More than 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall Leipzig combines urban cool with cosy corners
It’s tempting to concentrate on Leipzig’s grand cultural and musical heritage and simply start name-dropping, since some of the world’s most eminent musical figures and institutions are part and parcel of the city’s history: Bach, Wagner, Mendelssohn, Schumann, the Gewandhaus Orchestra or the St Thomas’ Boys Choir. However, as important as all these most certainly are, 21st century Leipzig is a city that merges a number of ingredients into a very appealing urban cocktail – for example easy-going street life, innovative leisure ideas, impressive art nouveau and Renaissance architecture, plentiful green spaces plus a genuine fondness by the inhabitants for their city that is pleasingly evident in everyday life.
Just over an hour south of Berlin, locals call Leipzig ‘LE’, sounding like ‘LA’ in German. Fortunately, this is where the similarity with the US megalopolis ends since Leipzig has a proper city centre made for walking and exploring. The historical centre inside the so-called Ring which follows the old town fortification covers one square kilometre and is a maze of wide pedestrianised zones, small cobble-stoned lanes and a whole network of courtyards, passages and palatial trade fair halls, one of Leipzig’s stand-out features.
Going back 500 years, the passages were originally built to save horse-drawn carriages from having to reverse in the courtyards and are closely connected to the city’s history as a trade hub. There are now 30 arcades, 20 of them originals, housing small shops, boutiques, cafés and restaurants. The old ones have been beautifully restored such as Mädler Passage, a splendid walkway featuring the famous Auerbach’s Keller which was immortalised in Goethe’s Faust. Barthels Hof, the last remaining trade courtyard from the trade fair period in the 18th century, has a stunning Renaissance facade, the oldest surviving one from a Leipzig residence, and in Specks Hof, the oldest remaining passage, three colourful atriums feature murals and paintings by contemporary artists.
Welcome to LE where classic culture and street life meet
A walk around Leipzig’s city centre will also automatically lead to some of the aforementioned musical powerhouses. There’s the Bach Museum opposite St Thomas’ Church where the composer served as cantor from 1723 to 1750, the Mendelssohn House, the only remaining private residence of the composer, or the Gewandhaus Orchestra.
Leipzig was able to transform and reinvent itself after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and one example of creative reinvention is the Spinnerei, a former cotton mill that is now a thriving artist community with galleries and artists’ workshops, most notably that of internationally renowned Neo Rauch, a key figure of the so-called ‘New Leipzig School’.
Another example of new uses for old industry is the Panometer, where Berlin-based panorama artist and architect Yadegar Asisi creates monumental 360-degree panoramas inside a former gasometer. ‘Everest’, one of the alternating exhibits, depicts the roof of the world (until 7 July 2013). The next panorama, ‘Leipzig 1813 – in the turmoil of the Battle of the Nations’, will open on 3 August on the occasion of a double anniversary being celebrated in Leipzig this year: 200th anniversary of the Battle of the Nations and 100th anniversary of the Monument to the Battle of the Nations.
Apart from a very lively restaurant and bar scene with about 1,400 establishments including almost 400 with al fresco seating (or, a Freisitz, as they say in town), Leipzig also offers some attractive outdoor features: a maze of canals within the city that includes a water route from an inner city marina to Lake Cospuden outside town. ‘Route 1’ with a length of 11 km takes canoeists and paddlers along park landscapes and past late 19th century villas to the Leipzig New Lakeland recreation area about 10km south of the city, a system of lakes that developed from former opencast mines. Further sections will ultimately interconnect Leipzig with the whole of the New Lakeland in 2014.
From Bach to boating, Leipzig seems to do it all with ease.
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