Star of the east
Musical highlights in the city of the peaceful revolution
1 BACK TO BACH
ST Thomas Church in the old-town quarter of Leipzig, in the state of Saxony, is forever linked with the musical genius of Johann Sebastian Bach. The composer was choirmaster here from 1723 to 1750; devotees lay flowers on his gravestone at the foot of the altar. St Thomas Church was built in the early 13th century, on the site of an earlier Romanesque church. On a Saturday afternoon we sit in a straight-backed pew for one of St Thomas’s regular free concerts. There’s a restraint to the interior, in contrast to the voices of the young choristers lifting the vaulted ceiling. It’s standing room only (the church’s capacity is 2500) to hear the choir that in 2012 celebrated its 800th birthday. More: thomaskirche.org
2 OLD AND NEW
TWENTY-FIVE years ago, Leipzig’s buildings were dark with Soviet-era soot and war damage had left gaping holes in city blocks; new building and restoration post-German unification have bestowed sparkling streetscapes. The Renaissance Old Town Hall (built 1556-1557) overlooks the busy marketplace; across the cobbles is the terracotta-panelled entrance to Markt SBahn station, part of Leipzig’s new €1 billion underground rail project. Leipzig is a city of arcades and courtyards in art nouveau and art deco styles. Both are evident in the interconnecting courtyards of Speck’s Hof; gaze skywards at the Meissen tiles and mosaics in the central courtyard. Pause for a coffee in Madler Passage, the elegantly restored art nouveau shopping arcade. The Pauliner church on Augustusplatz was blown up by the GDR in 1968; the recent university redevelopment on the site incorporates a neo-Gothic church facade, complete with rose window into a dazzling aquamarine glazed wall. The main railway station (Hauptbahnhof, built 1915) has six towering stone arches spanning 24 platforms. Promenaden Hauptbahnhof, the new shopping mall inside the station, is accessible to central Leipzig by a pedestrian underpass. More: germany.travel.
3 ANCIENT TRADE CITY
INTERNATIONAL trade fairs have been held i in Leipzig since the Middle Ages; from the 1600s the city was renowned as the European leader in book publishing and printing. Fairs were once held in the arcades and courtyards of the old town (Madler Passage opened as a trade hall in 1914), but the trade fair (Leipziger Messe) is now a glass and steel complex (with an architectural nod to the Hauptbahnhof’s soaring spans) 9km north of the city centre. More: leipziger-messe.com.
4 TO STAND REUNITED
THE 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin W Wall was celebrated worldwide on November 9 last year. Less well-known is the role Leipzig played in toppling the communist regime in East Germany. From 1982, small groups gathered in St Nicholas Church to pray for peace. What began as Monday evening prayer meetings in a city church grew by 1989 into a mass movement. Sites of the Peaceful Revolution is a self-guided walking tour that covers 20 original locations where in 1989 the non-violent revolution unfolded. Historical photos are displayed on pillars made of expanded metal from former GDR border fortifications. We learn that on November 6, 1989, half a million East Germans marched in pouring rain through Leipzig to demonstrate for a reunited Germany. More: nikolaikirche-leipzig.de.
5 CHILLING ENCOUNTERS
SCUFFED lino floors, faded curtains, latticeb barred windows and, according to a 70-year-old visitor from Dresden, “a GDR smell” — the interior of the Museum in der Runden Ecke is unchanged from the 1980s when the building was the headquarters of the Stasi (the GDR secret service). The museum documents in grim detail, how over 40 years Stasi mass surveillance nurtured a society where brother informed on brother and deep-rooted mistrust sullied all aspects of life. There are listening devices and letter-steaming machines, disguises and wigs. A typical office, with its typewriter, filing cabinet and coffee maker looks innocent enough, until you read the chilling accounts of psychological demoralisation techniques used by Stasi operatives. More: runde-ecke-leipzig.de.
6 COFFEE AND CAKE
MAKE time for a Leipziger Lerche pastry at Cafe Riquet, the Grade II-listed coffee shop around the corner from St Nicholas Church. Exotic copper elephant heads guard the entrance and a curved mosaic is bright beneath the decorative turret. The company, trading in coffee, chocolate and tea, was established in 1745. For a contemporary cafe vibe, try Macis Cafe, one of three sister establishments at street level below the Quartier M Aparthotel (see Best Beds). The light and buttery pastries are baked in-house. There’s also a restaurant serving locally sourced organic dishes, and an organic supermarket. More: riquethaus.de; macis-leipzig.de.
7 ART OF THE HEART
ARTISTIC offerings range from street art to fine art, and everything in between. Michael Fischer’s exuberant Mural of the Peaceful Revolution, on the Leipzig Marriott Hotel opposite the Hauptbahnhof, is like a welcome mat to the city. In the early 2000s, the Museum of Fine Arts rose from the ashes of a bombsite in Katharinenstrasse. The striking glass and concrete cube holds works by German and Dutch Old Masters of the 15th to 17th centuries. The restored Museum of Applied Arts, part of the Grassi Museum, showcases post-1950 East German design. At the Spinnerei, 30 minutes from the centre of town, a 19th-century cotton mill has been converted to more than 100 artists’ studios. More: mdbk.de; grassimuseum.de; spinnerei.de.
8 THE MUSIC TRAIL
AS well as JS Bach, who died in Leipzig in 1750, celebrated musicians with links to Leipzig include Schumann, Mendelssohn, Wagner, Grieg, Telemann, and Janacek, all of whom have composed, performed or lived here. Musical pilgrims can explore the Leipzig Music Trail, a 5km self-guided walk that takes in the homes, museums and concert halls of the great composers. We follow arrows in the cobbled footpaths to Mendelssohn Haus where the composer lived and worked, and visit the Gewandhaus Concert Hall. (The Gewandhaus Orchestra was formed in 1743.) The sloping foyer roof carries a mural titled Song of Life that shines across Augustusplatz at night. The Bach Museum, opposite St Thomas Church, holds original manuscripts among its interactive exhibits. More: leipzigmusictrail.com.
9 THE GREEN SCENE
WHEN the sun is shining, Leipzigers emerge f from their apartments to play in the parks. Clara Zetkin Park, 2km west of central Leipzig, was named after women’s rights campaigner Clara Zetkin (1857-1933). On a summer Sunday bikes are strewn on the grass as their owners drink beer, grill sausages or lie reading under a tree. Half of Leipzig seems to be here but the 133ha park effortlessly soaks up the crowds. More: leipzig.travel.
10 BLOOMING MARVELLOUS
BRILLIANT red geraniums tumble over the b balconies at Quartier M Aparthotel in the narrow, tree-lined Mark-grafenstrasse, within easy walking distance of the Hauptbahnhof. Art nouveau flourishes on the iron balconies are testimony to the building’s late 19th-century origins, but the unfussy clean lines inside the apartments belong firmly in the new millennium. The 48 serviced apartments come with fully-equipped kitchenettes. More: apartment-leipzig.de/en/quartier-m.
St Thomas Church
Stasi surveillance at the Museum in der Runde Ecke