Work and live as if there were no border. Communicating in two languages. This was the wish of the two city parliaments in 1998 when they declared Zgorzelec on the Polish and Görlitz on the German side of the Neisse River to be European Cities. But did their vision become reality? Where did the European City stand in the year of the city’s 950th anniversary?
An example of living together were Sebastian and Magdalena Zielińska König. He from Bavaria, she from northern Poland met in Görlitz over 10 years ago and stayed. Here their children could live both languages and get to know the cultures of both countries. When Magdalena bought the ingredients for her beet soup at the market in Zgorzelec, she brought a piece of Polish homeland to her family’s plates. Teacher Agnieszka Korman awakened enthusiasm for her Polish neighbor at her students with creative lessons. She accompanies a generation that is open to the other country and that can no longer understand some of the widespread prejudices of older people.
Even if only a few people in the doubled-city can still remember the central turning point in 1945, it still has an impact. One day before the capitulation, the German Wehrmacht blew up all bridges connecting Görlitz with the eastern part of the city across the Neisse River. A symbolic anticipation. For shortly thereafter, the river was declared the new demarcation line and weeks later all 7500 German residents were expelled from the now Polish part of the city.
They were not the only ones. A whole 40,000 forced evacuees crowded into the western part of the city on the Neisse River, thus earning Görlitz the title of “big city”. The historic city center as well as the magnificent Wilhelminian style houses were all crammed with refugees. While in the eastern part of the city, now called Zgorzelec, it was not until much later that Polish people ventured into the abandoned houses of the German “ghost town”. This circumstance gave Zgorzelec an exciting interregnum: the city became home to thousands of Greek civil war refugees for two decades.
The history of one side remained foreigness to the other for a long time. Despite the conclusion of a “peace treaty” in 1950, separation and distance remained dominant. Even after the visa requirement between the neighboring states was dropped in 1972 and the border became more permeable, many of the residents on either side of the Neisse River did not dare to cross the rebuilt city bridge to their neighbor. Some of them still do today.
Their children, grandchildren and the newly settled feel this heritage and yet have developed their own way of dealing with it. It is characterized by curiosity. About the other history, language and culture. And they are driven by the prospect of actually creating a common entity called Görlitz/Zgorzelec on the new foundation of Europe.