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Leipzig’s big renaissance

I was in Leipzig last week to witness the economic and touristic revival of this former east German city, which is currently the fastest-growing city in the country.

It is a heartwarming success story. The huge open-caste coal mines which once blighted the surrounding countryside are now lakes, with watersports and beaches. Big names like BMW, DHL, Porsche and Amazon have relocated to the city’s hinterland. New e-commerce is springing up in the former manufacturing district where heavy industry once dominated, and there’s a whole new community of hipster artists in town, earning the place the nickname of the ‘new Berlin’.

Leipzig’s biggest issue holding back its tourism, and one which also faces neighbour Dresden too, is the near complete lack of direct flights (Leipzig has an inconveniently-timed three times a week service from Ryanair). Both cities have decent airports, which is part of the problem. If there was just one airport, mutually shared, airlines would be able to consolidate. As it is, the market is sufficiently divided to make both unviable. Mercifully, Berlin is a 70 minute train ride away.

Anyway Leipzig, with its huge Monday demonstrations, was instrumental in the demise of the GDR, but there are still pleasantly idiosyncratic slices of GDR-ness visible. In the Plagwitz area of former factories now turned to designer workspaces and start-ups, I came across the Lebensmittel A Prinz cornershop, a true relic from another era. Nothing fancy here, just incredibly good value: hot drinks (including Bruhe mit Ei – stock with an egg in it) all for 80 cents; fish rolls for €1.30, ham and cheese for €1.50, beer for 55 cents a litre and of course sweet east German Rotkäppchen sekt for €4.10. Not forgetting the jelly bananas. All served by stout, no-nonsense ladies in floral housecoats, to a constant stream of workmen in overalls.

It was good to see that the past hadn’t been entirely swept away, and there is still a niche for an honest old-fashioned business at an honest price.

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