Bautzen: The Sorbs in Saxony

Just 40 Kl from Görlitz in German Saxony lies Bautzen, the town famous for the fact that all political prisoners were sent here at one time, and which celebrated its 1000-year-old existence just a few years ago. Although heavily damaged during World War II Bautzen has been well restored but it still retains the air of a small country town.

Although a small town it is the capital of Upper Lusatia, the region inhabited by the West Slav Sorbian minority since the 7th century. It is a typical German small town with a castle dating back to the 10th century, an interesting church, a town hall, and a main street lined with colourful old houses.

It may be but a short hop but Bautzen is a world apart from Görlitz by virtue of the fact that it is the centre of Sorbian culture and the seat of the Sorbian nation. It would take more than a few posts to summarise the history of the Sorbian nation but it helps to know that the modern nation was founded by Moravians and Bohemians who had separated from the Catholic Church, long before Luther made his break from Rome. Both Catholics and Protestants live peacefully together although Catholic women wear white caps whereas Protestant women wear black, so one feels there may be some small tension there. Sorbs can be found across Central Europe, in Czechoslovakia and Poland.

The Sorb culture was suppressed by the Nazis during World War II but the end of the war saw the territory under the control of the Soviet Union, and it was this that was a factor in helping them re-establish their culture in 1945. As the communists wanted to prove they were better rulers than the Nazis, they made special efforts to re-instate the traditions and language of this Slavic minority with the result that today, the town is bi-lingual, the Sorbians dress as they did over 100 years ago, publish their own newspapers, have their own radio, perform in and support Germany’s only bi-lingual folk-theatre, educate their children in Sorbian traditions, speak their own language, and have been effective in ensuring that road signs and official notices in the area are in both German and Sorbian. The cultural museum in Ortenburg Castle tells the story of this Slavic people whose language closely resembles that of Czechoslovakia.

Traditional Dress of a Sorbian Woman

Bautzen is unique in other ways too, being positioned on a granite plateau above the Spree river and from the Friedensbrücke Bridge there is an awe-inspiring panorama of the 23 medieval towers that dominate what remains of the town wall. In the town centre stands, or leans, another tower, the 1000 year old Reichen Tower, which is 1.44 metres off the perpendicular. Visitors should climb to the top for a view of the town centre, rebuilt in Baroque style after the 30-years war in the 17th century.

And after all that sightseeing, the essential thing is to visit the famous Wjelbik restaurant with its splendid stained-glass windows for a typical Sorb meal. This may be served by the owner dressed in her 102 year old traditional Sorb costume who will take great delight in explaining every dish to you, from the dumplings in horseradish sauce to the home-made cinnamon ice-cream, or charming waitresses in national Sorb costumes.

Bautzen and Görlitz once formed part of a six-city alliance which wielded power over the whole of Upper Lusatia. That power has waned, but composers, castles, architecture and arts, are once more energising the life of this beautiful province and its power to charm the visitor is once again its greatest attraction.

Still a few interesting ruins around

Featured Image by Rico Lob (Pixabay)

Tourist information for Bautzen: Touristinfo Bautzen/Budyšin, Hauptmarkt 1, 02625 Bautzen: email: www.bautzen.de

Sorb Restaurant: Wjelbik, Kornstrasse 7, Bautzen (tel: +49 (0)35 91 4 20 60)