On Germany’s Polish Border, Görlitz is a Movie-Making Capital
By Matt Martella
Görlitz is a city that is rich in many different histories.
Located on the Eastern border of Germany and Poland, and thankfully unperturbed by World War II’s destruction, Görlitz has preserved eastern Germany’s history through its culture and architecture.
Anja Schliess, who works for city marketing and tourism, writes that her city, in union with neighboring Polish city, Zgorzelec, have proclaimed themselves to be one “European City.” Schliess added that this mixing of cultures shows “how people from two different nations are able to overcome borders.”
Görlitz’s old-fashion atmosphere and culture have attracted the attention of many filmmakers throughout the last seventy years, so much so that Görlitz has become one of the best and most prestigious locations for shooting films in Europe, rightfully earning the name “Görliwood” for its significance in the history of cinema.
Starting in the 1950s with the German classic “Der Ochse von Kulm,” Görlitz has been the filming location for over one-hundred films, Oscar-winners and big-budget Hollywood movies included.
In many ways, Görlitz plays as much of a character as the actors do, performing a variety of roles such as Berlin, Munich, Paris, and even New York City respectively.
Due to its preservation of multiple generations of artistic architectural styles, Görlitz is the perfect city for a filmmaker who wants authenticity in their period-piece film.
A particularly big attraction is for filming World War II movies, Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 hit film “Inglorious Basterds,” 2014’s “Monument’s Men” starring George Clooney and Matt Damon, and “The Book Thief” starring Emily Watson and Geoffrey Rush were all filmed in Görlitz.
Other famous actors like Kate Winslet in “The Reader” and Ralph Fiennes and Bill Murray in “Grand Budapest Hotel” have all shot movies in Görliwood, making Görlitz probably the most likely place apart from LA for you to have a lucky encounter with a Hollywood star.
Wes Anderson chose the Art Nouveau building in Demiani Square to be the titular hotel in his Oscar-winning film, “Grand Budapest Hotel.”
The Art Nouveau building has been a department store since 1912 and although it is not always open to the public, the chance to catch a glimpse of the many galleries and massive, decorated atrium alone is worth the visit.
You can run up and down those famous stairs that the actors used during Grand Budapest Hotel!
Paul Clemence, a Brazilian who photographs architectural highlights all over Europe said, “Gorlitz was a very rich architecture experience, interesting details everywhere, a feast for the eyes and the camera. The Kaufhaus department store for sure a major highlight.
“I think usually when we see a once grandiose setting in not such grand current state we tend to imagine it in its former glory. And in this case, thanks to the Grand Hotel Budapest having filmed there, we had already an inkling of what was that spatial grandeur was like.
The contrast between its former glory days and the current decay was fascinating! And it was very insightful to see how the film production transformed the building since what we saw on the screen was very different than what is there now. I think the Gorlitz visit was inspiring on many levels, hitting a lot of different cultural notes.”
Görlitz is also an award-winning city in the category of film, but not in the way you might think. On top of being the location for many Oscar-winning movies, Görlitz has won the “European Film Location of the Decade” award.
The award was presented by the European Film Commissions Network, and Görlitz was picked over other famous cities in Italy, Spain, Austria, and Greece.
Neisse Film Festival in Görlitz
If you grow tired of reminiscing about the films of old and are looking towards the future of cinema, on top of providing a setting for some of cinema’s most iconic films, Görlitz also showcases upcoming films and filmmakers at the Neisse Film Festival.
In addition to seeing films before they are released to the public, the Neisse Film Festival hosts plenty of parties and concerts in Gorlitz to keep participants busy between screenings.
For film fans looking to participate in this five-day festival, they should expect to do some traveling as Görlitz is just one of many cities across Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic that hosts this event.
Seeing the Sights in Görlitz, Germany
For those not captivated by the “movie magic” that enchants the streets of Görlitz, the city also serves as one giant time-capsule of many generations of human creativity that is undoubtedly worth exploring.
The 4,000 buildings in Görlitz span over 500 years of art styles, including Gothic, renaissance, baroque, and art nouveau.
Located in the Untermarkt (under market), the Town Hall is the center of administration and jurisdiction in Görlitz.
The Town Hall dates as far back as 1369, and on the tower is the coat of arms of Matthias, King of Hungary and Bohemia. Beside the Town Hall is the statue of Justia, the Goddess of Justice, who symbolizes the city council’s free jurisdiction.
Additionally, the Town Hall tower is climbable, allowing tourists an amazing view of the city when they make it to the top.
The Beautiful Court (Schönhof) in the Old Town of Görlitz is the oldest Renaissance townhouse in Germany and used to serve as a brewery and a guest house for sovereigns.
Now, the building is open to tourists and is decorated with a wooden roof, wall paintings from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, and plenty of displays of Silesian culture courtesy of the Silesian Museum.
Also located in the Old Town area of Görlitz is the Old Town Bridge, which has been destroyed and rebuilt
countless times since its inception way back in 1298. If you’re looking for a quick trip to Poland during your stay in Görlitz, then crossing the Old Town Bridge might be your best bet as it connects to the Polish city, Zgorzelec.
Alstadtfest is the biggest festival of the year. The festival, which occurs every year on the last weekend of August, includes plenty of eating, drinking, singing, and dancing, and attracts hundreds of thousands of people (both locally and abroad).
The Silesian Christmas market is another important time in Görlitz. Anja Schliess describes the event: “Craftspeople and traders present commodities and delicacies from Silesia, Saxony, Poland, and Bohemia.
A lot of music is played on the historical stage every day.”
Germany may be known for its beers, but the Landskron brewery located on the banks of the Neisse river offers beers exclusive to Görlitz.
For those eager to learn while drinking their Landskron beer, the brewery, which recently celebrated its 150th birthday, offers tours of the facility as well.
Typical Silesian dishes are made with poppy seeds. One popular Silesian dessert is the mohnstriezel, a poppy seed cake covered with crumble. The most popular and tiniest sweets native to the city are the love-pearls (Liebesperlen), which are colored “dragees” served in baby bottles.
The Natural side of Görlitz
Surfers, sailors, and swimmers alike should go to Lake Berzdorf to enjoy the clear water just minutes away from the Old Town, while bicyclists, skaters, and walkers will likely get good use out of 10-mile (16 km) long trail that wraps around the lake. This trail also offers plenty of stops, including bathing sites, playgrounds, and a nature reserve.
Find out more about visiting Görlitz, Germany at their tourism website.
Matt Martella is a writer living in Worcester, Massachusetts and has written for the UMass Daily Collegian and GoNOMAD. He has an undergraduate degree in English from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He loves to travel and has lived as a student in Dublin, Ireland and Oxford, England. He looks forward to exploring more parts of the world (specifically in Europe and Asia) and aims to make a profession out of writing about his experiences.