As soon as you visit Leipzig in eastern Germany, you know you have landed in a city of style and creativity – known as one of Germany’s greatest cities of innovation, artistry and progressive change. Whether you stumble upon a classic façade or a multicoloured modern mural, a significant historical site or a new enterprise, Leipzig’s long history is never, ever lost.
In its central area, the past is preserved via the maze of courtyards mapping the time of a booming trade era, the 23 stops of the “Leipziger Notenspur” classical music trail, and the surrounding Ring Road that marks the route of a peaceful movement significant to the reunification of Germany. On the outskirts, Leipzig’s urban unkemptness is reinvented – neighbourhoods are glossed in street art, trendy enterprise is growing and art thrives in old industrial spaces.
Leipzig – At the Forefront of Style
Leipzig’s architecture is what stood out most to me – the preservation of a city that once had a very distinct sophistication. The first city in the world to host a sample trade fair, trading palaces and courtyards were constructed to showcase and sell the stylish, luxury wears on offer. Between 1893 and 1938, around 50 of these were constructed and over 30 of these art, culture and shopping havens remain in all their glory today – easy to spot, and wonderful to get lost within amongst the other classic buildings, churches and houses.
During GDR times, many of these classic arcades fell into disrepair, although after the fall of the wall they soon became a priority for restoration and protection because they represented of a unique style of city planning.
For a great introduction to the city’s architectural heritage, start at the Old City Hall – one of the oldest examples of German Renaissance architecture – before heading to the adjacent Madlerpassage – the largest and most important elegant shopping arcade. You can then easily move onto the Königshauspassage – where Saxon rulers traded – and the Messehofpassage – the first completed trade fair building after the war, opened in 1950.
Look out for the distinctive yellow building, the Bathels Hof – the last remaining of the 18th century trade fair structures, boasting the oldest surviving piece of a façade left from a Leipzig residential building. It was one of my favourites.
Leipzig – At the Forefront of Significant Political Change
Every Monday, from as early as 1982, the people of Leipzig would gather in St Nicholas Church and three others across the city to peacefully demonstrate after their prayers. They were calling for freedom and reform in the dominating, socialist GDR (East Germany). The gatherings grew and on the 9th October 1989, around 70,000 people gathered with candles calling “Wir sind das Volk” (“We are the people”) as they marched around the city Ring Road, forming a movement that paved the way for the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany.
Today, a pavement light installation illuminates at night in the public spaces were people once marched. It’s a beautiful addition to the city that doesn’t forget its darker days. The “Runde Ecke” Memorial Museum (the site of the former Stasi Headquarters) is a haunting reminder of what it was like to live here then. It has a really eerie feel about it (being very much in the same state it was left), yet it is important to visit to learn about the regime that gripped Leipzig and East Germany.
Leipzig – At the Forefront of Artistic Reinvention
There’s more to Leipzig than its stunning city centre, with hidden highlights tucked away out in the industrial landscape.
I stayed a funky space in the Spinnerei – a former cotton mill in the trendy Plagwitz district in the west of the city. Once the largest cotton mill of continental Europe, it was decommissioned in 1992 and soon developed by artists into studios, galleries and living spaces. A landmark of the modern Leipzig landscape, the Spinnerei marks another era of Leipzig’s preservation of monuments from its days of industrial expansion.
The west and south became one of my favourite spots to randomly wander in, and enjoy the more tucked away areas of Leipzig. What was once a blander space is now doted with street art, graffiti and modern day campaigners. It has a touch of the Berlin ‘cool’ about it and should definitely be explored, the antithesis to the classic persona of Leipzig which gets more attention.
In the west, I spent hours walking along Karl-heine Straße that runs between the areas of Lindenau and Plagwitz, and in the neighbourhoods around it – you can follow the tramlines to and from the city for easy navigation.
In the south, I explored Leipzig’s buzzing street culture, wandered around the areas off the main street, Karl-Leibknect-Straße and hung out at the munchie stronghold of Sudplatz.
Look out for the coffee shops, cafes and new enterprise in funky spaces, sporadic decorated buildings and old photomarts. It’s an artistic blend of old and new. In the south, be sure to look out for the tacky neon advertising from the GDR days – the former Feinkost factory’s Löffelfamilie (‘spoon family’) advertisement is the best preserved example, lighting up at night when you call a number and make a small donation (on Karl-Leibknect-Straße 36).
Classic architecture or industrial eyesore, celebratory or dark, Leipzig doesn’t want you to forget its past. Preserving beauty and reinventing the bland, its original glory as a city of style remains and its urban wartime wasteland is put to artistic use. For this uniqueness, it is fully worth exploring, spending at least a day in each distinct area.
Things to Note:
- The most cost effective way to travel around Leipzig is with the ‘Leipzig Card’ which costs €9.90 for a one day pass and €19.90 for three days. This can be used on all public transport facilities and also gives you discounts on cultural attractions, cafes, restaurants and leisure facilities
- Details on how to book a stay at one of the Spinnerei’s converted studio/loft spaces can be found here. Prices start from 65 Euros per night for a spacious, artistic haven you can call your own. It’s certainly an accommodation option with a difference
- One of the most popular hostels in the heart of the city is Stay Cheese. Although comfortable and in an amazing location, it lacked the expected cool traveller atmosphere
- Further details on everything Leipzig has to offer can be found on the official tourism website
Leipzig was the third stop on my ‘Fall of the Wall’ trip to former east Germany towns and cities in conjunction with the German National Tourist Office, to look at modern Germany and how it’s changed since reunification. All opinions remain my own, including my interpretations of historical facts and depictions of street art.