Star of the east

Mu­si­cal high­lights in the city of the peace­ful revo­lu­tion

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - JILL HOCK­ING

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.

BEST BEDS

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.

AN­DREW LECKY

St Thomas Church

Stasi surveil­lance at the Mu­seum in der Runde Ecke

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