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Bautzen and the Sorbs

April 22, 2011

Written April 24

Friends and Families ,


Easter is a great holiday in Germany because spring weather is starting and it's a full four-day weekend. We were faced with the question of where to go. We no longer seek out long trips, so that limits our horizon. About a four-hour drive is our preferred distance. From Frankfurt, that could have gotten us to several nice places but Pommersfelden, and Franconia generally, is not so centrally located.

We'd been south and west many times. This time we chose northeast, into the old "East Germany". We'd read somewhere that the town of Görlitz, past Dresden, might be the most beautiful city in Germany. We had our doubts, but it was worth a try. Besides, Görlitz is the most eastern city in the country so we would be able to say we'd made it to the border.




Our drive up was reasonably uneventful: two side trips on back roads to avoid autobahn traffic, but that's pretty normal on a holiday weekend. About lunchtime, we decided to stop in Bautzen, another old city in the region and family home of our friend Dieter. He and wife Marilyn recommended it. It turned out to be a great recommendation.

From the outside, it looks like a "standard" fortified medieval European town, with Ortenburg castle hanging on a cliff over the small Spree River. Inside, there was a nice collection of old buildings, restored since the German reunification a couple of decades ago. The architecture reminded us of our old turn-of-the-19th-century apartment in Kiev, or perhaps even older. Not every building had been brought into the 21st century, but we were not going to volunteer for another project.

We enjoyed our lunch, looking up at Ortenburg Castle. The castle grounds include several buildings, many with an ominous past. In addition to serving as a town fortification, it was also the town prison almost a thousand years ago. More recently, Ortenburg was headquarters of the Gestapo and, later, of part of the Soviet equivalent. Today, the grounds are open to tourists, although a more modern prison is still found on the other side of town.

Our highlight inside was the Sorbian Museum. "Sorbian" you say? Who are they? It turns out that the Sorbians are a slavic culture, complete with their own language, music, history and culture and Bautzen is their traditional "capital". This settlement has been the westernmost slavic community for hundreds, if not a thousand years, dating from the era when national borders did not really exist. Slavic Bautzen was well west of Germanic Breslau, for example. In fact, it was only the post WWII resettlement of this part of Europe that saw peoples forced to relocate behind national borders. (I recently read a book about central Europe in these terrible times. It is called "Bloodlands", by Timothy Snyder, a sober but fascinating read.)

Our visit to the museum was educational and the best part, for our Easter weekend, were the displays of egg painting, including examples being done by four local women. The ladies explained some of the Sorbian story for us and we bought an egg from each of them. The first of our souvenirs.


We were in a bit of a hurry to get to Görlitz and see "the most beautiful city in Germany", so we cut our Bautzen stop off short. We may even want to come back!


John and Marianne



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