Bunzlau – Day Trips in Poland

Bolesławiec (Bunzlau in German), is located on the Bóbr River in southwestern Poland in Lower Silesia, about an hour’s train ride from Görlitz. Given the title “Miasto Ceramiki” (or Town of Ceramics), the city of Bolesławiec has about 40,000 inhabitants and is world-famous for its long-standing pottery-making tradition. Although many people come to Bolesławiec for pottery, visitors will be delighted by the beautifully restored town square and historic sights around the city.

Named after a Silesian Duke, Bolesław I the Tall who lived in the 12th century, the city was sacked by the Hussite army in 1429 and pillaged by Swedish forces during the 30 Years War in spite of having a city wall to protect it. Remnants of this city wall can still be seen in Bolesławiec today, though most of it was demolished to make way for the expansion of the city beyond its medieval center.

Town hall in the central square in Bolesławiec
Town square in Bolesławiec
Viaduct on the Bóbr river in Bolesławiec

The city center of Bolesławiec is very walkable – the only reason you might need a car is to visit some of the ceramic factories, such as Manufaktura w Bolesławcu. 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 serves as the first stop on a guided historic walking tour that will take you all around the city with 36 different locations, however when I visited, two of the signs had been vandalized to the point that they could unfortunately no longer be read. The plaques have information in Polish and English and are very helpful for someone who would like to explore the city center, which has a very nice green belt and park with a pond.

Walking tour of historic Bolesławiec

Bolesławiec benefited from its location along the Via Regia, a trade route that connected Breslau with Leipzig, making it possible for the pottery to spread in popularity. In 1523 Bolesławiec became an important center of the Protestant Reformation, with most of its inhabitants converting. The city continued to flourish during this time and in 1525 the town hall was rebuilt by Wendel Roskopf, who built the Schönhof in Görlitz, in the new Renaissance style. In the 18th century the town hall underwent another face-lift in the Baroque style.

Town square in Bolesławiec
Remnants of the medieval city wall in Bolesławiec
Remnants of medieval city wall in Bolesławiec

The area around Bolesławiec is rich in clays that are well-suited for the potter’s wheel and there is evidence that pottery was being turned here as early as the 7th century. Out of this tradition grew one of the most important folk pottery traditions in Europe. Early pottery was intended for farm and kitchen use and looked unremarkable. These pieces are extremely rare to find today. The first examples of the distinctive Bunzlau style followed as lifestyles changed with urbanization. People wanted pottery that they could show off in their parlors and dining rooms. People also wanted something to serve a new and fashionable beverage – coffee! Bunzlau pottery became popular not just in Germany, but all around Europe and pottery shops began cropping up all over. When Silesia, and therefore Bolesławiec, came under the control of the Kingdom of Prussia in 1742, the government took an interest in promoting the pottery industry. A Ceramic Technical Training school was established in the city in 1898. During the beginning of the 20th century, pottery designs were influenced by Jugendstil and the popularity of the peacock. Bunzlau pottery became known for their trademark pattern known as Pfauenauge, or peacock’s eye. Visitors who are interested in learning more about the history of ceramics in Bolesławiec can visit the ceramic museum located in the old town.

 

After all of this walking and pottery shopping you are bound to get hungry! Food-wise if you are visiting Bolesławiec by car and are looking for a pleasant restaurant that caters to tourists with menus in multiple languages, you will enjoy Restauracje Opałka Chata, a restaurant that offers traditional charm and dishes on the menu. The restaurant is also conveniently located near several ceramic factories.

If you’re on foot and looking for amazing, cheap pierogi – I highly recommend Dobra Pierogarnia, they don’t have a menu in English but you can view their menu online, which includes pierogi with many different kinds of filling and the people working there are young and friendly. It’s the best pierogi I’ve ever had!

Sample platter of pierogi at Dobra Pierogarnia in Bolesławiec

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. – these visitors are drawn to Bolesławiec by the world-famous ceramics!

If you are visiting Bolesławiec for the pottery, you will want to shop around at various factories to find your favorite pattern. Pay attention to the labels on the bottom of the pottery – some things are marked down because they have a lower “grade” and some patterns are on sale for various reasons. You can find some very good deals if you look carefully. Here is a great guide (written by a military wife) to shopping for pottery in Bolesławiec.

If you are looking for an awesome experience while in Bolesławiec, you should definitely book a tour of the ceramic factory Manufaktura w Bolesławcu along with a workshop. The tours can be requested through the website in English or in German and in my opinion, seeing how the pottery is made makes you appreciate the pieces you buy that much more! It was incredible watching all of the painters as they stamped the designs on by hand. During the shorter workshop, which we took part in, you get to paint your own small plate or bowl using foam stamps. This was a really fun experience, and makes you realize how much skill it takes to do well! We definitely wouldn’t be able to sell our pottery in the stores, but it was a really good time. If you’d like, for a small fee they let you paint more than one piece. In order to collect your hand-made pieces you either have to return to the factory in about a week’s time or have it mailed, but be aware that they only mail pieces to Polish addresses!

During the tour you are shown that the dark blue color actually appears to be light purple before it goes in the oven
Painting your own pottery is lots of fun but also frustrating for perfectionists like me!
Our completed works of art!

Bolesławiec has quickly become one of my favorite places to take guests who visit me in Görlitz for a day trip – the city center is adorable and great for a walking tour and many of my guests can’t resist buying some of the famous Bunzlau pottery or bringing some back for friends & family as souvenirs. A combination of world-famous pottery at affordable prices, accessibility by train & on foot, beautiful sights with green areas that are well-signed and delicious & affordable Polish food make the city of Bolesławiec a must for anyone visiting Lower Silesia!

Town square in Bolesławiec
Town square in Bolesławiec
Bolesławiec has a great green belt for taking a stroll

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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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

Birds’ Wedding – Sorbian Traditions

Lusatia is a region that is found in the area where Germany, Poland and Czech Republic meet and is home to the ethnic group of Lusatian Sorbs. The city of Görlitz lies in this region.

Today is Vogelhochzeit

There is a cute tradition celebrated in this region called “Vogelhochzeit” (or birds’ wedding) that takes place each year on January 25th.

There is also a popular children’s song called “Vogelhochzeit” that tells the story of the wedding of two birds: a male thrush (die Drossel) and a female blackbird (die Amsel).

On the evening of the 24th of January, children put plates out on windowsills or in front of doors with the hopes that the birds will leave some of the treats from their wedding behind. In the morning they find sweets and baked goods in the shape of birds and birds’ nests on the plate.

Naturally, once I heard about this tradition I had to rush out to the bakery to purchase some bird-related treats. I was sadly too belatedly informed to put a plate out so that my treats could be delivered by the birds instead!

Treats from the birds’ wedding