The clocks are right on time in Görlitz. The 15th meridian runs straight through this Saxon town, so local time here corresponds exactly to Central European Time. But seeing as that is not the case anywhere else in Germany, one could also say the clocks run differently in Görlitz.
And that comes a lot closer to describing the way visitors feel in this town, which has yet to put itself on the German map either as a motorway exit or as a “place of manufacture” on any mass-produced merchandise.
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The town of Görlitz is depopulating at a frighteningly rapid pace. Its population has shrunk from 100,000 twenty years ago to half of that today, leading its town councillors to think on how they could make its streets bustle again.
The solution they came up with was to persuade young Poles from the nearby towns to settle on the German side of the border. One incentive is the possibility of spending a week for free in a luxury apartment in Görlitz.
The Probewohnen (Trial Residence) programme was launched a couple of weeks ago. It's run together by the Dresden Technical University and the Görlitz municipal housing authority. A number of apartments have been renovated and, with funds donated by sponsors, completely furnished, household appliances included. These apartments are now being made available to young Poles.
One of the first Poles to move into such a flat in Görlitz was Agnieszka Jarosz, a 20-year-old from Zgorzelec on the other bank of the Neisse, or Nysa. "We thought they’d put us into some tatty apartment in a run-down tenement. Nothing of the sort. Everything was new, straight from an Ikea store, and the building is in a quiet, peaceful neighbourhood," says Ms Jarosz.
Anne Pfeil, who oversees the project on behalf of the university of Dresden, explains that Probewohnen is a research project. "Young Poles get a chance to settle in Görlitz and in return they share their thoughts with us," she says. This feedback will be used as a basis for transforming Görlitz’s town centre so that it will suits residents’ needs better.
One potential deterrent factor for Poles willing to move to Görlitz is the cost. Monthly rent for a flat of some 80 square metres is about €500, plus another €200 euros in utility bills. "It’s not cheap, but I wouldn’t return to Zgorzelec now," says Emil who has been living in Görlitz for two years with his wife and two-year-old child. It is precisely such Poles that the people behind Probewohnen are counting on.