Nikolaikirche – Churches in Görlitz

The Nikolaikirche is a church northwest of the old town in Görlitz named after St. Nicholas, the patron saint of merchants. The church is just around the corner from the home we are renovating in the quiet neighborhood of Nikolaivorstadt. It sits at the foot of the historic Nikolaifriedhof graveyard and the larger city cemetery.

It’s also one of the oldest churches in the city – a church has existed in this spot since 1100. In 1452 building of the late Gothic style church began but slowed down and stalled in favor of the building of the Peterskirche within the city walls.

Nikolaikirche – view from the graveyard

In 1516 Wendel Roßkopf the Elder took over the building of the church. He was a master builder and town councilman in Görlitz- most notably he built the Schönhof (current home to the Silesian Museum) and designed the archives wing of the town hall.

In 1520 the new Nikolaikirche was consecrated but would unluckily be burned down twice: in 1642 during the Thirty Years’ War and in 1717 during the town fire.

Most of the citizens of Görlitz attended the Peterskirche after its consecration in 1497 and the Nikolaikirche served mostly as a burial church for the city. The Nikolaifriedhof (cemetery) is one of the oldest and most beautiful in Germany and happens to be one of my favorite places for a peaceful walk in the city!

While the interior of the Nikolaikirche isn’t as beautiful as other churches in Görlitz and appears in many ways to be incomplete, it serves a different purpose today. In 1925/26 the interior of the church was transformed into a memorial to the fallen Protestant soldiers of World War I. The memorial was designed by Prof. M. Elsässer in expressionist style and lists the names of the city’s fallen on the walls.

The Nikolaikirche is open to visitors in March through October with a €2 entrance fee. Entrance to the cemetery is free and you can read more about it here.

Click here to find out more about the other historic churches in Görlitz! 

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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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Dreifaltigkeitskirche – Churches in Görlitz

I wasn’t expecting a lot from the interior of this church. The exterior is slightly less than thrilling. It’s also a Protestant church, and those tend to be plainer than their Catholic counterparts. Dreifaltigkeit means trinity in German and this church is situated on the Obermarkt in Görlitz. I’ve walked by it often but never really been curious about the inside. It looks kind of sooty and unremarkable. But I learned my lesson, never judge a church by its, uh…cover.

Dreifaltigkeitskirche

The first thing you see when you walk towards the entrance is a sign saying that it costs €1.50 to photograph inside this church. Entrance, however, is free if you’d just like to have a look. At first I balked at the fee, but I was happy to pay it once I saw the inside. When I walked in I was floored by the beautiful vaulted ceilings, the ornate paintings and altar. It’s got kind of a dark & gloomy vibe even though there’s so much light pouring through the windows.

The church was first built in the 13th century as an abbey for the Franciscan Monastery alongside the former city wall. It was a simple church built along the guidelines of religious order of the monks who adopted a lifestyle of poverty and went barefoot or only in sandals.

Altar inside the Dreifaltigkeitskirche
Mural inside the Dreifaltigkeitskirche

The Legend of the Creepy Monk in Wood Slippers

There are several popular legends that everyone in Görlitz knows and there’s a legend about this church set during the time that it was a monastery  in the middle ages. It’s pretty creepy – don’t say I didn’t warn you.

A traveling journeyman made his way to Görlitz on foot and was exhausted from his journey when he reached the church on the Obermarkt. He went inside to pray and fell asleep on a pew in the back. He was awakened late at night by a strange shuffling sound and became frightened and hid. From his hiding place he saw a monk with a hideous face, shuffling along in wooden slippers. The monk was dragging the lifeless body of a little girl. Scared out of his wits, the man remained hidden and watched as the monk hid the girl beneath a grave stone in the church.

The Waiting Mother
Photo Credit: Fotoarchiv Frank Vater

Hoping it had all been just a bad dream, the man left the church the next morning but around Görlitz he heard that there was panic because a mother on Fleischerstraße was missing her daughter. The young girl had attended mass as usual but had not returned home. Hearing this, the man immediately went to the authorities and reported what he had seen.

Because of the monk’s hideous face, he was easily identified. When confronted he did not deny his crimes. He admitted to attacking the girl, having been unable to keep his oath of celibacy. In order to hide his crime he had murdered her and hidden her body in the church.

The monk was sentenced to be walled-in alive but his spirit is said to have never found rest. Supposedly you can still hear the shuffling of his wooden slippers in the church today.

Today there is a hotel and restaurant located on the Fleischerstraße where the widow with the missing daughter lived, it’s called Zum Klötzelmönch. Next door on the orange building high up you can see the statue of a woman’s head, they call this the “waiting mother”.

Hotel zum Klötzelmönch and in the background the church

The Dreifaltigkeitskirche was expanded and changed in appearance over the centuries. After the Reformation the Franciscans left the monastery and handed it over to the city to be used as a school. The church became Protestant.

Organ inside the Dreifaltigkeitskirche
Inside the Dreifaltigkeitskirche
Ceiling detail inside the Dreifaltigkeitskirche
Inside the Dreifaltigkeitskirche

The building adjacent to the Dreifaltigkeitskirche is still used as a school today, the Augustum-Annen-Gymnasium. Can you imagine going to high school in a gorgeous building like this? We certainly didn’t have high schools like this in Arizona!

I, for one, am glad that I hadn’t heard the story  of the creepy monk in the wooden shoes until after I visited the Dreifaltigkeitskirche! I can imagine myself going inside this church when the weather gets warmer and having a seat in a pew to get away from the heat and stress and just reflect, but now I will imagine falling asleep and waking up to the sound of shuffling wooden shoes!

If you are touring Görlitz you should definitely check out the Dreifaltigkeitskirche for its beautiful interior. Because it was originally a Catholic church, the interior is more ornate than many Protestant churches tend to be.

Dreifaltigkeitskirche is definitely worth a peak inside while you’re on the Obermarkt!

Click here to find out more about the other historic churches in Görlitz! 

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Holy Grave Replica in Görlitz

This monument in Görlitz is a replica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Located in the Nikolaivorstadt, it’s about a ten minute walk from the old town.

Georg Emmerich – Source: Unser Görlitz

The Heiliges Grab was built around 1500 by Georg Emmerich (1422-1507), the son of a wealthy merchant in Görlitz. When he was young he “fell in love” with a neighbor girl, Benigna Horschel, and got her pregnant. His parents forbid him to marry her and so he left for a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1465 to seek absolution for his sins, leaving the poor girl and child behind. In Jerusalem he was admitted into the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, a group whose principle mission is to reinforce the practice of Christian life and fidelity to the pope. Georg Emmerich returned to Görlitz in 1465, became mayor and set out to recreate the Holy Sepulchre in his city. Since the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem has seen a lot of changes over time, the replica in Görlitz is an opportunity to see it as it was then.

The Heiliges Grab is meant to be just one stop on the Stations of the Cross, the path that Jesus took. Every year on Good Friday there is a procession that follows this path. It starts at the Peterskirche, the beautiful church that dominates the Görlitz skyline on the Neiße.

Next you head west past the Nikolaiturm and the Jesus Bakery to Steinweg. Steinweg is one of the oldest and most beautiful streets in Görlitz.

Steinweg
Entrance to Heiliges Grab

Then you pass the Place of Remembrance of Jesus Christ’s way of suffering, which is a cross surrounded by bushes that badly need to be trimmed (I’m 5’3 and could barely see over them!).

Finally, you arrive at the Heiliges Grab. When you walk up the steps, the first thing you see is the Doppelkapelle, meant to replicate the double chapel on the hill of Golgatha.

Doppelkapelle

The Adamskapelle is on the first floor. Inside you find a simple sandstone altar and a crack in the wall meant to reflect the crack in the rock in Jerusalem.

The Emmerich family crest is on the wall on the left.

Inside Adamskapelle
Emmerich family crest

Upstairs you find the second chapel, Golgathakapelle. Three holes on the ground are meant to remind one of the three crosses erected at Golgotha. Throughout the Heiliges Grab you see a lot of carvings and graffiti in the stones of the chapels. Some of these carvings are very old, dating back to the 1500s!

Golgothakapelle
Really old grafitti

In front of the double chapel is the Salbhaus (house of anoinment). Behind the gate there is a sculpture called “Die Beweinung Jesu” (the lamentation of Christ).

Salbhaus

Directly on the left when you enter the Heiliges Grab is a brick building that had an exhibit when I visited called “Kreuzigung” (crucifixion), containing paintings by artist Sven Schmidt from Gera.

Art Exhibit “Crucifixion”
Grabkapelle

Finally, in the back you see the Grabkapelle, which is divided into two rooms. A big stone in front of the entrance is meant to symbolize the stone that sealed the grave. Inside the first room, there’s a white angel carved from wood dating from the baroque period. The second room has an empty bench, symbolizing the empty grave.

The entire place overlooks the Ölberggarten, which symbolizes the Mount of Olives in Jersualem. If the weather is nice and you’d like to walk in the park, you will have to exit the Heiliges Grab, turn right and take a right on Friedhofstraße. Above the park is the crematorium for the city cemetery. A giant maple tree stands on the hill and symbolizes the olive tree on Calvary. Below, the Jüngerwiese (disciples’ meadow), is a symbol of the sleeping disciples. And finally, a brook in the park symbolizes the Kidron Valley in Jerusalem.

Ölberggarten – view of crematorium

There’s a pretty rad playground in the Ölberggarten, so if you’ve just dragged your kids through the Holy Sepulchre, you might want to reward them by letting them play for a while.

Pond in Ölberggarten

If you want to take a pleasant stroll away from the old town and down one of the oldest and most beautiful streets in Görlitz, (Steinweg), or if you are interested in seeing a replica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem,  check out the Heiliges Grab while you’re in Görlitz! Be sure to check the visitor information before you go. When I visited in March 2017, the cost was €2.50 for entrance and €5.00 for a tour. They have printed information for you to read while you are inside, ask for one in English.

Graveyards in Görlitz

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!

Nikolaifriedhof (pronunciation tip: it’s pronounced like freed, not fried)

 

Nikolaikirche – view from the graveyard

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! 

Sculpture on the outside of a crypt in Nikolaifriedhof

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.

Jakob Böhme’s grave

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.

Family plots line the outer wall

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.

The Feierhalle

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.

Minna Herzlieb (Source: Wikipedia)
Minna Herzlieb’s grave
Minna Herzlieb’s grave

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.

Austro-Prussian War memorial

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.

WWI Monument
WWI Monument
WW2 Memorial
WW2 Memorial
First hints of Spring

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!

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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!

 

Why Germany?

The question “Why Germany?” appears to have a pretty obvious answer for me – I have a German husband. Yes, having a German husband is what has brought me to Germany and what has driven me to spend so many years learning the language & culture. But this is not the reason I have grown to love Germany and chosen it as my new home, which is not necessarily a given when you consider the difficulties I have had adjusting to life in Germany.

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Our wedding in Dresden 2008

I find that no matter where I live, I inevitably compare it to other places I lived before and find it lacking – the cherries in the neighbor’s garden always taste sweeter, right? (die Kirschen in Nachbars Garten schmecken immer süßer). Sometimes it can be really easy as an expat to focus on things that are annoying, difficult or positively maddening about living in a new country. I am often guilty of this and that’s why I wanted to sit down and focus on the things that make me happy about Germany and the things that make me so excited to live there again.

Umweltfreundlich & Gesund

The lifestyle in Germany makes me feel like I am having less of a negative impact on the world than my lifestyle in the U.S. and forces me to adopt healthier habits in my daily routine. Yes, this often means living with fewer conveniences which can be irritating, but I think overall it’s a better way to live. How is the lifestyle more Umweltfreundlich & Gesund?

  • Spargelzeit  (asparagus season)- this is a time of year when Germany goes bananas over white asparagus because it is in season. I’m not kidding, they put it in everything. This is just one example, but Germans often eat things when they are in season. Living in the U.S. I actually have no awareness of when certain produce are in season because it is constantly available to me in the supermarket. But celebrating and enjoying a food when it’s in season means that we are enjoying something that is local, fresh and hasn’t had to be transported halfway across the world.
Spargelzeit
Mmm Spargel!
  • Essen außer Haus (eating out)- on average Germans don’t eat out in restaurants as often as Americans do, instead they tend to prepare their own food at home. In my experience eating in a restaurant is a lot more expensive in Germany than it is back in the U.S. and this discourages people from considering it more than an occasional treat. There are many benefits to this lifestyle – it’s healthier, it saves you money and it promotes time together at home with the family.
  • Einkaufen (shopping)- shopping in Germany is quite the experience for an American for many reasons. I could expound at length on this topic, as many others before me have, but I’ll just point out a few differences for now: in Germany you bring your own bags (in fact, many stores are no longer even selling plastic bags anymore for purchase at the check-out). There are typically smaller local shops such as bakeries and butchers in your neighborhood. Often times it’s possible to walk, bike or take public transport to do your shopping. This combined with the usually tiny size of German fridges encourages people to make more frequent & small shopping trips. This forces me to buy food from local & specialty stores, to waste fewer plastic bags and to get out more instead of driving everywhere like I do in the U.S.
  • Öffentlicher Verkehr (public transportation)- unless you live in a tiny village in Germany, you probably have access to reliable public transportation in the form of buses, street cars, subways and trains. It’s very convenient to drive yourself everywhere in the U.S. and we usually have giant parking lots we can park in. Not the case in Germany where driving often feels very inconvenient with high costs, tiny streets and scarce parking. But this is another case of something inconvenient that I know is actually better, for both me and the environment. Besides getting more exercise and having a smaller footprint, when I walk through my city or ride public transportation I feel like I am a part of my community. Living in Phoenix where everyone drives around in their cars from one building to another I rarely feel connected to the people who live alongside me in my community.
Görlitz Main Train Station
  • Sonnenschein (sunshine)- it’s true that Germany gets much less sunshine than where I’m from in Arizona. Most of the year living in Phoenix we do our best to avoid the sun, hurrying from one air-conditioned box to another. The sun shines most days and you begin to take it for granted. Not so in Germany, where people practically worship the sun when it comes out instead of taking it for granted. When the sun is shining you can find everyone and their mother outside enjoying it. The happy feelings radiating from Germans when it’s sunny are palpable and contagious.
People enjoying a sunny day in Dresden at Semperoper

Sonstiges

Besides being environmentally- and waist-friendly, these are some of the other aspects of life in Germany that I respect and admire:

  • Fachkenntnis (expertise) – Germany has a lot of experts (You can view that as a sarcastic comment on some of their other tendencies, but that’s a different post!) Germans have experts in every field – in order to become even a baker or a shoe salesperson you have to go through certain education or training to get there. I admire this because to me it indicates that Germany places more value on trades than we do in the U.S. It feels like in the states if you don’t go to college you are seen as failing somehow. This greatly devalues occupations that require skill and training but not a college education. This expertise also means that when you go to a place like Saturn (an electronics store in Germany) with a camera that is acting up, an employee on the sales floor will actually know what is wrong with your camera and adjust it for you then & there, even though you didn’t purchase it at their store! This also means that when you go looking for an electronic toothbrush, a knowledgeable employee will give you a ten-minute breakdown of the pros and cons of each type they sell. These are just two experiences I have had in Germany where I have received expert help when I didn’t expect it.
These guys wanted to debate me on the values of grass - clearly they were experts
These guys wanted to debate me on the values of grass – clearly they were experts

Debatte (debate) – Germans are eager to debate issues with you and as an American who has been taught that it is impolite to discuss religion & politics, this came as a shock. I would witness Germans having heated discussions about these topics, all the while thinking that it would end in destroyed friendships, but this is not the case. It seems that Germans are able to debate these kinds of things without getting too personal and I find this behavior healthier than in the U.S. where everything is so polarized that you can barely talk to someone on the “other side” of an issue. I admire this quality a lot in Germany even though sometimes I am intimidated by being challenged to defend my point of view more rigorously than I would have to among many Americans. Recent events in Germany have made me fear that Germany is also becoming more polarized. I really hope that it never reaches the level that it has in the U.S.

Geschichte (history) – Germany is full of fascinating history everywhere you look and it is so much more than WWII, which the Americans can sometimes fixate on. Even though Germany is a fairly new country it has a long and rich history. There’s nothing more intriguing than walking the cobble-stone streets of a German city and imagining the people who walked it before us and the things that happened there. My best recommendation is to take a guided tour of your city to learn more about its history. This helps you appreciate a city so much more than if you knew nothing about its past and it will also make you a better guide when your friends and family come to visit!

German history on display in Leipzig - Monument to the Battle of the Nations
German history on display in Leipzig – Monument to the Battle of the Nations

Schönheit (beauty) – Germany is simply beautiful! There are so many different facets to its beauty: from its nature to its architecture and its local traditions. No two regions are alike and every one of them has unique and interesting qualities such as local food, dialect and festivals that you can only find there. Germany is so much more than the Oktoberfest and Neuschwanstein! If you visit, I encourage you to stray from the typical tourist destinations and check out lesser-known regions to get a unique perspective on life in Germany.

Germany's beautiful architecture on display at Dresden's Frauenkirche
Germany’s beautiful architecture on display at Dresden’s Frauenkirche
Germany’s natural beauty on display at Saxony Switzerland

 

So those are just a few of the reasons why I love Germany. What are your reasons? Let me know in the comments!

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Old Town Festival Görlitz 2016

The 22nd Altstadtfest (old town festival) in Görlitz has come and gone. This was my second time at the festival and we attended on Friday evening. The first time was nine years ago (!) when we had just moved to Germany to live in Dresden for two years. Somehow I feel like those two years went by in a blur of homesickness & confusion, so I was very excited to get to experience the festival again this year!

View from the Ferris Wheel at the Altstadtfest
View from the Ferris Wheel at the Altstadtfest

I planned out the things I wanted to see, do and eat and dragged my semi-willing husband and Schwager (brother-in-law) along for my program. We were lucky to have beautiful weather and the sun was shining when we arrived at the festival quite early. We started by just generally checking things out and catching the traditional Anblasen at the Untermarkt, the start of the festival with the blowing of horns. There were many people dressed up in middle-ages or renaissance style costumes and vendors were selling things like local products & art, costumes, & toy swords for the kids. Next we headed to the Altstadtbrücke (old town bridge) to see the opening of the festival with the mayors of Görlitz and Zgorzelec and the firing of the cannons. The bridge was crowded with people and they spoke about the partnership between the two cities, releasing balloons that were in the colors of the German and Polish flags. In Zgorzelec they also had a festival coinciding with the Altstadtfest, the Jakuby fest. Jakub Böhme is a prominent figure in the history of Görlitz/Zgorzelec, so if you are at the festival next year make sure to cross the bridge so you don’t miss this part of the celebration!

Onlookers waiting for the cannon firing along the Neiße
Onlookers waiting for the cannon firing along the Neiße

After that we were ready to try some food and drink. The beer was flowing freely in our group of three and so I stood in line to try a Heurekaner, which was a pocket of bread filled with cheese and ham and topped with sour cream. My husband had a huge piece of meat on a skewer. For dessert I had Quarkbällchen, fried balls of quark dipped in sugar. Both were delicious!

Next on my agenda was to ride the Riesenrad (ferris wheel) for beautiful views of Görlitz. We even rode twice because the view was so nice! Beware – if you are not riding with someone very young or elderly they will give your car on the ferris wheel a good spin before you go up! Luckily I did not become ill and lose any of my Quarkbällchen.

Moments from the 22nd Altstadtfest
Moments from the 22nd Altstadtfest

The next thing we did was to catch one of the many live musical acts at the festival. We headed to the stage at Untermarkt and saw the band Triple Trouble play. They were a three man group and I was very excited to see that one of them was playing the banjo! If you don’t know, I have just started learning to play the banjo this year, so this made me very happy. The band was hilarious and I felt proud for understanding all of the jokes they told inbetween playing many well-known cover songs. I can remember when we first came here in 2007 not being able to understand such things, so it’s nice to relish in my hard-earned German abilities! I enjoyed the band so much that I purchased their CD and will be following them to see where they play next.

Because of our jet lag we did not celebrate as heartily as we might have but now I expect to be able to go to the Altstadtfest every year and look forward to the 23rd (and my third) festival in 2017! It’s a great experience to see all of Görlitz out enjoying the beautiful sights, weather and entertainment. And entrance to the festival is completely free! To support the Altstadtfest you can buy collectible pins, there were two on offer this year. The gold pin cost €10 and the colored pin cost €5. I look forward to collecting more!

Collectible pins from the 2016 Altstadtfest
Collectible pins from the 2016 Altstadtfest

Resources:
Altstadtfest Görlitz
Triple Trouble

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Landeskrone – Görlitz Landmark

The Landeskrone, one of the most famous landmarks of Görlitz, is a 420m (1380 ft) high extinct volcano located in the neighborhood of Biesnitz southwest of the city center. Visible basalt rocks show the evidence of its vulcanic past.

My in-laws live within walking distance. Since I was jetlagged while visiting them and wide awake at 4am, I decided to scurry up to the top to watch the sunrise.

View of the Landeskrone from Biesnitz
View of the Landeskrone from Biesnitz

You can reach the Landeskrone by taking Tram #2 all the way to the end station Landeskrone or you can park at the base. Once you have reached the base, you can either take a path that goes all the way around the base of the Landeskrone, or you can take the stairs that go up to the summit.

There is a road going up but you are not allowed to take your car. You can, however, arrange to be picked up by the hotel on top of the Landeskrone beforehand.

Once at the top you reach the Burghotel and Restaurant. The trees are thick here – in order to get the amazing views in all directions you need to climb to the top of the lookout tower. If the weather and/or timing is right you’ll be blessed with a gorgeous view like this:

View from the Landeskrone at Sunrise
View from the Landeskrone at Sunrise

Archaeological digs have found evidence of fortifying walls on the Landeskrone dating back to around 900. During the High Middle Ages a castle was built atop the Landeskrone and it was owned by wealthy noblemen from Lusatia and Silesia. Because of Görlitz’s location along the Via Regia, the Landeskrone also served as part of the defense system. (The Via Regia was a royal highway during the Middle Ages that connected east and west Europe and stretched from present-day Spain to Kiev). In 1440 when the city of Görlitz came into possession of the castle, they had it razed. After that it was used as vantage point during the Seven Years’ War and the Austro-Prussian War.

On the way down I was in less of a hurry, so I wandered along different smaller paths to see where they would take me. I stumbled upon a large column that I later learned is the Bismarcksäule, a large column which was erected in honor of Otto von Bismarck in 1901. The column was renovated in 1995. It was lined with empty beer bottles when I visited it, indicating that it’s a popular spot to sit and take in the view while enjoying a cold one. Unfortunately it was too early and I didn’t bring any beer with me. Maybe next time! But I will definitely be bringing my empties back down with me.

Bismarcksäule on the Landeskrone
Bismarcksäule on the Landeskrone

 

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Willkommen in Görlitz!

Welcome to Görlitz, a beautiful town in Germany and my new home! Since moving here, I have wanted to know it better and to share it with others. This is what inspired me to start this website, to explore my new surroundings and to share them with you. This post is an introduction to the highlights of the city, please follow the links for more information!

Görlitz is a town of around 56,000 people. Situated on the Polish/German border and the banks of the Neiße River, Görlitz is the easternmost city in Germany and has a unique relationship to its Polish neighbors.  Before the redrawing of borders after World War II, the town of Görlitz was on both sides of the river. Today, with just a short walk across the Altstadtbrücke (Old Town Bridge) in Görlitz you arrive in its other half, the Polish city of Zgorzelec. The proximity and partnership of the two cities makes Görlitz a unique location where both cultures can be experienced and can benefit from one another. Take advantage of this by taking a stroll across the bridge to enjoy delicious Polish food or even take a day trip to one of the many lovely locations just a short distance away from Görlitz.

But let’s back up a bit! Görlitz was first mentioned in a document in 1071 as the small Sorbian village Gorelic. It is likely that this village existed on the hill where the Peterskirche (St. Peter and Paul Church) and the Untermark (Lower Market) exist today. Throughout its history, Görlitz has been a part of Lusatia, Bohemia, Saxony and Prussia. Today the region where Görlitz lies is called the Lower Silesian Upper Lusatia (Niederschlesische Oberlausitz) in the German federal state of Saxony.

Görlitz received town rights in 1303 and soon followed the right to mint coins, brew beer, sell cloth, and to store the woad plant used to dye the cloth blue. The making and selling of cloth was a big business in Görlitz and helped the town to thrive. Its location along the important trade route Via Regia made it a center for commerce. In 1346 Görlitz became a member of the Upper Lusatian Six City League along with Bautzen, Löbau, Zittau, Kamenz and Lauban. This cooperation helped keep the trade routes safe and brought prosperity to the cities involved.

The Lower Market (Untermarkt) in Görlitz, once home to prosperous cloth merchants, is lined with beautiful Renaissance and Gothic buildings. Take a stroll along the black cobblestone, feeling immersed in history, or enjoy a drink or meal in one of the many restaurants and cafes. These beautifully preserved sights have inspired many directors, like Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino to make films here, leading to the town’s nickname “Görliwood”. The Lower Market boasts beautiful arcades as well as hall houses such as the Baroque House on Neißstraße, also home to the gorgeous Upper Lusatian Library of Sciences and one of the several great museums in town.

The Lower Market is also the center for many exciting events throughout the year in Görlitz, including the Altstadtfest (Old Town Festival), Schlesischer Christkindelmarkt (Silesian Christmas Market), and the Schlesischer Tippelmarkt (Silesian Pottery Market).

From the Lower Market you can walk down the beautiful Brüderstraße, a street lined with more beautiful and historic buildings as well as shops and cafes, to arrive at the Upper Market (Obermarkt), ringed with beautiful Baroque residences like the Napoleon House and crowned by the Kaisertrutz (Imperial Keep), a fortification that earned its name during the 30 Years’ War when it served as a defense against the imperial troops and today home to the Museum of History and Culture. Other remnants of the former city walls in Görlitz include the Reichenbacher Turm, Dicker Turm, and the Nikolaiturm.

Along with its historic towers and stunning merchant houses, Görlitz is also home to many beautiful pre-reformation churches open to visitors. The most visible and stunning is of course the Peterskirche***LINK TO PETERSKIRCHE*** which dominates the town’s skyline, but the other churches are worth a visit as well. The Dreifaltigkeitskirche is perhaps my favorite, with its beautiful interior and spooky legend. The Nikolaikirche is a monument to WWI soldiers and surrounded by an amazing, atmospheric graveyard and the Frauenkirche – although dwarfed by the surroundings buildings and traffic, is worth a visit. For those interested in sacred sites, the Heiliges Grab is a very accurate replica of the Holy Grave in Jerusalem, built in the late 1400s.

Beside the Frauenkirche is the famous Kaufhaus – a beautiful department store in Art Nouveau style that was featured prominently in the film Grand Budapest Hotel. The Kaufhaus is currently only open sporadically to visitors but there are plans to reopen it as a department store in the future.

Görlitz also has a lot to offer for those looking to commune with nature. The Landeskrone is the city’s mountain. At 420 meters high (1378 ft), the mountain is a popular place for locals to hike and once on top, affords a beautiful view of the area. The mountain lends its name to the local brewery and while you are up there you can enjoy a cold Landskron.

A recent addition to the area is the Berzdorf Lake. Once a lignite mine, it was filled in with water in 2013 and is now a popular place for people from Germany, Poland and Czechia to swim, bike, cycle and play.

You will be stunned at how beautifully preserved Görlitz is – as well as how lucky. Few German cities can boast an old town as unspoiled by the scars of war and modernization. During World War II the town was spared from major damage, the main losses being all seven bridges which were blown up by the retreating Wehrmacht during the final days of the war. During GDR times the old town was left mostly abandoned and the old buildings began to crumble and decay. If the Wall hadn’t come down in 1989, the old town might have met the same fate as many other cities during this time – being torn down to make way for modern buildings and apartments. In addition to these strokes of luck, the city also had a secret admirer! Beginning in 1995, an anonymous donor gifted the city with one million Deutsche Mark (approximately € 511,500) each year for the purpose of renovating and renewing the old town. In 2017 the town was notified that the donations would be ending – but the evidence of this amazing gift can be seen all around the city today and the identity of the benefactor remains a mystery.

Görlitz can be easily reached by car, train or plane and is close to several major destinations:

  • Berlin approximately 217 km (135 miles)
  • Dresden approximately 110 km (68 miles)
  • Prague approximately 167 km (104 miles)
  • Wrocław approximately 173 km (107 miles)

So, now that you’ve read this post I am sure you are dreaming about your next trip to Görlitz, and I certainly can’t blame you! Be sure to check out my other posts for more information or contact me if you would like some personalized tips for your stay, I am always happy to help and eager for others to experience Görlitz!