Bautzen - City of Towers

Bautzen, known as the city of towers, is a lovely hill-top town in eastern Saxony with a population of about 40,000 people. Known for its Bautz’ner Senf, there’s a whole lot more to this city than mustard!

Bautzen is located on a a plateau above the Spree River

Medieval Old Town

The old town of Bautzen is extremely picturesque, located on a plateau above the Spree River. The compact and well-preserved medieval old town is filled with beautiful old buildings including churches, towers, and the oldest preserved waterworks in central Europe. One of the members of the Six City League of Lusatia, Bautzen was an important location of trade and culture in the region.

Bautzen was first mentioned in the year 1002 as being the capital of a West Slavic tribe called the Milceni. There is a legend about the name of the city. It’s said that a Bohemian duke and duchess were traveling through the area when the duchess suddenly went into labor on the spot where Bautzen is located today and gave birth. Her husband rushed over to ask her “Bude syn?” or will it be a son? in Bohemian.

Home to the Sorbs

Bautzen is home to an ethnic group called the Sorbs

Bautzen is widely known as an important cultural center for the Sorbs, a West Slavic ethnic group. Also known as Wends, the Sorbs inhabit a region called Lusatia, which lies in present day Saxony, Brandenburg and Poland. The Sorb population speak the Sorbian language and so in Bautzen you will see most signs in both German and Upper Sorbian (there is also a variant called Lower Sorbian). It’s estimated that about 30,000 people use the Sorbian language today and there are several bilingual Sorbian-German schools in Saxony and Brandenburg, as well as schools were Sorbian is taught as a foreign language.

Efforts have been made throughout Germany’s history to Germanize the Sorbs. Laws were passed banning the Sorbian language from schools in the 19th century. The Sorbian culture and language are still at risk of extinction and they struggle to keep their heritage alive today.

Today in Bautzen you can visit the Sorbian Cultural House opened in 1904 or the Sorbian Museum, with a stunning collection of Sorbian traditional costumes, among other things.

Full of tradition

There are many Sorbian traditions that can still be observed today in the region, one of which is Easter egg decorating, a Slavic Easter tradition in which the eggs are beautifully and elaborately decorated through different techniques such as etching or wax.

During the "Birds' Wedding" children place plates of sweets on the windowsill as a gift to birds

Another tradition is the Easter Riding, a horseback procession in which the resurrection of Christ is proclaimed. These men riding atop decorated horses can be observed each Easter in Ostritz.

And finally, there’s Birds’ Wedding, which I’ve written about previously, where children dress up as attendees of a bird wedding and the bakeries sell sweets that look like birds and nests. Read more about this tradition here.

Located on the A4 east of Dresden, the city of Bautzen is about 50 km away from Görlitz and easily reachable by train. My tip is to take a walk along the outer edge of the Spree near Friedhofskapelle Protschenberg for fabulous views of the old town.

Further reading