Often considered the Eastern equivalent of Heidelberg in terms of travel attractions, Görlitz is the easternmost Germany's big town, just on the Polish-German border, displaying a variety of historical architectural styles, from the Middle Ages until the ex-DDR.
The rich heritage recommends Görlitz as a destination of choice for both Hollywood movie makers and travellers interested in spending a full day exploring the old cobblestone streets.
I returned to Görlitz a couple of days ago, happily hunting for at least 5 reasons to visit this destination, much appreciated by travellers from all over the world, especially architecture and movie lovers.
1. Art Nouveau Architecture
Since I fell in love with Vienna, many years ago, Art Nouveau became one of my favorite styles in architecture. This style - Jugendstil in the German speaking countries - represents a change from the traditional way of projecting houses and public buildings in general, adding beauty that before confined to the paintings and sculptures.
This beautiful style has some representatives in Görlitz, starting with the central train station.
As the railway connection was first opened in 1867 in what was once one of the major cities of Prussia, the train station was permanently extended and decorated to answer the status role at the time. The sky-blue ceiling was first inaugurated in 1915, and last renovated in 1984. For a first time visitor, this monumental impression can mean love at first sight with Görlitz, isn't it?
If you walk from the train station, down on the Berliner Straße, at no. 7 you will find my favorite sample of Art Nouveau in Görlitz: Straßburg Passage. Built in 1908 in order to give a new look to the newest property acquired by the local entrepreneur Otto Straßburg, the Passage gathers a couple of small shops and boutiques. Passing through the elegant arches with an entrance guarded by two beautiful figures embelishes the average shopping experience, leaving the traveller with exquisite impression.
If you read this blog you might know how generous is the place that I offer to architecture during my travels. Architecture is a witness of cultures and civilizations, telling stories without too many words.
Architecture lovers like me would be delighted to walk the streets of Görlitz, displaying an extraordinary variety of styles.
Putting together historical layers is not always a pleasant aesthetic experience, but in Görlitz things seems to prove the opposite. A pretty big achievement given the fact that there are around 3,500 buildings covering a period as extended as 500 years. It plays in its advantage that this city was one of the few in Germany, alongside with Lüneburg, therefore most of the constructions went only through renovation without a massive make-over.
The old city hall with its colourful watch reminding of Prague, meets with easy Renaissance and Middle Ages fortifications. One big history book to shortly read during a couple of hours walk. During the weekend, be lucky enough to witness a wedding celebrated at the city hall and you will see how various traditions are coming alive.
Who said that a Middle Ages tower could not match a wedding cake like building from the 20th century?
In 1995, an anonymous donor - some suggested it might be Nicholas Cage - offered 675,000 $ for the renovation of the buildings and therefore, many buildings went through massive renovations. Although there are still many constructions in need of serious make-over, in most cases the eyes are soaked into beautiful colours and bright facades, just ready for a photo - or movie - shooting.
The building of the New City Hall is my favorite so far, as it offers a musical-like harmony between the mathematically divided space, the rich decoration and the glass-windows area that on a sunny day can have some natural reflections of the blue sky. What a delight!
From the Middle Ages on, doors were sign of a social status, and the symbols chosen for the decoration were often sending a clear message to the passers by about the wealth and prestige of the inhabitants. The doors of Görlitz inspires you to dream about the old times and guess about stories and little drama behind the massive wooden doors centuries ago. Stir up the creative writer in you, the opportunities abund!
4. Poland is only a couple of steps away
One of the many beautiful things about the European construction is the effort towards the creation of a world without - physical - borders. In Görlitz, this can be fully experienced, while crossing the bridge to Poland. The old bridge between the two countries - with Zgorzelec on the other side of the 5 minutes walk was reopened officially in 2004 and since the creation of the Schengen-free zone within the EU in 2007, it is a symbolic message of how open borders can create open minds. When the efforts are on both sides and people know to appreciate an extraordinary priviledge. (If you were born during a time and in a place when and where your travel plans were under the random control of state institutions aiming at keeping you inside of a prison of a country, you know what I am talking about).
Not only Berlin and Babelsberg are top destinations for movie lovers. Hollywood knows and loves Görlitz very well, as it uses generously its streets and buildings as locations of many of its films. Hence, the nickname of the city among the film connoiseurs: Görliwood.
Take, for instance, the famous Art Nouveau Department Store (Görlitzer Warenhaus) on Demianiplatz. Grand Budapest Hotel was partially filmed here, using the impressive framework that I had the chance to visit during my trip which coincided with an open-doors day of historical buildings. The Department store is a famous location for fashion shows and after quite a battle to get the building permits is supposed to open soon as an outlet and luxury brands destination.
What is less known when it comes to the Görlitz relationship with the American film industry is that the first ever recipient of the Oscar for the best actor in 1929, Emil Jannings was born here. However, film directors as Quentin Tarantino were probably convinced to film here not nececssarily because of the low costs, but because those streets and beautiful houses can easily recreate any environment. If you watched movies like Around the World in 80 Days - with Jackie Chan, or The Book Thief, or The Reader - with Kate Winslet or Monument Men or Inglorious Basterds or...or..., maybe you should watch them again as you might recognize some of the locations.
There are more many reasons to visit Görlitz, and all I can do is to wait until my next trip for even more discoveries. Although the 3 hours ride by train from Berlin can be a bit discouraging if you are looking for a short trip, it is worth every single moment spent on its streets, camera in hand and head in the clouds looking for inspiration for more and more travel stories.
For more inspiration, check the dedicated Pinterest board