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Culture

The Generous Giver in Görlitz

Every year in spring the small city of Görlitz gets a giant cash windfall. The only stipulation: the money goes towards city renovation projects and the identity of the donor remains anonymous.

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Before and after pictures of the renovation project sponsored by Mister X in Görlitz

For eight years now, the procedure’s been the same. When the weather warms up, a fax arrives in the town hall announcing a hefty donation for the city on the Polish border.

No one knows who the wealthy philanthropist is or why he’s so generous. All anyone knows is that the contribution – this year it’s 511,116 euro – is to be used for renovating the city’s historic buildings.

It’s like a fairytale. The mysterious donor transfers the money into the city’s coffers without anyone knowing who’s behind the generous gift. "Each time it’s a new wonder," says city spokesperson Kerstin Scholz. There’s no guarantee from one year to the next, "we’re surprised and grateful every time" the money arrives, she said.

Two conditions

For Mayor Rolf Karbaum, it’s the best time of the year. He can play the Easter Bunny and distribute the money to the town’s citizens and help improve the city. There are only two conditions: the money must be spent exclusively on the renovation and restoration of Görlitz’ historic city center, and the donor must remain anonymous.

In mid-April a committee will meet to decide how the half million euro pie will be divided. The mystery donor is also present when the decision is made – as always incognito. A lawyer from Munich speaks on his behalf.

Mayor Karbaum takes the rule of the arrangement seriously. "We don’t try to find out who the source of this generous gift is. We simply accept the donation gratefully and gladly each year."

Mister X

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Mayor Karbaum leaves the speculation about the benefactor’s identity to others. In a town of 62,000 news of the annual donation spreads fast, and stories quickly unfold about the possible identity of Mister X.

Some say the donor is a rich gentleman from Liechtenstein. Others say he’s a wealthy industrialist from Lower Saxony, who made a fortune manufacturing chocolate. And still others say the philanthropist has died and that a foundation was established in honor of Görlitz.

The city council prefers not to investigate the benefactor’s background. "The good spirit would leave us, if we did not respect his wishes", says Scholz. Not even the mayor knows the generous giver’s identity.

Whoever the anonymous donor is, he certainly has a special affinity for the old city center of Görlitz. The little border town has some 4,000 buildings listed on the national historic registrar. Until German unification, all of them were in serious disrepair. Thanks to Mister X, many of them have been restored to their former glory.

No small sum

Since 1995, the mysterious philanthropist has provided four million euro for restoring centuries old buildings and houses, a sum the city could not have afforded to spend on its own.

The people of Görlitz, who have benefited greatly from the money, would like to thank the donor, but he has forbidden anyone from tracking him down, or he will stop his cash gifts in the future.

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