The end of the lignite industry in the Görlitz region resulted in a severe crisis for the local economy. When the main lignite-fired power plant was shut down in 1997, around 6,000 jobs were lost. To make matters worse, other sectors such as precision optics, the textile industry and electrical engineering also began to shrink. Many people were forced to leave the city to find work. The population has shrunk from 72,000 citizens in 1990 to just under 57,000 today.
“We have had to make great efforts to create a positive new outlook,” says Andrea Behr, managing director of the local business development agency (EGZ). In short, the city had to make a virtue out of necessity. The first dramatic change to the landscape happened when an opencast mining hole south of Görlitz was flooded. It became the Berzdorfer See (Lake Berzdorf), an area of 960ha – one of the largest lakes in Saxony. The city has plans to develop it into a local recreation area, returning the former industrial site back to nature with areas for leisure and entertainment such as campsites and restaurants. Behr sees huge investment potential for the lake and the urban area in terms of tourism and lifestyle. “Within the last year, two more hotels have opened,” she says. There are now 47 hotels, inns and guesthouses in Görlitz, and the number is growing all the time.