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Görlitz: A Tale of Two Cities

Görlitz and Zgorzelec are separated by the Neisse River, and the history that created the German-Polish border. But the people of both towns are already thinking in terms of one city.

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A view from Görlitz to Zgorzelec over the River Neisse

Founded around 1200, Görlitz became the capital of the Duchy of Görlitz in 1377. In those days it was an important cloth-weaving and trade center.

The city was passed on to the Habsburg Empire in 1526, and in 1635 it was once again turned over to Saxony. Prussia annexed the city in 1815 and after World War II, the city found itself divided. One side remained in Germany and the other side in Poland, with the river Neisse river separating the two.

Görlitz um 1730

An old plan of the city from 1730

The German city continued to be known as Görlitz, while the Polish city became Zgorzelec, autonomous since 1945.

The two cities were separated as retreating German troops blew up all the bridges across the Neisse river. Several weeks later, the river was used as a border between Poland and the Soviet zone of Germany, when leaders from the Soviet Union, Britain, US and France carved up the area.

Unification and restoration

With the re-unification of Germany in 1989 and European Union enlargement in 2004, the people of Görlitz and Zgorzelec reached out to each other in a bid to join their cities culturally and economically.

Görlitzer Obermarkt mit Altstadt

A view through a window from tower to the market below

Görlitz was able to restore a lot of its buildings with money provided by an anonymous donor. The donor's contribution came to the city each spring with one condition: the money had to be spent on renovation projects.

As a result, Görlitz' Old Town boasts a lot of well preserved Renaissance, Gothic and Baroque buildings. The "Karstadt-Warenhaus," for example, dates back to about 1912 and was built by architect Carl Schumann. Today it is a department store -- one of Europe's only big department stores preserved in its original style. Another much older building is the "Frauenkirche" or Church of Our Lady, dating back to 1494.

Touched by Napoleon

Stadtsanierung in Görlitz

Renovation in the city was funded by an anonymous donor

The "Obermarkt," the main market, had served for hundreds of years as a center for trading salt and grain. The northern side is lined with Baroque houses modeled after similar merchant houses in Dresden and Leipzig. Number 29 is especially impressive. It is also known as Napoleon House because the French Emperor himself allegedly stood on its balcony in 1813 to review his troops. Today the house is home to the Tourist Information Center.

On the other end of the market stands the "Dreifaltigkeitkirche," the Trinity Church. It belongs to Franciscan friars and was constructed between 1234 and 1245. In the 14th and 15th centuries it was extended to its present form, and is now home to some of the most valuable church and art treasures in Görlitz.

At 475 meters (1,560 feet) long and 35 meters (115 feet) high, the Viaduct bridge is considered one of the largest in Germany. The bridge with its 35 arches was constructed from 1844 to 1847. It commands and impressive view over the river and links the twin cities.

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