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The reunification and remaking of Görlitz

Part Polish, part German, this city on the Via Regia bears the marks of many cultures and political philosophies



The City of Görlitz, which is built on both sides of the River Neisse, was divided into a Polish part, Zgorzelec (ca. 36,000 inhabitants), and a German part, Görlitz (ca. 63,000 inhabitants), after the Second World War. And from 1945 to 1989 the two communities developed independently of each other.

But with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the political revolution that brought the east-west barrier down, the two sides of the city have come together.

With the planned eastern expansion of the European Union, the task for the future is the European City of Görlitz-Zgorzelec. The city is located at the eastern most point of the Federal Republic of Germany, in the Free State of Saxony, and at the most westward point of the Republic of Poland.

The economic and social circumstances of the inhabitants of the divided city developed very differently.

Founded in 1071, the city still retains its special character, nestled as it is in the romantic Neisse Valley. The gorges and plains of the Neisse Valley, the original relief inside and outside the city boundaries and the natural vegetation complexes, some of which remain today, gave the city both space and limits for development, and helped define economic and cultural uses for recreation and leisure.

A prominent rock base in the north-east of the city is taken to be where the town was founded, the Slavic village of "Villa Gorelic." This is now known as the historic old town, where many important trade routes once crossed, including Via Regia and Amber Road. The castle and St. Peter's Church still stand.

Settlement spread outwards from the Neisse, westwards into the Nikolaivorstadt suburb and, in the late 16th century, to the east.

The city of cloth and dye specialists started to rise to prosperity in the 13th century as a flourishing trade centre along the Via Regia. Steady industrial development and rapid city expansion then took place during the 19th century.

Strong, fortified walls, within which wealthy families of merchants settled in magnificent town houses, became too restrictive for the developing industries and their additional buildings during the 19th century. The centre moved southwards, where the city's new appearance was characterized by shopping and residential streets, public buildings, parks and restaurants.

The city was connected to the grid maintained by the Saxon and Prussian Railway Companies. Brown coal mining also started close to the city. New districts were constructed, creating pleasant residential areas in the middle of generous park complexes.

Görlitz survived the Second World War almost without damage, but it was divided along the Neisse. Once the GDR had been founded, the city's appearance suffered with the introduction of a residential housing construction program right outside the city during the 1970s. The subsequent trend among inhabitants to flee the old town to new and modern residential blocks left behind vacancies and desolation in the valuable, historic buildings of the old town in Görlitz.

The reunification of the two German states in 1990 gave Görlitz a new chance to use subsidized redevelopment programs to halt the desolation. Redevelopment, refurbishment and modernization of the city centre have resulted in inward migration from the younger areas around the city.

The revival of the historic buildings goes hand in hand with a more gradual economic revitalization. 
The medieval city structure, which has been preserved almost entirely, contains approximately 4,000 valuable individual monuments from the Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Classicist and late 19th century eras ("Gründerjahre" - years of rapid industrial expansion).

The German reunification also brought a phase of economic transformation to the district of Görlitz. Industry and trade disappeared from the city in the following years, although there is settlement around the city periphery. The problems of restructuring are expressed in almost 23 per cent unemployment and in constant migration. Existing structures and open spaces in both parts of the city have considerable potential for a joint development of the city.

A century ago, Görlitz gained the reputation of being the Garden City of the East with its numerous public parks and beautiful greenery. The short distances between the dense city area and the special, inherently individual, natural landscapes around the Neisse led to their development as recreational and leisure areas to the west and the east. These recreational areas, the industrial wasteland from the recent past and the subsequent development in the regions around the city, particularly mining, open up far-reaching possibilities for city development.

The renovation of the still intact building structures from the Renaissance, Baroque, late 19th century, Art Nouveau and modern epochs and also the park structures constructed in the 19th century, allow a vision in which both parts of the city are linked together in terms of city development, culture, education, tourism and the economy. Pedestrian, bicycle, rail and water transport infrastructures, which originally worked very well in the city, as well as numerous restored buildings, baths, and refuges close to the Neisse, ideal for anyone seeking rest and recuperation, have been preserved in some cases.

Abandoned production plants are awaiting new uses.