Call me crazy, but I love wandering around old graveyards. Lucky for me, we will be living just minutes from a really beautiful one – it’s just around the corner from the home we are renovating in the Nikolaivorstadt, a quiet neighborhood northwest of the old town. Here’s why you should spend the day wandering around really old graveyards in Görlitz!
The Nikolaifriedhof (St. Nicholas Graveyard) is free to enter and contains gorgeous gravestones and crypts, with some dating as far back as the 1300s. You can spend quite a while wandering around the graveyard and looking at all of the interesting and ornate stones and statues there. I’ve visited both in Winter and Spring and found it captivating regardless of the weather – a really interesting and peaceful walk. You can also visit the Nikolaikirche, one of the oldest churches in Görlitz, now home to an expressionist style memorial to the fallen soldiers in World War I. Read more about it here!
The Nikolaifriedhof was the main burial site for the town of Görlitz from it’s establishment in the 12th century until the opening of the Städtischer Friedhof in 1847 (city cemetery – continue reading for more info). The graveyard has a rich collection of tombs and epitaphs from the 17th to the 19th century and provides a unique look at the changing burial culture of the wealthy families in Görlitz over time. For example, before the Reformation it was desirable to be buried as close as possible to the church, either inside or against the outer walls. After Reformation this became less important, and you could find the gravestones of wealthy members of the town scattered across the graveyard, even against the outer walls which used to be reserved for “undesirable” members of society. The graveyard boasts a collection of about 850 tombstones and 17 burial crypts. These ornately decorated memorials to deceased loved ones often costed as much as a house for the living.
The most famous inhabitant of the Nikolaifriedhof is the famous Görlitz resident Jakob Böhme (1575-1624), a Christian mythic & theologian. You can find his grave on the right side after you pass the Nikolaikirche. Jakob is an important figure in Görlitz history – you can find his house on the other side of the river in Zgorzelec and a statue of him in the park.
Görlitz eventually outgrew the Nikolaifriedhof and so they extended it with the Städtischer Friedhof (city cemetery) in 1847. This cemetery is still in use today: as you walk through you find family members diligently caring for the plots of their loved ones as well as people just out for a quiet stroll. I find the family plots lining the walls of the cemetery especially beautiful, some of them include stunning views of Görlitz.
The Städtischer Friedhof is divided into two sections, the new and the old. The old section is just north of the Nikolaifriedhof and the new section is at the far north end (bordering on the neighborhood of Königshufen, known for its prefabricated apartments built during the GDR). As you cross from the Nikolaifriedhof to the Städtischer Friedhof you walk by the Feierhalle (built in 1874) where services are held.
If you stick to the right when entering the Städtischer Friedhof you will find the grave of a very unfortunate character, Minna Herzlieb (1789-1865). She was a muse of the poet Goethe. After meeting her in Weimar, he wrote several sonnets for her. Unfortunately she was unhappily married, suffered a mental breakdown and died in a mental hospital in Görlitz.
There are also several monuments to those lost in wars. Near the grave of Minna Herzlieb you can find a monument to the Sachsen, French, Austrian and Prussian soldiers who died in the Austro-Prussian War in 1866.
In the far north corner of the new section of the cemetery there are also monuments to soldiers lost in the First and Second World Wars. There is a special monument and the gravestones of Greek soldiers who were interned in Görlitz in 1916 after surrendering in Macedonia. They didn’t die in battle, but after an outbreak of the Spanish flu.
Just a few minutes’ walk from the old town, the Nikolaikirche is an interesting sight – and the cemeteries are filled with fascinating gravestones and monuments, making for a really peaceful and pleasant walk, no matter what time of year. I spent the past several days enjoying the sunny weather and exploring for this blog post, and have decided this is one of my favorite places to walk in the city. Every time I am there I see something that I hadn’t noticed before. Be sure to stop by when you are in Görlitz!
Did you know? Grave plots in Germany are temporary and are typically leased by families for periods of time, usually 15-30 years. If the lease isn’t renewed, the plot may be reused. I know this is unthinkable to many Americans, but having a lot of space is a luxury they don’t have in Europe!