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(after some more digging ...)

To start with my latter question: "how do I get the original behaviour back?": As I already wrote in a comment to sideburns above: start firefox using its own menu item is one way. Another way is to not configure Firefox to "open new windows in a new tab instead".

Regarding my question "why": When using the "Web browser" menu item, whatever browser you have configured as your "preferred browser" is started using the command "exo-open --launch web-browser". Apparently, if you have configured Firefox to open new windows in a new tab instead, exo-open won't start a new window if one already exist - not even if the existing window is in another workspace - but start a new tab in the already existing window - moving it first if it was in another workspace.