Tucked away in the country's easternmost corner, Görlitz's quiet, narrow cobblestone alleys and exquisite architecture make it one of Germany's most beautiful cities. It was almost completely untouched by the destruction of World War II, and as a result it has more than 4,000 historic houses in styles including Gothic, Renaissance, baroque, rococo, Wilhelminian, and art nouveau. Although the city has impressive museums, theater, and music, it's the ambience created by the casual dignity of these buildings, in their jumble of styles, that makes Görlitz so attractive. Notably absent are the typical socialist eyesores and the glass-and-steel modernism found in many eastern German towns.
Görlitz was once a major commercial hub, profiting from its location on the Via Regia, the main trade route between Moscow and Barcelona. Almost every building in the old town was once used either in the textile trade or as a brewery. Although fires routinely ravaged the town, the Potsdam Agreement dealt Görlitz its harshest blow, reducing the size of the city by a third, by ceding everything east of the Neisse River to Poland. As a result, Görlitz fell into small-town oblivion after World War II. Today it remains a divided city, with the Polish border running through the middle-a stark reminder of the past
The Gothic Dicker Turm (Fat Tower) guards the entrance to the city; it's the oldest tower in Görlitz, and its walls are 5 meters thick.
The Karstadt, dating from 1912–13, was Germany's only original art nouveau department store and inside, the main hall has a colorful glass cupola and several stunning freestanding staircases. The store dominates the Marienplatz, a small square outside the city center that serves as Görlitz's transportation hub. Next to Karstadt is the 15th-century Frauenkirche, the parish church for the nearby hospital and the poor condemned to live outside the city walls. z The department store is closed, but the city is looking for a way to keep it open to the public. Don't expect to be able to go inside in the near future, though.
The richly decorated Renaissance homes and warehouses on the Obermarkt (Upper Market) are a vivid legacy of the city's wealthy past. During the late Middle Ages the most common merchandise here was cloth, which was bought and sold from covered wagons and on the ground floors of many buildings. Napoléon addressed his troops from the balcony of the house at No. 29.
Dreifaltigkeitskirche (Church of the Holy Trinity) , a pleasant Romanesque church with a Gothic interior, built in 1245. The interior of the church houses an impressive Gothic triptych altarpiece. The clock on the thin tower is set seven minutes fast in remembrance of a trick played by the city guards on the leaders of a rebellion. In 1527 the city's disenfranchised cloth makers secretly met to plan a rebellion against the city council and the powerful guilds. Their plans were uncovered, and by setting the clock ahead the guards fooled the rebels into thinking it was safe to sneak into the city. As a result they were caught and hanged
On Verrätergasse (Traitors' Alley) , across the square, is the Peter-Liebig-Haus, where the initials of the first four words of the rebels' meeting place, Der verräterischen Rotte Tor (the treacherous gang's gate), are inscribed above the door. The Obermarkt is dominated by the Reichenbach Turm,a tower built in the 13th century, with additions in 1485 and 1782. Until 1904 the tower housed the city watchmen and their families. The apartments and armory are now a museum. There are great views of the city from the tiny windows at the top. The massive Kaisertrutz (Emperor's Fortress) once protected the western city gates, and now houses late-Gothic and Renaissance art from the area around Görlitz, as well as some impressive historical models of the city. Both buildings are part of the Kulturhistorisches Museum. z The interior of the Emperor's Fortress will be closed until 2013
The Untermarkt (Lower Market) is one of Europe's most impressive squares, and a testament to the prosperity brought by the cloth trade. The market is built up in the middle, and the most important building is No. 14, which formerly housed the city scales. The duty of the city scale masters, whose busts adorn the Renaissance facade of the Gothic building, was to weigh every ounce of merchandise entering the city and to determine the taxes due.
The Rathaus and it’swinding staircase is as peculiar as its statue of the goddess of justice, whose eyes—contrary to European tradition—are not covered. The corner house on the square, the Alte Ratsapotheke (Old Council Pharmacy), has two intricate sundials on the facade (painted in 1550).
The Biblical House is interesting for its Renaissance facade decorated with sandstone reliefs depicting biblical stories. The Catholic Church banned religious depictions on secular buildings, but by the time the house was rebuilt after a fire in 1526, the Reformation had Görlitz firmly in its grip.
The Kirche St. Peter und Paul (St. Peter and Paul Church) is one of Saxony's largest late-Gothic churches, dating to 1423. The real draw of the church is its famous one-of-a-kind organ, built in 1703 by Eugenio Casparini. The Sun Organ gets its name from the circularly arranged pipes and not from the golden sun at the center. Its full and deep sound, as well as its birdcalls, can be heard on Sunday and Wednesday afternoons.
Zgorzelec. In 1946 everything on the eastern side on the Neisse River was ceded to Poland and Görlitz lost its eastern suburb. A walk across the river is like a trip back in time. Zgorzelec certainly isn't as well off as Görlitz, but there are some nice patrician houses and wide parks whose decay resembles the state of Görlitz in the 1980s. For a stroll through, cross the Altstadtbrücke (Old Town Bridge) behind the Peterskirche, turn right, and walk approximately a kilometer (half mile), then cross back into Germany at the former official border crossing.
The Landskron Brewery is Germany's easternmost Brauhaus and one of the few breweries left that give tours. Founded in 1869, Landskron isn't very old by German standards, but it's unique in that it hasn't been gobbled up by a huge brewing conglomerate. Görlitzer are understandably proud of their own Premium Pilsner, but the brewery also produces good dark, Silesian, and winter beers. Landskron Hefeweizen is one of the best in the country.