Markersdorf is an unassuming place with surprising ties to important historical figures and events. The idyllic little village lies just to the west of Görlitz in Upper Lusatia. At the foot of the Landeskrone mountain, the village is arranged along the little Weißer Schöps river, part of the Elbe river system.
The village was likely settled around 1150 and was named after its founder. The oldest remains of a structure are those of the Barbarakapelle (Barbara Chapel). The first Christian place of worship in the village, the chapel is estimated to have been built around 1200 due to the architectural style. The small stone chapel with surrounding graveyard was a place of worship for the 13 farming families who lived in the village at the time.
The Barbarakapelle was demolished during the Hussite Wars and the population of the village was growing, so a new church was built around 1455 – the Michaeliskirche. When the Reformation came to Upper Lusatia, Luther’s teachings were largely adopted without any conflict, so it’s interesting to read from the old church records that their priest at the time, Johannes Herr, was one of the few who refused to adopt the teachings and practices of Luther. He refused to take part in the transition ceremony in the Peterskirche in Göritz in 1525 and during a service he is said to have railed angrily against Luther and dared God by proclaiming, “If Luther’s teachings are right, give me a sign by striking me dead!” According to the church records, it was at that very moment, standing at the pulpit, that he keeled over from a sudden stroke. Believe it or not, but it’s definitely a great story! Beside the ruins of the Barbarakapelle in Markersdorf today you can find a memorial to those who died in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71, as well as a memorial to the fallen and missing from WWI.
Markersdorf happens to be situated on one of the most important trading routes of the time, the Via Regia or King’s Road. Being located on this road led to a lot of prosperity for the village, but also to a lot of hardship and trouble. The tiny village was swept up into several historic conflicts, including the Hussite Wars, the Thirty Years’ War and the Napoleonic Wars, the last of which has become Markersdorf’s claim to fame.
During the spring of 1813 the French, Russians and Prussians fought in various skirmishes in the area. After victory at the Battle of Bautzen, Napoleon and his troops were retreating towards Görlitz when Napoleon and his staff took up quarters in the farmhouse of a family in Markersdorf. It was in a skirmish in nearby Reichenbach during their retreat that three of Napoleon’s high-ranking officers were struck by a Russian cannonball. One of the wounded generals, Marschall Duroc, was said to be one of Napoleon’s most loyal companions. Mortally wounded, Duroc was taken to the farmhouse where Napoleon was staying and soon after died there of his injuries. Napoleon was said to be so affected by his death that he bought the farm, so that his dear friend could be buried on “French soil”. He had a monument erected on the property in honor of Marschal Duroc, who was embalmbed in Görlitz in Brüderstraße and then sent home for burial.
Another attraction in Markerdorf is the Dorfmuseum (Village museum). Located inside a 250 year old four-sided courtyard farmhouse, the museum shows visitors what rural life was like 100 years ago through authentically furnished living and utility rooms, animals, a garden, and a village school. The museum is a great place to take kids and they regularly have events to teach young people through hands-on demonstrations what life would have been like on a farm 100 years ago the traditional way, through activities such as spinning, laundry, threshing, and churning butter. When we visited, we interrupted a class of young kids who were getting to try out some equipment used to grind grain and it was clear that they were having the time of their lives.
It’s clear that even the smallest of villages can be full of history and surprises, that’s why it’s important to think outside of the guide book! Around 880 people live in Markersdorf today. The region is predominantly agricultural and serene. The village of Markersdorf is actually part of a municipality of about 4000 people, formed in the 1990s and made up of seven villages: Jauernick-Buschbach, Gersdorf, Holtendorf, Friedersdorf, Deutsch-Paulsdorf, and Pfaffendorf. I look forward to exploring all of these beautiful villages in the future!