Before heading into Poland to visit our Silesian roots, we stopped to catch our breath for a few days in Görlitz. Why visit Görlitz? The city has been high on my to-visit list for a while…. the Silesian museum, beautiful old buildings, and for my husband, it’s the film location of one of his favorite movies, The Grand Budapest Hotel. While there, we discovered a vibrant city where historic buildings serve as a backdrop for rock concerts as well as Hollywood feature films. Friendly people, delicious food, and a surprise around every corner. And from our room in the historic Hotel Frenzelhof, we could see it all.
A Little Görlitz History
The Sorbs first settled here along the Nesse over 900 years ago. But its attractive location drew settlers, and the city grew. During the Middle Ages, Görlitz, one of the most important stops on the Via Regia (King’s Highway), sat at the crossroads of Central European trade. In 1303 things took off when the King of Bohemia granted the town right to mint coins, store salt and woad, and brew their own beer. The city joined the Upper Lusatian Six City League with Bautzen Löbau, Zittau, Kamenz, and Lauben to help secure the safety of trade routes. This powerful trade league lasted until 1815, and helped make Görlitz an incredibly wealthy city. (Imagine, over 1000 wagons passed through Görlitz and its markets DAILY. It was, in fact, illegal to go around). In the 1830s, Görlitz became part of Lower Silesia when it was annexed to Prussia. The introduction of the railroads brought in more people, and continued its reputation for being a hub of Europe.
The Fountain in the Obermarkt with cardinal directions set in the ground to indicate the Via Regia, and the North South trade routes.
But then World War II changed everything.
Görlitz, holds the distinction for being the Easternmost city in Germany. It’s SO far east, in fact, that it lost 1/3 of the city to Poland when the borders were redrawn down the Nesse River after World War II. But maybe the fact that the city was tucked out of the way like that saved it. Out of the way, out of sight… under the former East German regime, the city found itself mostly ignored (much like Quedlinburg). The grey facades in the Altstadt crumbled a bit, but the buildings were essentially left alone until the Wall fell. In the 30 years since then, life and color returned to the Market Squares.
Today, there are over 4000 buildings on the Historic Register in Görlitz! (Astonishing for a city with only 62,000 residents.) The two Market Squares, Obermarkt and Untermarkt, are flanked by impressive buildings, including the famous Hallenhäuser or warehouse homes built by wealthy merchants, and the Rathaus. Today you will also find museums like the Schlesisches Museum and the Baroque Haus, beautiful Hotels like the Frenzelhof, and many restaurants and cafes.
Sidenote- Some of Gorlitz’s restoration comes from a mysterious source… In 1995 an anonymous donor started giving the city around 500,000 € per year to fix up the city. (You’ll see a small plaque on buildings that received some of that windfall). Who is the mysterious donor? Well…no one knows. All money’s pass through a lawyer in Munich. And it’s better not to find out, or the donations will go away.
Let me share some of this lovely city with you.
The original building dates back to the 1300s, then after a fire, it was rebuilt in 1526 by Wendel Roskopf (whose hands were everywhere in Görlitz). This AMAZING building stands at the end of the Bruderstrasse (and just across from the Rathaus. In the middle ages it housed important guests. Today, it’s the home of the Silesian Museum.
The Rathaus of Görlitz starts in one corner of the Untermarkt, and stretches across with a few different facades that reflect the growth of the city. In the corner you’ll find the Clock Tower (watch out, or the golden lion in the top niche will growl at you!) The top calendar clockface shows month, day, as well as moon phases. The bottom face tells the time. Walk along the building and look up to see the shields of the Six City League.
My favorite part of the Rathaus is the staircase under the clock tower leading up to the balcony guarded by a statue of justice. Climb the staircase and pretend to read some laws… it’s a great spot for photos.
Time clearly was important to the businessmen of Görlitz, because on the opposite corner of the Untermarkt you’ll find a sundial high on a merchant house. What makes this one special? It accounts for different time zones.
The south side of the Untermarkt is lined by arcades with buildings above. Today the ground floor of the buildings house restaurants, shops, and even hotel entrances. Originally, wealthy merchants used the space to warehouse and sell their products. They lived above the shop, so to speak, in rather opulent style. You can go inside some to get an idea of the size and beauty. For a special treat, book a room at the Hotel Frenzelhof, and you can stay in one of these old buildings. Don’t want to stay? Visit their bar on the ground floor… it opens every evening.
Joining the Obermarkt to the Untermarkt is Bruderstrasse. The street is lined with shops and restaurants, like the Schlesische Schatztruhe (a store specializing in Silesian books, pottery, household items, maps, and even foods) and the Schlesische Oase (a café specializing in Silesian and Polish cuisine). You will also find the Schesisches Museum of Görlitz here. (I’m so sad that we arrived just weeks before they completed their remodel!)
The view from the Untermarkt arcade down the Bruderstrasse to the Obermarkt
Don’t miss the Baroque Haus the bottom of the Untermarkt on Niessstrasse. Go into the courtyard…ticket sales and gift shop are on the left, entry is on the right. And inside you’ll find a cabinet of wonders. The museum contains a little of everything. Furniture, musical instruments, portraits. A core of the exhibition space is devoted to Jakob Böhme, a philosopher who mingled Alchemy and Religion. The building also contains the equipment and library from the Upper Lusatian Society of the Sciences. I absolutely LOVE museums like this… something new and unexpected around every corner. A crazy design for a battery… bits and pieces from an Egyptian tomb…a ritual skull…and BOOKS! Lots of books. And the famous Historic Library Hall, which is tucked in behind a closed door (ask a security guard if you need some guidance… they are used to people getting a little lost).
Evangelische Pfarrkirche St Peter und Paul (St.Peter’s and St.Paul’s Protestant Parish Church
The church sits along the the Nesse, just outside the Market squares, but the twin baroque spires are visible from much of the Altstadt. Inside the beautiful church you’ll find the famous Sun Organ with it’s 17 Golden Suns!
Crossing the Nesse
For a fantastic view of the St Peter and St Paul church, walk down the hill to the bridge that crosses the Nesse River. Look back, and see the church…
Look to the other bank…and you see Poland. There are no restrictions for crossing, but DO carry your passport with you!
Dreifaltigkeitskirche – Church of the Holy Trinity
The Church of the Holy Trinity is one of the oldest buildings in Görlitz. (and because it started as a Franciscan monastery, it gave Bruderstrasse / Brother street its name). While it looks rather plain on the outside… the interior is amazing! You’ll find vaulted ceilings and a gothic altar. The side chapel for St Mary contains the Golden Mary Altar.
Because Görlitz retained so much of it’s original look, and because it’s relatively close to Filmstudio Babelsberg in Potsdam, directors started using the Altstadt and surrounding buildings as backdrop for their films. And then Hollywood caught on. Films like the more recent Around the World in 80 Days, The Book Thief, The Reader, and quite famously, The Grand Budapest Hotel were all shot (at least in part) in Görlitz. The city is leaning into this, and is even opening a school for production crew in the city. We took a fascinating walking tour, and came away delighted (and a bit astonished) at what we saw and learned (Wes Anderson loves to take over a certain Hotel in town, and Kate Winslet wanders the streets like a local). There are longer tours, and even bus tours (there were quite a few films made on the edge of town). See the list on Görlitz’s website here
A scene from the Grand Budapest Hotel captures the Bruderstrasse and Schönhof Court… nature even provided some snow!
Where to Stay in Görlitz
We stayed in the historic Hotel Frenzelhof. Because it’s right next to the Schönhof Court, our window looked out to the Untermarkt AND the Rathaus Clock Tower. The hotel, part of the row of Hallenhäuser, belonged to a cloth merchant, and you can feel the history. As to see the Schatzkammer (vault) that doubles as a private chapel. Tours are only available to guests, and only by appointment. Because the hotel has so few rooms, each guest is given special treatment… warmed cups and candles at the delicious breakfast! The rooms are well appointed and comfortable with modern bathrooms. Fair warning, there are no elevators! It’s all stairs. However, the owner kindly helped us with baggage. The hotel has private secured parking! Click to book a Room at the Gotikhotel Frenzelhof Here
The Schatzkammer in the Hotel Frenzelhof– Tour by appointment for Hotel Guests
Get to know Görlitz with a Tour
Take a Group Walking tour! Or go on a Scavenger Hunt
Sign up for a Private Tour with a Local Guide
I can’t emphasize enough how thorough these tours are. You get to learn about the city, but you also get insights that you wouldn’t in a big group tour.