24.02.2015, by MONA JAEGER, GÖRLITZ (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung)
PASTOR, YOU MUST know, are there angels? He jumped up, went to a shelf, grabbed a thin brochure, and opened it. Here, says Minister Hans-Wilhelm Pietz, pointing to a photograph of the Church of the Holy Trinity, the roof was leaking, it was almost raining. And there, at the Lutherkirche, the facade was washed-out.
Four houses of God are maintained by the Lutheran church in Görlitz, between 100 and 700 years old. From the crypt to the tower there is always something to bang, grind, or sand. Sometimes this costs 500 euro, sometimes 5,000. In any case more than the 2,500 congregants contribute to the Sunday collection. “Alone, we would be overwhelmed with the neverending renovations.” But there is indeed him. Or her. An angel, at least, Father Pietz is certain.
He must be a pretty fat angel. He distributes half a million euros in the city every year — €511,500 to be exact. Not an angel as such, but a wealthy entrepreneur or someone with a rich inheritance, the Görlitzers speculate at the bakery counter or at their Stammtisch. Who else would have had so much money left for twenty years that he could simply donate to the city?
For it’s been the same game in Görlitz every year for that long: always in the first quarter, without announcement, half a million euros (formerly a million marks) find their way into the municipal coffers. It has always been a different date. This year it was 18 February. Whether the money will come next year, the donor does not reveal.
Anyway, he doesn’t reveal anything. His name is not known. Nor whether he is from Görlitz. But he knows exactly what he wants: for his money to be used for the preservation and renovation of the Old Town of Görlitz. This patron doesn’t want to eliminate deficits, but to restore gables, wall paintings, and maintain historical graves. There is much to do in Görlitz. It is true that during the Second World War, what’s now the easternmost city in Germany, nestled in a curve of the Neisse river, was barely shattered.
But in the decades following, nothing was done in terms of preservation. Under Socialism, the city rotted until the city fathers decided to pursue a plan to blow up large parts of the old town in the late 1980s. The holes for the explosives had even been drilled. Then the fall of the Berlin Wall happened, and the thought arose of returning the city to its old splendor.
That costs money — lots of money. Since the reunification of Germany, the Stiftung Denkmalschutz (Historic Monuments Preservation Fund) has been active across the GDR, especially in Görlitz. In many restored houses in the old town hang plaques reminding of this. There is a second in some of them — on it says: “The object was sponsored by the Old Town Foundation Görlitz.”
For the angel, donor, however, he will remain unrecognized. But what exactly happens with his money, he still wants to know. He has therefore appointed a lawyer who regulates everything for him. The attorney talks with the city’s employees, hands over a folder with pictures of the renovated buildings every year to his client, and sits on the board of the same Old Town Foundation. It was founded in 1995 when the city received the first donation. They avoid speculation about who the money comes from: the foundation may be a bit afraid of driving away the patron. Angels are shy.
Who would know better than Pastor Pietz. He also does not want to speculate. He just smiles and gives thanks. “It’s enough for me, we’re not alone.”
The good is obviously contagious. At one of the past church services a collection was taken for a German language course for asylum seekers. Görlitzers donated 456 euros. Demographic change, emigration to the West, yes, yes, says Pastor Pietz, that’s all there is. But still the mood was good.
It’s as if the anonymous donor were not just donating his money, but also his confidence that something can be achieved if tackled head-on. And he is so selfless that he threatens his attorney with the fact that the flow of funds would dry up if anyone tried to uncover his identity. Just an angel.
One who hovers through the narrow streets of Gorlitz, not just in God’s mission. He also knocked at the door of the Silesian Museum and the old exchange building. And he also stood before Nino Babarto’s door a few years ago. He opened the good spirit and said, “Good to see you.”
Babarto was just about to open his second hotel in Gorlitz. The man from Naples had come to Berlin in the ’80s and ran a supermarket there. When, after the fall of the Wall, the competition became too much for him, he went to Gorlitz. On one of his first days in the city, he read in a shop window an article describing the future of Gorlitz: old, rotten, forgotten.
Babarto wanted to oppose it. He renovated a house in the best spot of the Old Town, made its first hotel and a restaurant. For repairing the roof and refreshing the façade, the Old Town Foundation gave money. Soon the small house shone again, and the rooms were well booked, the tables in the restaurant often reserved. Every year more tourists come to Görlitz to the Neiße.
Thus Nino Babarto could soon think about opening a second house. He also made a renovation grant request to the Old Town Foundation; This time he got around 15,000 euros. Approximately 90 applications are submitted to the Foundation each year; 70 of these are usually granted. The city wants to promote as many individual projects as possible and prefers to give small sums. In addition, the mixture must be right: not only churches are favored, but also urban buildings and above all private properties.
No one should feel disadvantaged. Over the past twenty years, 1,100 objects have been financially supported, more than 100 million euros has been invested in the building fabric. With the subsidy from the Old Town Foundation, builders can apply for higher grants from other money pots. Without these grants Görlitz would probably look different today. Many buildings would be rehabilitated, but one precious thing or another would probably have been lost forever. “We all win,” says the hotel owner from Italy.
The city even won an Oscar on Monday night; in fact even four. The film “Grand Budapest Hotel”, which tells the adventurous story of a concierge in a famous European hotel, was filmed in Görlitz over three months. The Jugendstil department store at the Marienplatz served as a backdrop for different years. The European and American film producers have already moved to Görlitz, nicknamed “Görliwood”, to set up their spotlights and cameras as the city is so well preserved and now, thanks to the Foundation, glitters and shines once more.
Also hotel owner Babarto is full of fire and flame, because finally something is happening in the city. And this because it’s old and scruffy. “Görlitz is a pearl!” Soon the high season begins, until then he wants to get four original Italian lamps for the entrance of his second house. And the old greeting to the pilgrims, which he discovered while renovating the wall in the stairwell, he wants to have a retraced. “In Görlitz everything is old, just like in Italy. That’s why I feel so at home here.”
Nino Babarto is quite optimistic about the future. For when the city flourishes, it attracts more tourists, who in turn leave more money in Görlitz. And the hotel and restaurant operators then also pay more taxes. And the hubbub surrounding the Oscar ceremony will probably further stimulate the city.
If he had so much money, Babarto says in a firm voice, he would also donate it to the city. So he tries to make his small contribution. He, too, is grateful. He has promised to give six more people a job, and one of his employees is disabled. Nobody wants to spoil the good spirit.
But talking to him personally would at least be nice. That’s it, says Hartmut Wilke. He heads the city’s office for urban development, so is very close to the donor — one might think. But he too reasserts “We do not know him.” The idea of setting up a monument to him was quickly rejected. Whom would it depict? He could not be given to the honorary citizenship either. After all, his name is unknown.
“I would be just as confident about the positive development of Görlitz if there were no donations from now on,” says Wilke, the city planning director. In this case, they were able to test this confidence in one past year. It was January – and they had not yet received any money. Then February. Then March — still no money. Rumours spread. Did the donor perhaps want to punish the city for disbursing the funds wrongly in his eyes? Or perhaps he had even died? Then the half-million finally came, on a Tuesday. It was April 1st. So we do know something about the anonymous donor: He has a sense of humour.