City contours Leipzig
Green art city with an industrial past
What makes Leipzig so special? Is it the trade fair city’s long tradition as a trade hub, adventures outdoors, or perhaps its colourful art scene? Our author Tanja Grevismühl explores Leipzig’s classical highlights and adds some you are not likely to find in a travel guide.
By Tanja Grevismühl
On the tracks of the historic trade city
Not only did Johann Wolfgang von Goethe drop in at Auerbachs Keller; he also immortalized the wine tavern in “Faust”. | Photo (detail): ©picture alliance/Bildagentur-online/Schoening Leipzig numbers among the oldest trade fair locations in the world. Shaped by international trade, its history is also reflected in the historic buildings in the city centre crisscrossed by a complex system of passageways. Today the magnificent facades and rows of stores like Speck’s Hof and Barthels Hof stand where traders from all over the world once hawked their wares from unwieldy carts. Mädler Passage is home to Auerbachs Keller, a historic wine tavern frequented by Goethe as a student which he later used as the setting for his play Faust. The impressive and history-rich architecture of the arcades makes them a lovely place to dive in an explore even in bad weather.
The Kunstkraftwerk turns art into an experience. | Photo (detail): ©picture alliance/dpa/Waltraud Grubitzsch The rustic, brick facade of the Kunstkraftwerk on in west Leipzig hides a colourful world. Step through the door in the plain walls to embark on a fantastic journey where works and stories by well-known artists are retold through elaborate light and sound installations. Art becomes an experience for all the senses in the truest sense of the word when the flecks of colour from Van Gogh’s work come alive to dance across the brick work to musical accompaniment and the rabbit from Alice in Wonderland disappears behind the next pipe. The ever-changing installations are definitely worth more than just one visit.
Leipzig and the Peaceful Revolution
Every year, the Leipzig Festival of Lights commemorates the Monday demonstration on October 9, 1989, which is considered the beginning of the Peaceful Revolution in the GDR. | Photo (detail): © picture alliance/dpa/Alexander Schmidt The traces of divided Germany’s history are still visible in Leipzig. The city played a key role in the reunification of East and West Germany with the peaceful Monday demonstration of October 9, 1989. On that day, 70,000 demonstrators congregated to call out “Wir sind das Volk!” (We are the people!) in a show of civil disobedience against the armed security forces of the GDR regime. Secretly captured in blurry film footage by photographer Siegbert Schefke and journalist Aram Radomski, the visually stunning scenes of that night soon flickered across the nation’s television screens, clearly revealing to all that East Germany’s political leadership had failed. The permanent exhibition in the “Zeitgeschichtliches Forum” (Forum of Contemporary History) is a vibrant recording of the events of this historic day. And every year on October 9, the city invites visitors to the Light Festival, commemorating the Peaceful Revolution with numerous light installations. In the evening, the people of Leipzig gather on Augustusplatz, the windows of the Panorama Tower light up in the shape of an “89” and thousands of tea lights create a very special atmosphere.
A symphony for the ears and the soul
The place for classical music fans: Leipzig’s Augustusplatz is home to the Gewandhaus (left) and the Opera House (not in picture). | Photo (detail): © picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild/Jan Woitas Augustusplatz at the heart of the city is home to the Leipzig Gewandhaus as well as the Opera House. Although its musical history goes back to the 15th century, this iteration of the Gewandhaus opened its doors in 1981 as the successor to two earlier buildings on this location. Designed by architects Rudolf Skoda, Eberhard Göschel, Volker Sieg and Winfried Sziegoleit, it was the only dedicated concert hall planned and built in the GDR. To this day, visitors to the imposing great hall with its impressive acoustics enjoy hearing the internationally renowned Gewandhaus Orchestra under the baton of conductor Andris Nelsons transform the scores of Mozart and Beethoven into impressive worlds of sound and the music of visiting artists. The building is captivating in its elegance, with a huge painting by Sighard Gille on the foyer ceiling, appropriately titled Gesang vom Leben (Song of Life), that has surely enchanted more than one or two visitors with its practically infinite details.
A cycling tour of the industrial area
Today, the old cotton spinning mill offers a home to numerous creative minds. | Photo (detail): ©picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild/Jan Woitas The districts of Plagwitz and Lindenau in west Leipzig are known for their industrial history. The impressive industrial architecture has been preserved to this day and given a new lease of life by the alternative art scene. The rich history of the age is especially visible in the old cotton mill, which was the largest in Europe at the beginning of the 20th century. While cotton is no longer spun there today, artists of all kinds spin their creative ideas in the building’s numerous studios and galleries. Under the “From Cotton to Culture” slogan, they pursue a wide variety of art forms, creating elaborate sculptures from old steel pipes, expressionist paintings with a political message, or multimedia room installations. The historic building’s many studios are considered the heart of Leipzig’s art scene and, together with renowned artists such as Neo Rauch, have had a decisive influence on the “New Leipzig School,” the movement in painting that began in Leipzig in the 1990s. The best way to experience the wacky flair of the entire neighbourhood in from the saddle of a bike. Cycle past old Wilhelminian-style buildings, historic factory buildings, colourful graffiti, and along the banks of the Karl Heine Canal.
Hoofbeats, hat brims, and popcorn
The Leipzig Racecourse hosts horse races as well as other events. | Photo (detail): © picture alliance/dpa/ dpa-Zentralbild/Sebastian Willnow With over 250 years of history, the Scheibenholz Racecourse is Leipzig’s oldest sports facility. Even today, Opening Day, traditionally held on the first of May and the first horse race of the season, attracts numerous spectators to the white grandstand. And when the horses take their well-deserved break between the regularly scheduled races, the racecourse also opens its doors for other events – such as a beer garden and numerous flea markets. Open-air cinema in the summer is a must when the audience streams in to enjoy movies on the big screen from comfortable deck chairs on warm summer evenings.
A monument to the Battle of Leipzig
The Monument to the Battle of the Nations commemorates the defeat of Napoleon’s troops. | Photo (detail): © Adobe More than 200 years ago, the allied armies of Russia, Prussia, Austria and Sweden achieved victory over Napoleon’s troops in a massive battle – right outside the gates of the city of Leipzig. In 1913, one of the most mammoth monuments in Europe was erected to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the largest and most important battle of the Wars of Liberation: the Monument to the Battle of the Nations. Inaugurated by Emperor Wilhelm II, the monument was designed to honour the fallen soldiers and the liberation of Germany. Later regimes would go on to adopt it and instrumentalise the symbolic power of its numerous war reliefs and figures – including the four colossal figures in the Hall of Fame, which reflect the virtues of bravery, sacrifice, confidence and the power of the people. As a sign of the invincibility of the German people, it became the scene of numerous rallies under National Socialism and a symbol of German-Soviet brotherhood in arms during the GDR era. Today it is intended to serve as a memorial and a reminder of the importance of European peace. Visitors can both climb the façade of the 91-meter-high structure and explore the inside. From the crypt with 16 stone warriors gracing its corners, you can look all the way up into the mighty dome. The monument choir concerts are in insider tip as the acoustics in this huge hall, especially from the gallery located above the crypt, are unique. The adjacent Forum 1813 Museum brings the monument’s storied history vividly to life.
At home in the hip quarter
The numerous cafés, restaurants and pubs on Karl Liebknecht Street are an excellent backdrop for an evening’s stroll. | Photo (detail): ©picture alliance/Global Travel Images/Juergen Held Visit Leipzig’s KarLi – short for Karl Liebknecht Street – pub mile in Südvorstadt for a beer after work in a lively atmosphere. Chose from many small cafés, restaurants and Irish pubs – and in between, especially in warm weather, take in a set in a conglomerate of densely arranged chairs and tables under a few colourful strings of lights stretched hither and yon. It is impossible to overlook the Löffelfamilie, the iconic neon sign of a former VEB (Volkseigenen Betrieb or people’s enterprise) for tinned delicacies, whose neon-coloured light is a nostalgic eye-catcher, especially at night.
Sailing above a former brown coal mine
You can also surf in Leipzig, like here on Lake Cospuden. | Photo (detail): © picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild/Peter Endig The south Leipzig region was redeveloped once the brown coal era ended: A varied lake landscape has emerged in the old mining area, with attractions on land and water that entice visitors to linger. These include the sailing marina at Lake Cospuden, the water sports facility at Lake Kulkwitz and the canoe park with rafting course at Lake Markkleeberg. Check out the area’s geological history on the geological trails around Lake Störmthal and Lake Markkleeberg or try out your inline skates on the well-paved circular path around Lake Cospuden. And for a break to recharge, sunbathe on the beach of Lake Cospuden with a cool refreshment from the beach bar.
Nothing better than a good coffee
Is there anything better than an ice-cold lemonade, then relaxing in the sun? The team at Café ZierlichManierlich. | Photo (detail): © Salomé Joannic There is a very good reason for the “coffee Saxons” sobriquet, said with a wink and a smile. After all, in addition to tea and chocolate, the hot beverage still so popular today was making the hearts of the Saxons beat faster more than 300 years ago. Since then, Leipzig has been known for its numerous coffee houses, such as the Viennese-style coffee house “Riquet” and “Zum Arabischen Coffe Baum”, Germany’s oldest coffee house, which also offers a museum on the history of coffee. Goethe, Bach and Schumann are said to have been frequent clientele. In addition to the traditional classics in the historic city centre, many small, charming cafés have now set up shop in other corners of the city. If you have never ordered a lemonade from a green circus wagon, and then sat down to drink it on the riverbank in the bright sunshine, you should pay a visit to the ZierlichManierlich: The small café on wheels has taken up residence at the Richard Wagner Hain and offers a variety of delicacies from spring to autumn – to be enjoyed in comfortable deck chairs with a river view.
Allotments in Berlin or skinny-dipping in Munich: come and explore some German cities with us – also against the grain. We give you an outline of the classic places, communities and events that are an intrinsic part of the city profile – and we redraw the contours by challenging a few clichés.