In mayoral elections held on Sunday, the AfD candidate Sebastian Wippel, 36, took 36.4 percent of the vote, followed by Christian Democratic Candidate Octavian Ursu, 51, who won 30.3 percent of the vote. Green Party candidate Franziska Schubert, 37, came in third place with 27.9 percent of the vote.
However, because none of the candidates won an absolute majority, there will be another round of elections on June 16th. On Sunday, 58.6 percent of the city's 56,000 residents voted.
The results show a political rift in the population. The far-right populists here won 32.9 percent of the votes in the Bundestag (parliamentary) elections in 2017 and were 6 percentage points ahead of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
AfD candidate Sebastian Wippel. Photo: DPA
'An Anti-European signal'
Stephan Meyer, parliamentary managing director of the Saxon CDU state parliamentary group, spoke of a “choice of direction for the whole of Germany”. The issue was whether Görlitz would continue to be shaped by “pro-European people” or send out an “anti-European signal”.
However, AfD candidate Wippel, a 36-year-old police superintendent, presents himself as European and sees Görlitz as a gateway to eastern Europe.
“The border situation is more of an opportunity than a burden. The inhabitants on both sides of the Neiße river can also grow together through partnerships,” said Wippel, adding that he has already met with the mayor of Görlitz' sister city of Zgorzelec, Poland.
Green Party candidate Schubert, 37, told The Local on Friday that she would offer another alternative to the “beautiful, European city”
“Görlitz deserves to have a friendly, open-minded image,” said Schubert, a member of Saxony's parliament who studied international relations. “With an AfD mayor from the right, we will lose people, students, enterprises and reputation.”
Her campaign also included cross-border cultural partnerships, upgrades to infrastructure and public transportation, and attracting and starting new jobs, including for the city's younger population.
Schubert told DPA she was considering whether to run again on the second ballot but added “I'm aware of my responsibility” to prevent the election of an AfD mayor.
The AfD is often viewed as a party of contradictions, with some members critical of the European Union to the point of calling for Germany to withdraw from it.
Shining in the spotlight
Görlitz has also received many positive headlines. The municipality, which calls itself European City, often shines in the spotlight – quite literally.
Ever since Hollywood used it as the as a backdrop for productions such as The Grand Budapest Hotel and Inglorious Basterds, it has borne the name Görliwood.
Walking through the historic old town feels like being in an outdoor architecture museum – with all the essential styles from Gothic to Art Nouveau on display, and over 4,000 cultural monuments.
The city is therefore very popular with tourists and specifically recruits western German senior citizens so that they can spend their retirement in Görlitz at comparatively low rents.
Görlitz' charming centre brings in many tourists, and film directors. Photo: DPA
Crime is an important topic in the election campaign. In a border town like Görlitz, it is more common than elsewhere, even twice as high as the national average, according to Wippel.
Especially with the abolition of border controls after Poland joined the EU in 2004, thefts and drug-related crime have skyrocketed. Wippel believes that “those in Berlin” don't care: “We are the victims of a great political goal”.
In the election campaign he advertises with the slogan “It's better to live with borders”. Ursu also wants to score points with the topic of security. He can be seen on billboards with video surveillance cameras.
This article was updated on Monday, May 27th at 10 am.
Rift – (der) Riss
Mayoral elections – (die) Oberbürgermeisterwahl
Border situation – (die) Grenzlage
Election posters – (die) Wahlplakate