I continue to be amazed by the many interesting and beautiful places that surround Görlitz, and Frýdlant in Czech Republic is no exception. We recently had a friend from the U.S. visiting us and he wanted to “check off” as many countries from his bucket list as possible. I told him that Görlitz was the perfect place for that, because we are so close to Poland and Czech Republic. Crossing Poland off the list was simple, since it only required a walk across the bridge. But we didn’t have a lot of time to go to Czech Republic, so I started looking at the map and saw that there was a small town called Frýdlant just a forty minute drive by car from Görlitz (about 30 km). I noticed that there was a castle and a brewery there, but I knew nothing else about the town before arriving. Sometimes it’s more fun that way! But I discovered that Frýdlant is a charming little town with a castle full of treasures, and the Duke who owned it became embroiled in a feud with Görlitz in the 14th century resulting in a gift to the city.
Frýdlant (sometimes also called Frýdlant v Čechách to avoid confusing it with the other Frýdlant nad Ostravicí in eastern Czech Republic) is a town in the district of Liberec in Bohemia, near the border of Poland with a population of about 7,600. The area, which is near the Jizera Mountains and on the Smědá River, was probably settled beginning in the 6th century by Sorbian tribes from Lusatia, while the castle in Frýdlant made its first appearance in the history books in the 13th century when it was acquired by Rulko of Bieberstein. The castle sits perched atop a hill above the river in the center of town, and has known many different owners over the course of time.
Important trade routes crossed through the area, including those to Görlitz and Lusatia. From Görlitz one could get on the Via Regia, or Royal Highway, which ran west-east through the Holy Roman Empire. Bieberstein had a moat and curtain walls built to further protect the castle, but it was still raided several times during the Hussite Wars (1419-1434). The originally gothic castle was rebuilt into the style of a Renaissance chateau.
The castle in Frýdlant changed hands many times over the centuries due to death, politics, assassination and intrigue. Some of the famous people that owned it were the families Bieberstein and Redern, or Albrecht Wallenstein, a prominent military leader during the Thirty Years War who was later assassinated for treachery. But one of the owners worth mentioning here, because of his relevance to the history of Görlitz, is Friedrich von Bieberstein. He was a baron and one of the most powerful men in the kingdom of Bohemia, he also owned the castles Landeskrone and Tauchritz. In 1349 von Bieberstein became involved in a feud with the city of Görlitz.
The cause of the feud was a warrant for the arrest of a thief and general mischief-maker named Nitsche von Rackwitz. Görlitz wanted to lock him up, and they knew him to be a vassal of von Bieberstein, so the city sent a delegation to Tauchritz to demand the delivery of the criminal Nitsche, but von Bieberstein refused to hand him over. The delegation decided enough was enough, and they rode with an armed crew to the castle Frýdlant, where they suspected Rackwitz was staying, and they stormed the castle to capture and arrest him. Von Bieberstein anticipated this move, however, and he met the armed crew there and ordered his guards to slay them as enemy invaders. Two men from Görlitz lost their lives at the castle, the rest of the men ran but the guards caught up with them in the square and left five more dead.
Naturally, this angered the people of Görlitz, and they demanded some recompense for the lives lost in the pursuit of justice. After much negotiating, von Bieberstein agreed to pay Görlitz 200 Shock (the coin currency used at the time), so that a church could be built for the salvation of the seven slain men from Görlitz. That church is the Frauenkirche, which today stands beside the Kaufhaus in Görlitz. Read more about the Frauenkirche here.
Today the castle Frýdlant (Zámek Frýdlant) is open for tours and contains an incredible collection of original decorations, furniture and historical artifacts since it escaped damage or raiding after WWII. If you tour the castle you will see the Countess’ and children’s rooms preserved with decorations and contents, an exhibit on Albrecht von Wallenstein, an armory containing thousands of historic weapons dating from the Hussite period up to the 19th century, the chapel of St. Anne which has both a Catholic and Protestant altar, the uniforms of staff at the castle, an impressive antique pipe collection, and a working kitchen. I am used to visiting castles that are beautiful from the outside, but quite empty inside as a result of war and looting, so I was quite blown away by the historical treasures this castle contains. The castle interior can only be visited during a guided tour – we took a tour in Czech language but were given a script to read along in German and English. I can only show you pictures of the exterior of the castle and the kitchen, as photography wasn’t allowed inside. You will just have to go and see it for yourself!
The town square in Frýdlant is small but charming, lined with colorful houses and the town hall building which was erected in 1893 according to plans by the Viennese architect Franz Neumann. Located inside of the town hall is a city museum with archaeological and historical exhibits. The square is named after Thomas Masaryk, the first president of Czechoslovakia after independence from the Austro-Hungarian monarchy in 1918. The town of Frýdlant, with a majority German population, became part of the newly-founded country. Masaryk was one of the first politicians to voice concern at the rise of Hitler, but he didn’t live to see the Nazi occupation of his country in 1938. After WWII ended, the Germans living in the area were expelled and replaced by Czech settlers.
Just south of the town square is the Church of the Holy Cross (Kostel Nalezení svatého Kříže), which was built in the 16th century by Italian architects contracted by the Bieberstein family, and today has a mixture of architectural styles due to renovations over the years. The church contains the tombs of the family Redern.
North of the town square you will see a small half-timbered home hidden away on Zahradní, a tiny side street. This, one of the oldest buildings in town, is called the Bethlehem House and inside is an amazing construction – a moving, mechanical nativity scene. The man who created it, Gustav Simon, dedicated 60 years of his life to the construction. Today you can visit for a very small fee, make sure to peek underneath to see how all the figures are moved by string. Every so often they have to crank the machine to wind it up again. Watch the video below to see the nativity scene in motion:
We enjoyed a traditional meal and Czech beer at the restaurant U Wéwody fridlantského near the town square, and also stopped by Pivovar Frýdlant, the historic castle brewery that was built at the request of the Emperor Ferdinand I and has been restored today to a microbrewery. You should stop here not only to taste their Albrecht beer, named after castle occupant Albrecht von Wallenstein, but for the great view of the castle sitting atop the hill.
On the way out of town we stopped at an observation tower, Rozhledna Frýdlant, which you can climb for a nice view of the town and the area. While we were there they were having some kind of marathon and at the tower they were grilling and playing live music. There were many hiking trails here and people out enjoying the unusually sunny and warm autumn weather.
I was really impressed by this small town that I had never heard of: a castle stuffed full of beautiful treasures, an intriguing historical link to Görlitz, and all just a forty minute drive away! Discovering places like this in the area are a big part of why I absolutely love living in Görlitz and can’t wait to discover more.