At night it looked so different. A series of lights along the waterfront with some barely discernable buildings behind. I had no idea what it was called or what was there. The Goerlitz map showed just a few buildings beside the river and the “living house of J. Bohme”, whoever he was. I left my digs and knew where I wanted to go but there was a railroad track in the way. I figured I’d just walk across the tracks but a very fast train was coming and I just managed to leap into the grass on the other side before the train came through. I’m glad a certain person wasn’t with me at the time.
Imagine my surprise as I strolled along a side stream, over which there was a massive stone bridge, until it met with the main river Neisse.
There was another city on the other side, Zgorzelec. Once upon a time it was all the same town and it had prospered by being part of key trade routes, the Via Reggia from Kiev to Santiago and the Salt Road from Prague to the Baltic.
It’s difficult to imagine with my very limited knowledge but I would guess there’s anything between 80,000 and 100,000 in the combined towns and, come September, they will be joined as the border crossing will come down.
I couldn’t help but ponder on the stupidity of man when one day there will be a border control and, the next, nothing. What on earth is the difference and who are they stopping now? Australians without passports for one.
I’d found that out the night before so I had brought mine today but was the only one to get his passport stamped while over 100 regulars just flash theirs as they hurry pass.
Still, everyone knows you can’t trust those Aussies. I got talking to one of the guards and he was anticipating being out of a job when the rules changed.
Another aspect makes me crack up as well. In Germany it costs 600 euros for a fishing licence and you have to do a short course in marine biology. Judging by the ever increasing number of anglers setting up on the Polish side, similar rules don’t apply. I wonder if the fish have worked out which is the safe side yet. Probably not, since they’re not as clever as us.
There’s a large broad green stained copper roof on a hill so I make for that after I get across the bridge and it turns out to be in the middle of a park and it’s a square building of majestic proportions with the expected sculptures and bas reliefs on the front. It’s something to do with culture and it’s at odds with much of the rest of the town that has apparently suffered in terms of neglect.
The place is, frankly, depressing, though, in some areas, it echoes Goerlitz with some delightful baroque streets but they are more than overshadowed by the gloom of a grey, featureless concrete, peeling paint and crumbling brickwork elsewhere, victims of the Polish economy.
Mired in such mediocrity it is easy to see why a new memorial to the recently deceased Polish pope has been affixed to the bridge just where you enter Germany. I guess they want to flaunt what little they have going for them.
At one stage I hear the sound of a car approaching from behind me. Without turning around, I know it’s a car I’ve never seen yet I know the brand immediately. It’s a Trabant with it’s distinctive two stroke motor puffing blue smoke from the rear.
I’m determined to eat here though, just to day I’ve done it, and save my appetite for the last restaurant before the footbridge.
It’s a restored 1829 building that once was called the Three Wheel Mill and it’s situated on the crossing of the 15th meridian and Via Regia (Royal Route), the shortest way from Paris to Moscow. The original building dated from 1273 but, when you’re that close to the river, the floods won’t miss you and they had some fires in addition.
Though no-one here speaks English they trot out an old menu where the price is still in zlotys. I manage an order and sit back and admire the low vaulted ceiling and lovely coloured windows with local scenes and historical persons featured. It’s very atmospheric and the meal goes down well.
Then I try to return over the footbridge. No, sorry, you can’t come over here. Note the sign. “Only European Union and European Economic Union (Iceland, Lichtenstein, Switzerland)” Wow. Memo to John Howard – Note we don’t even rate above Lichtenstein.
I have to return to the main crossing, get my card stamped and then I can return.
I digress, as ever. I wandered off through the lower parts of Goerlitz. Some of the streets are truly out of a postcard factory. Imagine 4-5 storey baroque buildings lined up side by side all done in beautiful pastel shades, some with decorations.
Others, especially in the old city, narrow, cobbled and winding, with several dating back to the 1520’s and a massive church spire at the end of them. Definitely worth a look.
At the main church I went in. It was freezing. No, I mean freezing. It must literally have been 10 degrees colder. Outside I had been stripped down to my shirt but I immediately went for my jumper.
What a great place for wine storage I thought.
It was a lovely church, the organ the finest I’ve seen (no jokes please, I’ve already run them all through my mind). It was set amongst exquisite green coloured stuff made to fill in the gaps between the silver pipes with some filigree work here and there.
There were quite a few other special works, such as paintings and sculpture, but it wasn’t overkill like you get in Italian churches. Someone approached me. This was getting to be quite a habit.
It turned out to be Rudiger Buench and he was an affable young chap who offered to show me the crypt. “You can get stale in here and very cold. It’s good to have a break.” Indeed it was, the crypt being warmer than the church. Then again, everywhere other than Siberia would just about qualify in the northern hemisphere.
He showed me a 16th century much faded fresco of “Peter and Paul, but we don’t know who the other figures are.” He then enlightened me on other small carvings, very reminiscent of my East Grinstead tour. The Via Sacra (Holy Route) meanders for 341 miles (550 kilometers) through Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic connecting some of the most significant religious sites in Europe. The 15th-century Parish Church of St. Peter and Paul in Goerlitz is one of them.
Then I wandered off up through the old city. It’s a treasure. In time, tourists will come to this place but, for the moment, the buses don’t come so you have the place pretty much to yourself though there are some around. They could seriously handle 50 times more before it becomes crowded.
There are over 4,000 listed historic buildings here, my digs are in one of the lovely baroque buildings, obviously not designed originally for lifts as the lift that is there stops on every half floor so, no matter where you are, you have to walk at least half a flight of stairs. The room is comfy and, at last I have CNN again but I ended up watching the UEFA cup live. They cover all three games and flit from match to match to it’s full on entertainment.