View of Zgorzelec from my hotel room on the German side of river Neiße
My first ever visit to Poland took place in summer 2008 and took 30 minutes. It consisted of a walk across the new bridge from Görlitz to Zgorzelec and along the street by the river bank. The second visit, again to Zgorzelec, was extended to one and a half hours and took place in December 2010, when I spent some days in Görlitz in Advent season for the Christmas market. Zgorzelec certainly is not the best of places for a first impression of Poland! But then it all started with a trip to Kraków for the VT Euromeet, and I discovered my affection for Poland. The rest is history, as they say…
2010 - note the empty grass patch behind the mill
2017: The reconstruction of the baroque square by the bridge
In September 2017 I briefly returned, again just for a walk across the bridge from Görlitz, and discovered some pleasant changes.
The area right behind the bridge, which had been empty grassland in 2008, has been rebuilt with reconstructed baroque houses matching those on the river front.
Even completed with a Saxon post column.
The new square is not yet accessible but will soon be. It will embellish the entry to Zgorzelec notably.
From the Polish side of the river you have the best panoramic view of old Görlitz, with the Church of St Peter and Paul as a crown in the skyline. A photo opportunity that should not be missed.
Once a suburb of Görlitz, the quarters east of the river were cut off the city centre when Neiße river became the new border between Germany and Poland in 1945. New settlers from further east in Poland moved in during the following years, not necessarily because they wanted to. Zgorzelec became a separate city but did not develop much of an identity. Even after 50, 60 years many of its inhabitants do not feel at home here.
Zgorzelec is a residential and industrial town with large new communist blocks and only a few streets with pre-war architecture. It hardly has any 'centre'. Some pre-war buildings have already been restored but the general appearance is still rather greyish and dull as soon as you have left the riverfront.
With the opening of the borders after the revolutions of 1989, Poland's membership in the EU and the Schengen agreement that abolished border controls, a new era has begun. Suddenly the former border towns find themselves in the middle of Europe. The administrations of Görlitz and Zgorzelec are cooperating in many respects - remember their joint application for Cultural Capital 2010.
The disadvantages of a location on the border next to a state with better incomes and a stronger currency are also clearly visible. Certain businesses have settled near the border crossings that attract clients with Euros in their pockets: shops that sell cheap alcohol and cigarettes, and of course red-light establishments - even in the pretty riverfront street with its preserved baroque houses.
But there are also some restaurants and beer gardens that look rather nice, have good beer (I got acquainted with those brands in Krakow), cheap food and a fine view. So far I have not stayed long enough in Zgorzelec to have a meal there, though.
This new bridge has been built in a historical location. Already in the middle ages a wooden bridge connected Görlitz with the suburb on the eastern river bank. In the 16th century it was substituted by a stone bridge. Damaged and rebuilt several times, the bridge was finally destroyed by soldiers of the German Wehrmacht at the end of World War II. There was no immediate need to install a new bridge here, as the new Stadtbrücke further upstream served for traffic between DDR Görlitz and Polish Zgorzelec. Only in 2004 the new pedestrian bridge between Zgorzelec and the old town of Görlitz has been completed. It has become a symbol of modern Europe growing together.
Nowadays you simply walk or drive across the bridges without controls or anything, only the different language on signs shows you are in another country. People work and shop on both sides of the border. Being a child of the Cold War who grew up 30 kilometres from the Iron Fence, and the Neiße border was as far away as the moon to us. I am still amazed by this miraculous development.
Looking over from Görlitz, the most striking landmark is the concrete complex of the mill by the river. It is still known by its German name Dreiradenmühle. Its silo tower is standing next to the pedestrian bridge.
Visitors are greeted by a large mural on the silo: an abstract head in red, blue and yellow. I admit I have not yet figured out its significance but it is for sure a pleasant splash of colours on the grey block.
It might be a symbol of the divided and reunited city, with the blue line being the river Neiße. But this is just my guess!
The row of houses along the river front next to Altstadtbrücke is about all that is left of Görlitz's old suburb on the right Neiße bank. Some of those houses are baroque or even older and well restored. They shine in bright colours now.
Jacob Böhme House is one of the attractions along the river front. The philosopher and mysticist Jacob Böhme, one of the most famous citizens of Renaissance Görlitz, owned a house in the suburb beyond the river. He lived here from 1590 to 1610. The house is well restored. It is now a museum that tells about Böhme's life and work. The house next door has also been repaired and refurbished. Since 2007 it hosts the Lusatian museum.
Better enjoy the nice facades and overlook the not so nice ones, the cheap tobacco shops and the red light businesses.
Ulica Ignacego Daszyńskiego is the name of the street by the river leads into the town centre. Here we find late 19th and early 20th century houses, most in urgent need of plaster and paint.
In weather conditions like these, hardly any city manages to look beautiful, but if the town is already grey, low clouds make it downright depressing.
It was a dull grey December day when I explored Zgorzelec further, with snow on the ground and temperatures just above zero. When I set out and crossed the bridge into Zgorzelec it was still dry but after a while it began to rain, and hard. I had planned to walk further and explore more of the town but this was so uncomfortable that I barely made it to Dom Kultury and then back across John Paul Bridge to Görlitz. I apologize for the somewhat grumpy undertone of this report. These conditions were indeed unfair.
Zgorzelec has its share of Jugendstil (art nouveau) architecture, just like Görlitz. Architects were working all over town before World War I, we find architecture of the same quality as over in Görlitz. Some of the art nouveau houses are already well restored. Keep your eyes open. They might not be spectacular, nevertheless they are a pleasant sight among all that grey-brownish post-war plaster.
A restored art nouveau house in what must be the city centre.
The town hall of Zgorzelec is a former residential house from the late 19th century un the corner ul. Warszawska / ul. Boleslawa Domanskiego. The style must be defined as neo-renaissance, some elements like the gables and the tower-like oriels recall Saxon palaces of the 16th and 117th century. The triangular ground enforced the shape with the narrow facade towards the street crossing.
In a couple of places in the streets and also in the park behind the city hall I spotted Christmas trees. They had no lights on them but were decorated with large bows in many colours. They added a little colour to a grey town on a grey day.
Nice Gründerzeit architecture along the park. This must have been a 'better' neighbourhood before the war.
These people on the first floor must love colours!
Miejski Dom Kultury now serves as, and has been renamed as, the Municipal House of Culture. The huge building in the park south of the town centre was erected in 1898 - 1902 as the Oberlausitzer Ruhmeshalle (Upper Lusatian Glory Hall) and Emperor-Friedrich-Museum. The purpose of the building was the glorification of the Emperors Wilhelm I and Friedrich. The huge dome was designed after the model of the Reichstag in Berlin. The sculptures on the main facade depict the terrors of war and the blessings of peace. From the end of World War II it has been used by the city of Zgorcelec as cultural centre. It is used for exhibitions, concerts, theatre and cinema. The architecture is a typical example of the Wilhelminic era, i.e. the reign of Emperor Wilhelm II. (If you want my personal opinion... It is a monster!)
Since the rain slowly soaked me despite my raincoat, I decided not to continue but return to Görlitz and my hotel for dry clothes and some warmth. I walked back across John Paul Bridge. This bridge further upstream from the old town is the only crossing for cars between central Görlitz and Zgorzelec. Before the war it used to be known as Stadtbrücke. In 2006 it has been renamed after Pope John Paul II. This border crossing has been in use already in DDR times. There is still a border control or customs station, which also seemed manned, but thanks to Schengen there are no controls any more.
Looking back from John Paul Bridge, This would be the first impression for any visitor who arrives by car from the German side The border checkpoint is still there but cars do not stop there any more and there are no controls.
The large brick building on the left is a school, by the way.