Only a little over an hour’s train ride south of Berlin in the Saxony region of Germany is a city that has redefined itself after being behind the iron curtain during the Cold War.
Leipzig is a city of music, arts, breathtaking history, architectural wealth, a paradise for shoppers, and a city for daydreamers and night owls! I would say it definitely rivals its big sister Berlin.
Leipzig’s “ring” as they call it ,of streets around the city center, is anchored by Europe’s largest train station, The Leipzig Hauptbahnhof. This is a good area to stay as your base for exploring the city. The Vienna House Easy Leipzig, which is directly across from the main train station, just opened recently to much fanfare and has a neat art nouveau meets industrial decor vibe to it. The hotel has a wonderful complimentary breakfast buffet in the morning to get you going. They have a great gym on the top floor that has a nice view overlooking the Hauptbahnhof, as well as free high-speed WiFi throughout the hotel and free rental bikes for exploring the city. I found the staff to be all very friendly and helpful.
A good start nearby to exploring the city would be to head over to Karl-Liebknecht-Straße, known affectionately as ‘Karli’. It’s’a lively area of quirky shops and cafes. Close by and right near the University of Leipzig (at Augustusplatz) you can go to the top of the Panorama Tower building for spectacular views of the city. There’s a restaurant / bar up at the top but you don’t have to eat or drink there. You’ll pay just a couple Euros to keep going up past it to get to the top open-air viewing deck.
While I admit, I am not much of a classical play enthusiast, Auerbachs Keller, dating back to the 16th century, is a famous place to go for lunch or dinner as it was featured in Goethe’s “Faust” play and is the first place Mephistopheles takes Faust on their travels. It is one of Leipzig’s oldest restaurants too (and I am an enthusiast of “oldest” restaurants).
The Old Town Hall at the Market Place is considered one of the most beautiful Renaissance buildings in Germany. From the remains of old prison cells in the celler, via the historical rooms on the main floor, up to the tower sphere and the weather vane, the building is a compendium of the history of the city and the permanent exhibition presents the checkered Leipzig history from early times to the Batlle of the Nations, from the revolution of 1848 to the peaceful revolution of 1989 and the German reunification. Admission is 8 Euros for adults and I found it well worth the time and cost and very…well..German looking and feeling.
No visit to Leipzig is complete without heading over to the historic St. Thomas Church. Bach used to perform here (and his tomb is on the church alter) and Martin Luther gained much of his protestant reformation momentum here. While I admit (again), I’m a rocker and know little about classical music and composers, Leipzig’s most famous son, Johan Sebastian Bach, left his mark on the city and the world for that matter. The Bach Museum near the church is quite interesting and interactive, and contains listening stations and actual manuscripts and is well worth the 8 Euros admission cost if you have the time.
I found it fascinating that Leipzig was actually where the momentum started for the eventual fall of the Berlin Wall. For about two years from 1989-1991, there were peaceful spontaneous gatherings called “The Monday Demonstrations” that happened every Monday evening, starting at St. Nicholas Church and eventually spilling out into Augustusplatz towards the end of the movement. It inspired other cities in the communist DDR (German Democratic Republic) to follow suit and, eventually, the peaceful movement’s momentum couldn’t be stopped and freedom came to East Germany with the fall of the Berlin Wall, bringing an eventual end to the communist oppression of the East German people. At the Museum in der Runden Ecke in Leipzig (which was the former secret police / “Stasi” headquarters) there is a good exhibit about life under the police state during the Cold War. It is free to enter and you can pay for an English audioguide for around 5 Euros.
One of the things I especially liked about Leipzig is the old (and sometimes secret) courtyards and passages scattered throughout the main center of the city. Dating back about 500 years, Leipzig was a major center of trade and commerce and hosted many international trade shows. By the 18th century, Leipzig was known as “The Marketplace of all of Europe.” The passages were built to accommodate the trade shows and today many of those same historical passageways have been updated and feature boutique shops, restaurants and bars.
I’d have to say though that one of the coolest places I’ve ever visited in the world is The Spinnerei in Leipzig. It’s a giant multi-city-block old brick factory dating all the way back to the late 1800s when it was Europe’s largest cotton spinning mill. Today it’s home to more than 100 studios of artists with galleries and exhibitions. There are also a few start-up companies with headquarters in the complex as well. The Spinnerei is another great example of Germany re-purposing old buildings and sites and it is such an authentic, historic factory complex whose soul is its many creative inhabitants and the contemporary content which they bring to it. You can ramble around and do a self-guided tour but they have guided tours (highly recommended) for 11 Euros on Fridays between Noon and 5p and Saturdays between 11a-5p. Close by in this Plagwitz district of Leipzig, and worth checking out there is Karl-Heine-Straße where lots of hip and eclectic stores, bars and restaurants are located. You might even notice an old large DDR era airplane somehow sitting on a building just off the sidewalk!
Leipzig is absolutely worth a couple of days visit. However; If you are short on time, you can do it as a day trip from Berlin or on the way to/from Dresden and knock out the major sites and attractions. It’s being coined lately on travel blogs as “The new Berlin,” but I thought it was a super unique smaller city with its own identity, vibe and culture stemming from such a rich and dynamic past (and I’m pretty sure it’s going to have a rich and dynamic future).
Leipzig really should be in your travel plans when planning a visit to the Saxony region of Germany. You won’t be disappointed and you may even decide you want to go “Bach” someday!
Jack Witt, MS, CPT
Fitness and Health Coach
310.562.5629 Cell / 818.760.3891 Main