A journal of political, social, and other important, possibly even somewhat related affairs, including but not limited to: Central European Society, The European Union, HC Kometa Brno, American Politics, Film, and Beer.

16 July 2010

Görlitz and/or Zgorzelec

The small town, or rather towns, of Görlitz and Zgorzelec straddle the Neiße river on the German-Polish border, and was a historically important town in Oberlausitz. For the vast majority of its history, Görlitz was administered as a single city, generally by various Saxon or Prussian nobles. Like many medieval towns, it is full of legends about lazy smiths making deals with the devil (in this case disguised as a black knight) and how on cold nights you can still hear his hammer. (Our guide, an old friend of your correspondent's traveling companion, tells the story magnificently.) However, due to its relatively nonstrategic location, the town has a rich, and fairly well-preserved, downtown. Architectural sights ranging from Gothic to an immense, beautiful art-nouveau department store line the streets. Quinten Tarantino shot parts of Inglourious Basterds here, and upon arrival, the reasons are obvious.

The great tragedy of this beautiful corner of Europe is that many of these beautiful buildings lie empty, or nearly so. The department store is four stories high; now, only the foyer is being used as a perfume and cosmetics shop. A small town cannot expect Hollywood Nazi-kitsch every year (regardless of how wonderful that might be for the rest of us), and so despite the desires of these town's (dwindling) residents, Görlitz needs something a bit more tangible to get its economy rolling again. In this respect, it is a microcosm of the problems the former East Germany faces. (See here for an absolutely amazing must-read discussion on this phenomenon.) Home to the excellent Silesian Museum, which manages ably to alternate between the glorious and the mundane of the city's history, Görlitz will need more than a proud history and filmmakers to keep it afloat.

What's true of the German side is even more difficult for the poorer, less glamorous Polish side, though to be fair, lodging is cheaper and food is still excellent. Polish attention to restoration has not been extended to smaller towns as it has been in Wrocław or Kraków, and the communists, characteristically, built low-quality apartment buildings on the Polish side of the skyline, embarrassing the city below. The theme of these recent travels seems to be one of constant squandered potential, and a looming feeling of an inevitable impending decline. And it's sad, because as our guide (a transplant himself) pointed out, these towns would be great places to be. They are clean, well-administered, and attractive. In the case of Görlitz-Zgorzelec, it's a border town without all the typical downsides of that prejudiced term, and many opportunities, if only the market can be found for them.

On to Legnica, or Liegnitz!

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