The towns of Görlitz in the East and Essen in the West are competing to be named European capital of culture in 2010, when it's Germany's turn to stand in the spotlight.
The medieval town center of Görlitz makes it an attractive candidate
When the European Union grew from 15 to 25 states in 2004, the bloc's culture ministers decided that from 2009 two cities would be designated European capital of culture -- one from the old member states and one from the new. In 2010, a Hungarian and a German town are supposed to fill the spot.
European capital of culture is a coveted title. Those towns lucky enough to win it cash in on EU funds they can use to restore city centers and finance cultural programs. In Germany, the winners also receive state and federal funds. The German candidates, the industrial city of Essen and the medieval town of Görlitz, could both a financial influx to good use.
Three countries meet
Three cultures, languages and nations -- Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic -- meet near Görlitz. The city's leaders see the town as a model for the process of European integration. Görlitz applied to be a capital of culture in conjunction with its sister city Zgorzelec, across the Neisse River in Poland.
Essen is a monument to Germany's industrial past
"Trans-nationalism, multiculturalism and bilingualism," said Markus Josten, spokesman for the Görlitz 2010 campaign. "That is, we value bilingualism; we want to build bridges, bridges to the east, bridges to our neighbors. And where if not here do we have the opportunity to become a laboratory of European cultural integration."
Essen plans to represent the entire industrial Ruhr Valley Basin, and the area's 53 communities are all part of the application. The Ruhr Basin is the third-biggest urban agglomeration in Europe, and around 5.3 million people from 140 countries live there.
Pantokratoras Church in Patras, Greece
Swiss author Adolf Muschg, who was on the German jury, expressed surprise at how the city exudes optimism for the future instead of just the dust of its industrial past. Dormant coal mines have become cultural venues. Bicycle paths run past old industrial complexes that have been converted into museums. "Change through culture -- Culture through change" is Essen's slogan.
Hungary has already named the town of Pecs as its choice for 2010. But Germany couldn't decide between the top contenders, so the committees from Essen and Görlitz have to wait for an independent jury to make the choice in Brussels in April. Meanwhile, the Greek port city of Patras is this year's European capital of culture. The festivities begin with an exhibition about Leonardo da Vinci on Jan. 10. Luxemburg and Sibiu, Romania have been chosen for 2007, Liverpool and Stavanger, Norway for 2008, and Linz, Austria and Vilnius, Lithuania for 2009.