified castle and town to protect from intruders (the castle dates back to the 13th century).

Loket town hall main square czechia
The main square in Loket

We arrived after dark and in a bit of a snowstorm to our hotel Restaurant & Pension Atmosfera. The room was really beautiful with chandeliers, antique-looking furnishings and a beautiful tiled stove. The bed was perfect for those who like firm mattresses and we thoroughly enjoyed eating breakfast and dinner in the restaurant. Each morning we were the only ones there and they served us bread with meat & cheese, eggs and apple strudel.

Pension Restaurant Atmosfera Loket
Pension & Restaurant Atmosfera in Loket

In fact, we sometimes felt we were the only ones in Loket! In January the town almost shuts down and there were only two restaurants open that we could find. We didn’t mind because we felt that we had the entire town to ourselves! When we woke up the next day, the sun was shining so we decided to take a walk through the hills around the city where we had several stunning lookout points to photograph and stare in awe at this fairytale-like place. This was my favorite part by far.

loket czechia castle historic town
One of the views form our walk in the hills around Loket

We also booked a tour of the Becherovka museum in Karlovy Vary, the museum is no longer the location of the factory as they have moved to a more modern facility on the edge of town. The tour was quick and to the point, and the point was obviously the sampling of different liquors at the end! There were other flavors sold in their gift shop, so I wish we could have tasted those as well, since I already know what their standard tastes like. We bought some souveniers, like a bottle with a retro look and a special kind called KV14 which is sugar-free and has 40% alcohol content.

Jan Becher Museum in Karlovy Vary Becherovka Carlsbad
Jan Becher Museum in Karlovy Vary

Jan Becher Becherovka museum samples in Karlovy Vary Carlsbad Czechia

I would love to go back to Loket sometime when it’s warmer. Perhaps I won’t like it when it’s swarming with tourists – how could a place this magical not be? However, I’d like to try more of the restaurants and shops when they are open and go further on the paths in the hills around the town. I read that one can walk all the way from Loket to Karlovy Vary! Another great excuse to go to Loket are the events held at their open-air amphitheater which is just below the castle – they have an annual opera festival and I saw that this year Jethro Tull will be playing there!

Loket Czechia Amphitheater open air castle
Amphitheater in Loket

The weekend was over far too quickly and we regretfully packed our bags to drive home on Sunday. When we went outside, the town was coated in a layer of snow and the sun was out, so we stopped along the road to take a few more pictures of this magical place before we had to leave.

Loket Czechia in the snow

Loket Czechia Castle in the snow

You might be interested in these other day trips in Czechia:

St. Marienthal Abbey

The St. Marienthal Abbey (Kloster St. Marienthal) is a beautiful nunnery that’s about a thirty minute drive (20 km) south from Görlitz, right on the Neiße River and the border to Poland.

The abbey was founded in 1234 and destroyed several times by fire or during war. In 1685 it was rebuilt in Baroque style, and then damaged during the flood in 1897. You can see the high water mark from the floods in 1897 and more recently in 2010 on the side of one of the buildings. The retreating German forces might have blown up the abbey at the end of WWII, but the nuns refused to leave and the building luckily survived.

Kloster St. Marienthal Abbey Ostritz
St. Marienthal Abbey
Kloster St. Marienthal Abbey Ostritz
St. Marienthal Abbey

The abbey is a cheerful pink color with green copper roofs. There are still nuns living there with regular masses as well as seminars and a meeting place for local organizations or places to stay for the night.

The abbey market has a large selection of regional gifts such as handmade crafts, beer, liquor and bread from their own bakery.

Kloster St. Marienthal Abbey Ostritz
St. Marienthal Abbey
Kloster St. Marienthal Abbey Ostritz
St. Marienthal Abbey

The breath-taking interior of the abbey has ornate patterns painted all over the ceiling. When we walked inside there were women up in the choir singing which set the mood quite well. As we walked out of the abbey, a tubby tabby came dashing through the door and between the pews. Worried about locking the cat inside the church for an unknown amount of time, I scurried after it. Fortunately it was agreeable with being picked up and cuddled a bit before being put back outside!

Abbey cat

The St. Marienthal Abbey is really lovely and worth a stop on your way south to other sites in Zittau or Oybin. Check out their website for events. There are tours of the abbey in German on Saturdays and Sundays at 3pm and from May to October every day at 3pm.

Kloster St. Marienthal Abbey Ostritz
St. Marienthal Abbey

You might be interested in reading about these other day trips around Görlitz:

 

 

Jelenia Góra – Day Trips in Poland

town hall square historic colorful houses poland jelenia góra hirschberg

Jelenia Góra is a city in Poland that’s only about an hour and forty minutes away from Görlitz by train – perfect for a day or weekend trip! The Lower Silesian city (called Hirschberg in German, which means deer mountain) funnily enough is not on a mountain, but in a valley surrounded by mountains that run along the Polish/Czech border.

Validity Area of the Euro-Neisse Ticket

We used the Euro-Neisse ticket to travel there, which I highly recommend if you are looking to explore the Dreiländereck, or tri-country-area here where Germany, Poland and Czechia meet. When viewing the website in German or Polish you can see the prices of the tickets, which allow you to travel on regional trains as well as public transportation- TIP: we discovered that the tickets are actually much cheaper if you buy them on a Polish train and not online or at the station in Görlitz!

Feast of the Holy Cross Church in Jelenia Góra

The old town of Jelenia Góra is compact and very walkable. From the train station we walked down 1 Maja past the beautiful Feast of the Holy Cross Church and the Wojanowska gate and tower, which were part of the medieval defense, and the Basilica of St. Erasmus and St. Pancras.

Market Square Jelenia Góra Old Town Hall Polish
Market Square in Jelenia Góra

My favorite part of the city was, of course, the market square with the town hall. The square is lined with cute and colorful little houses and I could picture it being a lovely place to sit outside at a cafe in the summer or even to enjoy the Christmas market.

Town Hall historic Jelenia Góra Poland
Town Hall in Jelenia Góra

We stopped to eat at a restaurant on the market square called Kucie Smaku which had hearty regional dishes – I had to try the local beer and some Kluski, which were Klöße or dumplings filled with meat!

Polish food dumplings kluski
Dumplings and local beer at Kucie Smaku in Jelenia Góra

Some other things to check out around Jelenia Góra are the neighborhood called Cieplice and Chojnik Castle. They aren’t in walking distance, but you can catch a train using your Euro-Neisse ticket. Ciepliece used to be the land belonging to the Schaffgotsches, an old noble Silesian family, and their palace can still be seen there. The neighborhood is known for its spas and promenade and is surrounded by parks.

Chojnik Castle is a ruin on top of the mountain Chojnik in a nature reserve. Each year they hold a knight’s tournament there.

If you’re looking for a weekend getaway that won’t break the bank and a cute old town surrounded by nature, visit the charming Jelenia Góra in Lower Silesia!

Here are some other wonderful places you can visit in our region that are in the area of the Euro-Neisse ticket!

Karl May Fest in Radebeul

When I heard on the radio that there was a Karl May Fest in Radebeul (about an hour away from Görlitz) and was promised that it would have “echte Indianer” (real Indians!) I couldn’t resist the temptation to check it out. Naturally, being from Arizona, I have seen real Native Americans and this ad on the radio made me chuckle. But people living in Germany, and especially in East Germany, have most likely not seen Native Americans “up close” and this festival is a chance for them to experience the Wild West and Native American culture. Although, how does one even begin to describe a culture that includes hundreds of different tribes and traditions? There are over 560 tribes in the US recognized by the government! This is where things get a little bit…awkward at the Karl May Fest.

But let’s back up – who is Karl May? (last name is pronounced like “my” not like the month)

Karl May (1842-1912) was a prolific German author who wrote adventure novels set in the American Old West. His main protagonists were Winnetou and Old Shatterhand.

Old Shatterhand and Winnetou Source: www.kino.de

May’s stories differ from the typical westerns that most Americans grew up with because the Native Americans in his stories were the heroes instead of the villains, and they fought against the nasty European settlers to protect their land and culture. May wrote all of these novels about the American west in spite of never having been there himself until later in life. His books and the characters are hugely popular all across Germany, but the fascination with Native American culture seems to be even stronger in East Germany. I’m not entirely sure why this is, perhaps because people couldn’t travel or perhaps because the GDR government found the narrative useful in criticizing US policies.

Whatever the reason, East Germans love Native American culture – they love collecting items like bows and dream catchers and they even like camping in teepees and trying to live “like the Indians did”.

In Radebeul, the Karl May Museum has gotten into a bit of hot water over their collection of scalps, which they have insisted on keeping although a tribe has requested they be returned to them.  As an American I am very aware of the controversy surrounding misuse of Native American culture because it’s a big topic here, but this topic hasn’t reached Germany and I don’t think most Germans are aware that it could be offensive for them to wear headdresses and camp in teepees. They are simply showing admiration for a culture that they are fascinated with. And while some moments at the festival had me squirming a bit, such as the Germans wearing headdresses and doing rain dances while a “real Indian” chanted a song with dubious lyrics, it reminds me of something like the Renaissance Festival, which we have back home. For the Germans, the Wild West is a distant place, romanticized and fictionalized, instead of a recent and violent past like it is for those of us living in the current American West.

Karl May Fest in Radebeul

The location of the festival, Radebeul, is a beautiful suburb of Dresden with vineyards on hills and lots of shady valleys and trees. It’s a beautiful spot for a festival. If you come from the train station Radebeul Ost you can take an antique train to the festival grounds (festival tickets are available on the train and the ride is included in the price). The festival has various stands selling Native American objects and souvenirs as well as food & drink. There is a schedule of shows, including reenactments of stories from Karl May, Native American dances and songs, and country, western & bluegrass bands. I was already curious about the festival but when I heard that the bluegrass band The Dead South (from Canada) would be there and that the show was free with admission to the festival, I knew I had to go. They sounded really great live and as usual, the banjo player was an inspiration.

The Dead South perform at Little Tombstone

After their show we took a walk through Radebeul. In spite of the heat, it was cool & refreshing under the trees. We found the campground and area where they do horse riding shows. We enjoyed checking out the beautiful horses and the teepees where people were camping, and all the costumes. We were amused and confused to see American, Canadian and Confederate flags flying.

View from Radebeul

I’ve been told that Karl May was ahead of his time, and that his stories are entertaining and fun – I’ll be adding them to my reading list.

If you get the chance to check out the Karl May Fest, you definitely shouldn’t miss it, it’s quite the experience! Whether you go in for the “authentic” experience, for the beautiful surroundings or because you are fascinated by the hobbyists, it’s a day well spent in Radebeul!

The Karl May Fest takes place every year in Radebeul at Lößnitzgrund on the weekend after Himmelfahrt/Männertag.

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Bunzlau – Day Trips in Poland

Bolesławiec (Bunzlau in German) is a small city in Poland, about a 45 minute drive from Görlitz. The city is famous for its ceramic pottery. We decided to go here on the weekend because the weather has been so beautiful this week and we wanted to take a little day trip. Wouldn’t you know it, when we woke up this morning, the sky was depressingly grey and the weather had cooled off considerably. Undeterred, we traded some of our Euros in for Polish money across the bridge and headed east on the A4.

Basilica in Market Square
Market Square

Our first stop was the city center, which was very walkable. The market square is surrounded by cheerful, pastel-colored buildings with the town hall in the center. At the town hall there is a plaque that is the first stop on a guided historic walking tour that will take you all around the city. Because of the weather we unfortunately didn’t get to complete the walking tour this time, but we noticed when walking through that the small city center has many green belts and parks.

We attempted to visit the Ceramic Museum and although the posted hours said it was open, a man outside explained to us that it wouldn’t be open for another half hour. We decided instead to go get some lunch. I had read online that the restaurant Opałkowa Chata was really good, and it didn’t disappoint. It’s a cute little hut with friendly waitstaff who speak German and English well. We were given bread with Schmalz (lard) and we both ordered soups and a local beer on draft to start. I’ve been trying to be brave lately and order local specialties (and also the Polish soup żurek that I usually order had mushrooms in it here) so I picked a soup on the menu called flaczki. The menu said it had marjoram and something called tripe. I didn’t really know what this was, so I took a chance and ordered it. It was very bitter and the meat in it had a weird consistency. My husband started to make me uneasy by saying that he would never eat something like that and that I must be crazy. He psyched me out and I couldn’t finish it. I later googled the term and decided that I had in fact been crazy since the name in Polish basically translates to “guts”. My main dish was a lot better, I ordered Russian pierogi with cheese and potatoes.

After lunch we went to Ceramika Artystyczna to check out some pottery. The pottery comes with different quality ratings, 1 being the highest quality with the highest prices and 4 the lowest, sometimes having flaws, like small chips or cracks in the ceramic. There were a lot of beautiful patterns and I imagine if I hadn’t been with my husband, I could have looked a few more places for one that struck my fancy. At another pottery placed called Manufaktura, which we didn’t get to see today, you can make reservations ahead of time to do workshops where you paint your own pottery. They also have workshops for kids.

This day trip felt a bit incomplete because of the weather and left me with an itch to go back soon and see more. Next time I want to complete the historic walking tour, visit more pottery stores and do a workshop to make my own. I also want to make sure we visit Kliczków Castle next time we are there, which is about 15 minutes north of the city.

One thing that really amazed me while we were in Bolesławiec was the amount of Americans we encountered, specifically American women. When I was researching for this trip I found a lot of resources online written for “military wives”, giving them tips for buying ceramics in this city. The restaurants, staff and signage all seemed to really cater to this market with everything available in English, which is not usually a given for this part of Poland. All of these Americans drive right past my city to go buy pottery in Poland! So if you’re reading this, you should definitely make a stopover in Görlitz on your way to go ceramic shopping to see one of the most beautiful and well-preserved cities in Germany! 

Here are some other wonderful places you can visit in our region that are in the area of the Euro-Neisse ticket!

 

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Schnalstal Italy

We spent a long weekend in the beautiful valley of Senales in Italy (Schnalstal in German). The men in our family wanted to go for a ski vacation and convinced me to go along. I don’t ski or much care for the snow & cold weather, but I agreed with the caveat that I would get to pick the place. I planned for a dull weekend stuck inside by myself, with a lot of reading and sleeping while the guys played outside in the snow. Instead it turned out to be a weekend full of beautiful weather, hiking, sightseeing and eating amazing food – an experience I would love to repeat again in the future!

Schnalstal / Val Senales

Located in South Tyrol, Schnalstal was a bit of a drive from Görlitz, but totally worth it. Most people we encountered during our stay there spoke both Italian and German. When we approached our hotel we noticed a significant lack of snow, which had the guys a bit worried, but the glacier in Val Senales was of course covered in snow and they tell me that the skiing was good. Perhaps because it didn’t look very wintry, there were less people on the slopes, making for more pleasant skiing.

Berghotel Tyrol in Unser Frau

We stayed at the Berghotel Tyrol in Unser Frau with half board. The food was delicious, with a different menu each night and a choice of appetizers. My absolute favorite menu was on our first day – pasta night. Unfortunately I had a migraine and couldn’t really enjoy it. When I told the owner that I had really loved the food that night, they made me a special plate on our last night with my favorite dish! They had an indoor pool, sauna and table tennis, which the guys really enjoyed.

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The first day there we had beautiful, sunny weather so the guys wanted to get on the slopes right away. I took the gondola up with them for the views and drank beer in the restaurant up top while I waited. Gondolas and ski-lifts are not my favorite – I get a little sick and anxious every time I ride them, but the views from the top were magnificent!

On top of the Schnalstal Glacier

 

Ferocious beast

On the second day, Mike decided to skip out on the skiing and we went for a short hike that morning that took us up and around Unser Frau for great views of the village and the Wallfahrtskirche. The hiking path was part of an old pilgrimage route to the church. Mike wanted a better angle of the church and walked into a field to get a picture when a dog started barking at him. This was the moment when I learned that my husband is apparently afraid of dogs. He took off running, which naturally made the dog chase him and he jumped over the fence. I told him I could tell the dog was just being a good guard dog and wasn’t going to attack him but he didn’t really believe me. Later during our hike as we came to the other edge of the same field, the dog came towards the fence to bark at us. Mike stayed up on the hiking trail as I went down to greet the dog and pet it. So not only did I get great views of the valley but also a little puppy interaction.

View of Schnalstal from our hike

 

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After our hike we drove about an hour to the city of Bozen. I attempted to plan out some things for us to see in the city before we left but two of the things I wanted to see were unfortunately closed: the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology  and the Runkelstein Castle. The museum contains the remains of Ötzi, a mummy that was found in Schnalstal.  Feeling a little frustrated at this setback, we arrived in the city with not much of an idea what to do. Fortunately, the sun was shining and we took a nice stroll through the city. The Arcades is a long, narrow street lined with shopping opportunities. We decided to stop and buy Mike a jacket while we were there. We happened upon the Fruit Market’s Square, which had not only fruit but lots of Speck and cheese, which are typical foods from the area. YUM!

Fruit Market’s Square

We stopped for lunch at the Pizzeria Restaurant Tirol (Piazza delle Erbe 50) and really enjoyed the Knödeltris, a trio of different flavored Knödel (cheese, spinach, and Speck). Naturally we checked out the cathedral on the edge of the Walther Square as well as the controversial Victory Monument that was erected by Mussolini and symbolizes the tension between the German and Italian speaking communities in the area.

Knödel trio

 

 

Cathedral in Bozen
Victory Monument

On our final day in Schnalstal we decided to take another hike, this time a longer one that the hotel recommended that went from Vernagt to Finailhof where we were promised a fantastic view and lunch. We started out our hike by getting off at the wrong bus stop in dreary weather and then asking a man we could barely understand for directions. Finally on the path, we started to question what we had gotten ourselves into as we hiked higher and higher up the side of the valley.

Lake Vernagt

The path went from being paved to being just a tiny dirt track that winded around the valley and past lots of little farmhouses that seemed to be clinging precariously to the side of the mountain. We hiked further and further and started to doubt that we would find lunch at the top.

Winter hike

Finally we reached Finailhof just as the clouds parted and the sun came out. It was another farmhouse perched on the side of the mountain. We hesitantly walked in the charming home which seemed to also be a pension and found a couple sitting in the kitchen. They told us we could have a seat outside. We sat at a wooden table in the sun overlooking Schnalstal with the sun shining on us and a cat came out to greet us. The waitress came out and we gratefully ordered our food and drink and she warned us that the cat was cheeky. This was definitely the case, but I appreciate cheeky cats!

Finailhof
Cheeky cat
Enjoying our lunch in the sun at Finailhof

Much to my surprise, this trip came to an end much too quickly for me. Between you and me, I rate my vacations based on three factors: weather, food and animal contact. This trip was a winner on all fronts with plenty of sunshine, delicious food and encounters with local cats & dogs that made me feel all warm & fuzzy inside.

I can only imagine how gorgeous the valley must be when it’s green and all of the sheep are grazing along the sides of the mountain. I told Mike that we have to go back here in the Summer to take more hikes, eat more pasta and see Ötzi!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Legnica – Day Trips in Poland

Legnica, Poland came as very pleasant surprise to us. We recently attended a wedding in a small village called Słup, Poland. The only lodging we could find online was in the nearby city of Legnica about thirty minutes away (pronounced like Leg-neetz-ah), so we booked the Qubus Hotel Legnica. After a quick check online I found very little tourist information about the city in English and decided it would probably just serve as a bed for the night and nothing more. Was I ever wrong! We spent a very nice day exploring & enjoying Legnica after attending the wedding, which leads me to believe that Legnica is a bit of a hidden treasure, being only about an hour’s drive from Görlitz.

Legnica Old Town
Legnica Old Town

Our hotel was very centrally located and had a view of a cathedral from our windows. It was a nice hotel but I feel certain that one could find more affordable lodging in the city. Although we saw some other tourists, mostly Germans, it seemed like this was probably just a stop on their way somewhere else as we didn’t encounter many tourists outside of the hotel. Armed with some brochures from the hotel lobby we headed out to explore and find a meal.

Church of the Virgin Mary in Legnica
Church of the Virgin Mary in Legnica

Our first stop was the church we had seen from our windows, the Church of the Virgin Mary in Legnica (Kościół Marii Panny w Legnicy). I later found out online that it is one of the oldest churches in Silesia and was previously Catholic but is now Lutheran. The church is built of red brick, as are many of the buildings in Legnica. The most remarkable thing about the interior of the church were the moorish style pillars. We paid 6 Zloty (about $1.60) to go to the top of the tower. Now, I have climbed to the top of several cathedrals for the view, but this was a lot of stairs. No, really: the stairs took you all the way to the top of the tower where you could then stand on an external platform looking over Legnica. Afterwards my thighs were screaming but the view was unmissable.

Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul at sunrise
Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul at sunrise

Also near the Qubus Hotel was a pretty large shopping center called Galeria Piastow. Another great reason to visit: unlike in Germany, the shopping centers are open on Sunday! We walked through and had some ice cream before continuing to the main square of the old town, which was very beautiful. There were a few older people sitting on benches and some children playing in water but otherwise the old town was pretty quiet for a Sunday afternoon. Legnica has a population of 100,000 so it makes me think that most people are probably living in suburbs. The building that stands out the most in the main square is the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul, another beautiful red brick church. If you stop in front of the entrance you will probably notice coins in the grate. This is from the weddings that are held here – after the couple is married, they exit the church and the guests throw coins at them instead of rice. For dinner we ate at Restauracja Kopcza, which seemed to have a goose theme. We were both feeling pretty boring after the wedding festivities the night before so we didn’t try any of the goose dishes, instead we both had the schnitzel which was delicious, but the portions were huge!

In summary, I think Legnica is worth another look. The old town was really gorgeous and there was so much more there that we didn’t get to see in one afternoon. We will definitely be visiting again since it’s so close to Görlitz, so look for a follow-up post in the future!

Sights around Legnica
Sights around Legnica

Related Links:
Qubus Hotel Legnica
Galeria Piastow
Restauracje Kopcza

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Polish Wedding

Last month we were fortunate enough to be invited to the wedding of a friend of ours from Poland and we gladly accepted the invitation and the excuse to make another trip to that part of the world this year. You have to understand that my husband has been to Polish weddings before and has built them up to such mythical proportions in my mind that I was not sure whether to be very excited or very afraid. I also must confess that I have not been to many weddings in any culture and so I will not claim to make comparisons between Polish and American weddings, I will only try to describe what went down at this particular Polish wedding.

Słup, Poland
Słup, Poland

The ceremony took place in a tiny village beside a lake called Słup (pronounced like swoop), which is a little over an hour’s drive away from Görlitz. The drive was beautiful and the sun was shining, a lovely day for a wedding. The tree-lined roads we took got progressively smaller and smaller until we could see a church on a hill ahead. We were one of the first to arrive because we were worried that we might get lost finding the place. I was also a bit worried because I had read online that it was inappropriate to wear a black dress to a wedding, but as the guests began to arrive I was relieved to see that several women were also wearing black, although I was one of the few wearing a floor-length dress. We were really happy when our friends from Wrocław arrived, since it meant we’d have someone to hang out with at the reception.

We followed everyone into the The Assumption of the Blessed Mary church and sat down in a pew to take in its beautiful interior. I can’t remember now the exact details, but later through translation, the groom’s father proudly told us how many people could be seated in the church. Although it looks small, it also had seating in the balcony. The groom, our friend, came down the aisle first with a big grin on his face and the bride, who I had not yet met, came next. She looked beautiful! Now I have to confess that the ceremony was quite mystifying to me as it was, naturally, all in Polish. I assume it was similar to Catholic wedding ceremonies in the US. What I observed was the couple seated at a table in front of the priest. He chanted and sang and the crowd often sang words back to him. He wrapped a ribbon around the couples’ hands, joining them together. My husband, not a Catholic, had fun counting how many times we were asked to stand up during the ceremony (seven).

Church in Słup
Church in Słup

After the ceremony everyone waited outside the church for the newlyweds. When they came out everyone began throwing coins at them, which seems a bit more hazardous than throwing rice! I read online that the couple must stop and pick up all the coins. Luckily the children helped with that. So if you see coins in the grates outside of church entrances in Poland, now you know the reason. After that everyone loaded into their cars to head over to the reception location which was a big banquet hall with lodging included that seemed designed for such occasions. Again, everyone waited for the bride and groom to enter the banquet hall first and then everyone gathered on the dance floor where a DJ welcomed the crowd and then the couple spoke. We all had a glass of champagne to toast the newlyweds and then everyone lined up to greet them and give them their gift. It seemed that most gifts were in envelopes. When it was our turn to congratulate them, the groom and bride said they felt honored that we had come all the way but honestly, we were the ones who felt honored to be invited to their special day!

So now comes the “fun” part, the part I had been told so much about. There seemed to be over 100 guests and we were all seated at banquet tables and they began to bring out the food. Let me tell you, they didn’t stop bringing out food until well after midnight! For the first hot meal served everyone sat politely and tucked in and I began to wonder if what I’d been told about wild & crazy Polish weddings had all been a lie. Later I realized that the guests had been pacing themselves, which we were told is the key to surviving a Polish wedding. The bride and groom had their first dance and then everyone began dancing. I have to say I was impressed because everyone was dancing. And not just for the first dance but well into the night, young and old. As they continued to bring out new dishes interspersed with more dancing, people started to loosen up a lot more and the vodka came into play. They were very considerate with their seating arrangements. We were seated beside the friends we knew as well as a couple from Argentina and others who spoke English, we even made new friends. When someone at your table raised their shot glass, it was only polite to join them! This continued throughout the night with shorter and shorter intervals between, but the food and dancing seemed to keep everyone from experiencing any ill effects. A man came around often with a basket full of cold bottles of vodka to replenish our supply.

Polish Wedding

Instead of throwing her bouquet, the bride threw her veil. The groom threw his bow-tie. The two who caught these items then danced together. Several times everyone would break out into song singing Sto lat (which means 100 years and is a traditional Polish song to wish someone well) or chanting Gorzko, Gorzko! (which means bitter, not quite sure I understand that one) which meant the bride and groom had to kiss. There were no speeches at the reception aside from when we were greeted as we first came in. Some fun activities included a photo booth and much later on (around 2am) a karaoke competition where the men and women competed against each other.

Around midnight the party was still going strong. The old and the young were still partying with no end in sight. We started worrying because our hotel was actually a half hour away in Legnica and we weren’t sure if we should try to sleep in our car or to wait it out until one of us could drive. We spoke to the groom about our concerns and he managed to get us a room at the banquet hall. I was really struck by how thoughtful this was, in the midst of 100+ guests he took the time to help us out. I am constantly impressed by our friends in Poland and what generous hosts they are. I hope we can return the favor.

Now I need to confess that we did not make it to the end of the wedding. Around 2:30am we decided we had lasted long enough to call it a night. The party, however, continued until well into the morning.

But wait, the wedding was not over yet! It’s true, in Poland the wedding parties can last for days. The party thrown on the second day is called Poprawiny which means something like “making it right again”. Traditionally this party is intended so that guests can finish all the leftover food. This party was more casual and low-key than the party the night before and the crowd was noticeably smaller. Again we enjoyed delicious food (but obviously not as much drink this time!). We were honored when the parents of the groom came and sat beside us. I wish I could have understood what they were saying but they seemed very sweet. My husband can speak a little Polish and tried to translate for me. It was a beautiful event and I am so grateful that I got to experience a Polish wedding!

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Liberec – Day Trips in Czechia

Liberec is one of our favorite day trips from Görlitz – it’s only about an hour away by car or 2 hours by train. That’s one of the great things about living in Görlitz, you are a very short distance away from both Poland and the Czech Republic!

We have really fallen in love with this little town. Liberec (Lee-bur-etz) is the fifth largest city in Czechia and part of the historical region of Bohemia. The city was formerly known as Reichenberg and was settled by German migrants in the 14th century.  Most of the Germans were expelled after WWII. The city thrived in the textile industry and many beautiful buildings were erected towards the end of the 19th century, including the impressive town hall and the opera house, which boasts a curtain designed by the famous Austrian artist Gustav Klimt.

Liberec is also located on the Neiße River and is surrounded by the Jizera Mountains, where you can hike, bike or ski in winter. Sitting atop the highest summit (1,012 m/3,320 ft) is the Jested Tower, a futuristic, space-ship like structure that was finished in 1973. It’s a hotel, restaurant and television tower. You can choose to hike up to the summit, drive, or take the cable car.

We decided to take the cable car to the top, although there were many people walking, biking or driving up. We were lucky to have great weather that day and although it was a bit windy up top, the views were fabulous in all directions. We stopped to have a beer and take it all in.

During one of our visits we decided to walk down instead of taking the cable car back. There is a paved road that winds around and around down the mountain. It was taking forever, so we thought we’d be clever and take a shortcut down the path of the ski-lift. This was a mistake since the path was so steep we had trouble walking down it (can’t imagine walking up!), but we made it in one piece.

Starving after our strenuous hike down the mountain, we stopped and ate at our favorite restaurant in Liberec: Plzeňka-Duli. The portions are generous, the food is hearty and filling and the prices are unbelievable. The most expensive meal on the menu is 120 Czech Koruna (which as I write is equal to about €4.44!). Once you look at the beer prices (Pilsner Urquell and Gambrinus) you will need no further convincing. There are also several cafes lining the Dr. Edvard Benes Square where the town hall is located and you can enjoy a drink or some ice cream while people watching in this beautiful square.

Delicious Czech food and…hey, I need a refill!

Liberec is also known for its zoo, botanical garden and its water park. The zoo was the first to be opened in the Czech Republic in 1919 and has many different species on display including rare white tigers. The Babylon aqua park is a great escape for both children and adults, with a spa, waterslides, caves, laser games, bowling, indoor golf and an aquarium, among other things!

If you decide to go to Liberec by train, there is an incredible deal to be had by purchasing the Euro-Neisse Ticket. This ticket covers several destinations in Germany, Poland and Czechia. The ticket is for 1-5 people (the more the cheaper!) and is valid for any number of trips until 4am on the following day and also covers local public transportation. The Euro-Neisse ticket will also get you a reduced price for the cable car to the summit.

Whether you are looking for a day trip from Görlitz or Prague, Liberec is just more proof of the unique experiences and surprisingly great prices you can find when you take a risk and stray from the more touristy cities!

Here are some other wonderful places you can visit in our region that are in the area of the Euro-Neisse ticket!

 

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