The new Prague?

29th July 2003, Comments 0 comments

Not quite — but Goerlitz is just right for that weekend away, writes Marius Benson.

Goerlitz's Obermarkt

A trip to Goerlitz, three hours south-east of Berlin, on the border with Poland, was prompted by an effusive description from some expat friends.

"Like Prague, without the tourists."

Expectations were moderated when I told a West German friend I was heading there.

"Why?" was his simple response.

That reflected the near-universal West German reluctance to go east for pleasure. Twelve years after the wall came down, it is still in place as far as most West Germans are concerned when they're planning a holiday.

This is their loss because there is much to enjoy in the old East, and Goerlitz is well worth a weekend's visit.

Goerlitz looks back on more than a thousand years of history. First mention of it comes in 1071. Located on one of the principal trade routes that ran from Spain to Kiev, it prospered through most of its history.

Mind you, it prospered a little unevenly. Straddling the Neisse River, the west bank is distinctly nicer.

This is the side where the successful merchants built their stately homes and where the historic streetscapes of the old town can be found today.

On the other side of the river is the noticeably less nice, and less prosperous half of town.

Today the Neisse is an international border and that far shore is Poland.

It can be worth walking across the river, simply for the diversion of walking to another country — if you have a visa — but there's not a lot on the other side, unless you're planning to finance your trip by stocking up on cheap cigarettes.

The German side of Goerlitz is not only more prosperous, it is growing more so by the week.

After years of treading water in the old DDR, Goerlitz’s city renewal scheme has restored the town to its medieval and later glory — and those places not yet refurbished soon will be.

A local explained that smart investors from Germany's west were harnessing their investment funds to a very generous public purse aimed at turning Goerlitz into a major new tourist centre.

And in that aim they are succeeding admirably. The target audience is the weekend tourist from Berlin and other points west.

The town offers them a good range of accommodation and a choice of excellent traditional German kneipes and restaurants. All very “gemuetlich” (cosy.)

These are set in historic buildings, typically with low vaulted ceilings, fireplaces and service that is friendly and prices that are on the low side; main courses cost around DM 10 to 15.

The fare is traditional, German and regional, with dishes like schweinbraten mit sauerkraut and kartoffelpuffer mit apfelmus.

For the serious regional food fan recommended is the schlachtteller, literally the "slaughter plate". It features wellfleisch (pork wrapped around a large lump of pork fat) with blood and liver sausages, sauerkraut and potatoes.

Very few come back for seconds on that one.

The local brew is Landskron, excellent in light or dark.

Between time in your romantic hotel and dining in various cellars and bars, the town offers cobbled-stone strolls through streets lined with buildings from the 11th century onwards.

Particularly recommended is the Museum near the Rathaus. A beautiful building in itself, it features glassware and other artefacts from the area.

And if you're lucky, the guard will take you to the Museum's library, a book-lined haven where you can feel the brightness of the Enlightenment coming to a less rational world.

If you come to Goerlitz, you will follow in the footsteps of Napoleon, although it's not recorded if he ordered the Schlachtteller.

Come to Goerlitz now and you will find history in the streets of the old town, refreshment in the pubs and restaurants, diversion in the antique and craft shops — just the right backdrop for that romantic weekend out of town.

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