Zgorzelec: Across the Bridge!

One of the unique things about Görlitz is that it’s right across the bridge from Poland and one can walk between the two countries without any kind of border check. The cities of Görlitz and Zgorzelec enjoy a close partnership and cooperation. This has not always been the case, however, and one of the things that I find so attractive about living in this city, the ability to cross easily & quickly into a neighboring country, was not always a given.

Today there are two bridges connecting the cities Görlitz and Zgorzelec, which are divided by the Neisse River. There is a pedestrian bridge in the old town (Altstadtbrücke) and a motor bridge near the city park (Stadtbrücke, or Pope John Paul II Bridge). When you walk or drive across, you might not even notice that you have just crossed an international border if you don’t pay attention to the language on the signs. Since December 2007, when Poland joined the Schengen Area, there have been no border checks at these crossings. I still remember when I first came here shortly before that time and had to have my passport stamped each time we drove across the bridge! The pages would have been full in no time.

Today you can walk across the bridge without showing a passport!

The old town pedestrian bridge has only been reopened since 2004 – prior to that, the motor bridge was the only connection between the two cities. If you wanted to cross from one city to the other, you needed a visa. This is hard to believe nowadays, when we sometimes go several times a week across the bridge into Zgorzelec. But for the duration of the GDR and since WWII, there was very little interaction between the people living on either side of the Neisse River.

Prior to WWII, the area of Zgorzelec was simply a part of the town of Görlitz and a part of Germany. This is why you may notice that Zgorzelec does not seem to have a typical town square. The town of Görlitz, because of its location right on the Neisse River, was divided by the Oder-Neisse Line – an agreement reached at the Potsdam Conference, which drew new borders for Germany and Poland along the Oder and Neisse rivers. Before WWII and the new borders, the area of Zgorzelec was an eastern suburb of the city of Görlitz. At one point, there were as many as seven bridges joining Görlitz with the suburb to the east – they were all blown up by the retreating German army in May 1945.

Prior to the end of WWII Zgorzelec was an eastern suburb of Görlitz

Today, I can’t imagine Görlitz without its partner city Zgorzelec. To be able to simply walk across the bridge into another country and culture is a real privilege, and one that makes both cities richer for it. In my experience, many people who live in Görlitz like to eat at the many great restaurants along the river in Zgorzelec and some even buy gas, cigarettes or groceries in the neighboring town. But very few seem to venture further into Zgorzelec. I made it my personal mission to discover the best things to see, do and eat in our partner city. I have not been compensated for any of these recommendations but just hope that you can also discover the charm of Zgorzelec as I have.

Walk or bike along the Neisse

On the Polish side of the Neisse River there is a great path for walking or biking and it goes both north and south of the Old Town Bridge. The path is well-maintained and you will encounter many joggers, bikers and those strolling leisurely. You can take the path to the right (south) after crossing the old town bridge and walk to Dom Kultury, or you can turn left (north) and be treated to some amazing views of the Peterskirche and the Neisse panorama.

Take a walk with me along the Polish side of the Neisse River in Zgorzelec in my Tiktok video!

Visit the Hall of Fame

The Dom Kultury is an impressive monument built to honor the two emperors Wilhelm I and Friedrich III and was finished in 1904. At the time it was the Upper Lusatian Memorial Hall (Oberlausitzer Gedenkhalle) and inside was a “hall of fame” containing statues of important men like the aforementioned emperors, the six federal princes who united Germany, and Prussian leaders like Bismarck, von Moltke and Roon. The high domed ceiling was modeled after the Reichstag in Berlin and on the facade of the building there are two groups of figures symbolizing war and peace. Nowadays the building is a cultural center – the statues are no longer there, but it is worthwhile to take a look inside of this impressive building, check out an event or sit and enjoy the park next door where they have open hair concerts in the summer.

Enjoy Polish cuisine

My favorite restaurant to take guests to directly on the river is Piwnica Staromiejska, it’s got friendly service and a great view of the Peterskirche and the Neisse River!. To start you should enjoy a bowl of żurek, a soup made of soured rye flour and typically served with sausage and a boiled egg. For your main course my favorites are the pierogi, dumplings that can be either boiled or fried – my favorite filling is ruskie (“Russian”) with potato and cheese. Another interesting thing to try is the breaded "Zgorzelec" cheese.

Eat Polish street food

In the warmer months you can enjoy the most popular Polish street food at the FoodPark in Zgorzelec, just across the old town bridge and on your left. What is this famous Polish street food? It's called zapiekanka and it's an open-faced sandwich made from a baguette, topped with sauce, cheese and other toppings similar to a pizza. It's been a popular street food in Poland since the 1970s.

Dine at a Palace

If you are visiting by car you can visit the Palace Łagów (Leopoldshain) for a delicious Polish meal or even stay the night there. The palace is 3 km from Zgorzelec and was built in 1581 by Carl Ender von Sercha, who was one of Jakob Böhme's patrons. Albrecht von Wallenstein, a major figure of the Thirty Years' War stayed at the palace.

Drink hot chocolate

Though the outside may not look very enticing, inside is a cute little hot chocolate cafe called Pijalnia Czekolady Royal Berry. The owner, Alexander, is friendly and will give you a taste sample of all of their types of chocolate – he can do this in German, English or Polish!) and walk you through the extremely tough decision of which sort of chocolate to take in your hot chocolate and which potency you want. Some of the sizes/potencies allow you to mix your own chocolate with a cute little whisk. They also have a variety of delicious fresh desserts available in addition to coffee and ice cream in the summer. Just don’t blame me for your sugar coma!

Enjoy Polish beer

There are lots of places where you can enjoy a beer in Zgorzelec – the most prevalent varieties are Żywiec, Lech, Tyskie and my favorite – Książęce (you will need to drink a lot of beer before you can pronounce this word correctly)!

Jedno piwo! One beer!

But one thing to note is the special way that they sometimes drink their beer in Poland – it depends on the time of year. If you order piwo z sokiem malinowym you’ll get a glass of beer sweetened with raspberry syrup and served with a straw! And in the winter, you can order piwo grzane, which means your beer will come hot and filled with spices like cinnamon and cloves. It may sound unusual but you shouldn’t miss the chance to try one of these unique ways of enjoying Polish beer while you are here!

I’m still discovering lots of things to see and do in Zgorzelec – there is a lot more there than the row of restaurants you see right on the Neisse River and a lot of good reasons to go exploring further in. We are so lucky to live so close to another country, to be able to travel across the border so freely and to benefit from having Polish people who bring their culture and their ideas to our city. I look forward to discovering more in Zgorzelec and as I do, I’ll be sure to share it with my visitors and with you!

Further reading