"Leipzig is the place for me! Tis quite a little Paris; people there acquire a certain easy finish'd air." So mused Goethe in his epic Faust. The second city of Saxony is no French grande dame – indeed, it's not much of a looker despite efforts to patch up the damage of war. But nor is it as languid. After decades stuck in a socialist rut, LEIPZIG is back in the groove. The architectural prizes that remain have been scrubbed up, and glass-and-steel offices are appearing at lightning pace.
No city in the former East Germany exudes such unbridled ambition, but then none has so firm a bedrock for its self-confidence. In autumn 1989, tens of thousands of Leipzigers took to the streets in the first peaceful protest against the communist regime. Their candles ignited the peaceful revolution that drew back the Iron Curtain and achieved what two decades of Ostpolitik wrangling had failed to deliver. Not bad for a city of just half-a-million people. It's seductive to believe that this was inspired by the humanist call-to-arms Ode To Joy that Schiller had penned here two centuries earlier. In fact, the demonstrations were simply another expression of Leipzig's get-up-and-go. Granted market privileges in 1165, it emerged as a rampantly commercial city, a dynamic free-thinking place that blossomed as a cultural centre to attract names such as Bach, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Wagner and, of course, Goethe as a law student. Even the GDR rulers cultivated the trade fairs, allowing the city to maintain its dialogue with the West when other cities were isolated. In recent decades the same energy has found an outlet through a contemporary arts scene that can hold its own against those in the larger metropolises, and a nightlife that is refined and riotous by turns.
Many people are surprised by Leipzig's beauty. Any preconceptions of a shabby, grey, socialist metropolis are swiftly forgotten upon arrival. Leipzig's city centre has been completely refurbished since German reunification and its magnificent historical buildings once again bask in their former splendour. A prime example is the Hauptbahnhof , an awesome turn-of-the-century construction which used to be Europe's largest train station, but which has now been transformed into a Mecca for shoppers. 130 shops and boutiques now compete for consumers' hard-earned Deutschmarks. In short, anyone who was familiar with Leipzig before 1989 would scarcely recognize the city today. The motto "Leipzig is coming!" is extremely appropriate motto for this forward-looking city.
Yet the traces of Leipzig's recent past are still visible. If you take a walk down some of the side-streets outside the city center, you can't help but notice the extent at which the city was allowed to fall into disrepair during the socialist East German era. Decayed old buildings are overshadowed by enormous, prefabricated high-rises, which although spruced up, still stand out as unshapely hulks and blot the otherwise harmonious cityscape.
Most of Leipzig's major sights are easily accessible on foot, and are often interspersed by tree-lined parks and squares—making a stroll through the city center a relaxing and enjoyable experience. Good public transport links also make excursions to the outlying areas a simple matter.
City Centre / Old Town:
The most central starting-off point is the spacious Marktplatz , situated between Petersstraße and Grimmaische Straße . The aroma of coffee and freshly baked cakes wafts out of the atmospheric cafes and bars which line the square, many of which spill into the crooked little alleyways nearby.
The Altes Rathaus —a beautiful Renaissance building erected in just nine months—used to be the city hall, but now houses the Stadtgeschichtliches Museum , a fascinating museum depicting Leipzig's history from Medieval times to the present day. The north-western corner of the square contains two other historic buildings: Webers Hof, a typical bourgeois home, and Adler Apotheke, where the author Theodor Fontane worked from 1841 to 1842 as a chemist's assistant.
On the western side of the Marktplatz, you'll see Barthels Hof (1523), Leipzig's oldest commercial building and the first structure in the city to be built in the Renaissance style. Goethe was overwhelmed by the "spacious rooms" which where reminiscent of the country's "great castles". In the nearby Zum Arabischen Coffe Baum Museum and Cafe , visitors can enjoy a "Schälchen Heeßen" (as the locals affectionately refer to their coffee) in one of the oldest coffee shops on the continent. The Messehaus am Markt was home to the world's first underground trade fair - a 5,000 square metre complex where books, watches and hunting instruments were exchanged.
Behind the Altes Rathaus is the Alte Handelsbörse on Naschmarkt, where a bronze statue stands in memory of J.W. Goethe, who studied here between 1765 and 1768. A few steps away in the magnificent Mädler Passage, visitors can wine and dine in Auerbachs Keller , which was featured in Goethe's classic work, Faust.
Leipzig is blessed with dozens of historic buildings which are best explored on a stroll through the city. Fine examples include the impressive baroque buildings on Katharinenstraße, churches such as Thomaskirche , Nikolaikirche , Paulinkirche und Matthäikirche, or the Alte Waage, where imported goods used to be weighed and taxed.
It's also worth popping into the University of Leipzig to take a glimpse of the place where many a famous German studied. Known by locals as the "steep tooth" or the "wisdom tooth", the main building is 34 floors high and towers over the city.
For those interested in all things cultural, the Neues Gewandhaus - home to the world-famous Gewandhausorchester—shouldn't be missed. Other cultural landmarks include the Opera House , the Moritzbastei, the Johann Sebastian Bach Museum , the Egyptian Museum and the Museum of Natural History.
Yet perhaps the best thing about Leipzig is the pulsating multicultural atmosphere that permeates its city center, day and night. In summertime, every street seems to metamorphose into an outdoor cafe or beer garden. And the 3.5 km-long promenade which encircles the old city offers both locals and tourists the chance to relax and take a breather.
The city's most imposing structure is without a doubt the Völkerschlachtdenkmal , located in the district of Probstheida. Inaugurated on 18th October 1913 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Völkerschlacht (The "Battle of the Nations"), the memorial remains controversial to this day. The 90 metre-high viewing platform offers a breathtaking views over Leipzig.
The National Library and the National Museum of Books and Writing are also located in the southern part of Leipzig. The latter boasts an impressive collection of priceless scripts and patents. Located not far away is the Alte Messe - Leipzig's old exhibition center with 22 halls and 27 pavilions—which is living testimony of the crucial role that trade fairs and exhibitions have played in the history and development of the city. Numerous film and TV companies are also based in this area, cementing Leipzig's reputation as a media hotspot.
The district of Lößnig is worth a visit for its unique architectural layout. The so-called Rundling is a fine example of 1930s residential housing. With all its buildings arranged in a circle around a central area (Siegfriedplatz), the Rundling offered modern and affordable housing for large, working-class families.
Heading further south, visitors will come across Markkleeberg Park, a nature reserve with an astonishing variety of flora and fauna. The nearby Auenwald contains several rivers (Pleiße, Elster and Luppe) and provides a perfect spot to relax.
The eastern part of the city is home to the Bayrische Bahnhof, the world's oldest railway terminal which opened in 1844 to serve the line between Bavaria and Saxony.
Leipzig is also famous as being home to some of the world's largest and most prestigious publishers. Although the old publishers' quarter was destroyed during the Second World War, certain street names (such as Reclamstraße, Inselstraße and Baedekerstraße) still bare witness to the district's literary roots. The Messehaus Bugra, an important centre of the German book trade, can also be found here.
Heading a bit further east, visitors will come across the lovely Botanical Gardens , which has been growing countless varieties of orchids, palms and other exotic plants since 1542.
The Schillerhaus is a small, half-timbered farmhouse located in the district of Gohlis, and was home to the writer Friedrich Schiller in 1785. This is the place where Schiller wrote his legendary Ode to Joy as well as parts of Don Carlos. The house has now been turned into a museum. Gohliser Schlößchen, a magnificent baroque and rococo palace, is a great place to enjoy a touch of chamber music or to savour a bit of fine Saxon cuisine.
The Brodyer Synagogue was founded in 1904 and was the only one of Leipzig's synagogues to survive the Nazi purges on Kristallnacht in 1938. It was reopened on 22 May 1993.
Visitors can admire the lions, hyenas and Siberian tigers in Leipzig Zoo , one of Germany's oldest zoos (1877). Those who want to avoid paying the entrance fee could wander along the Rosenthal at the back of the zoo and take a look in through the large pane glass windows.
As well as containing dozens of business parks and factories, the districts of Plagwitz and Lindenau also contain the Sportstadion, Germany's largest open-air stadium, and the Sport Museum—a fantastic sports exhibition with a particular focus on gymnastics. Visitors could also take a relaxing walk through Clara Zetkin Park, full of beautiful flower beds, fish-ponds and lawns. Just a stone's throw away from the park is the Scheibenholz race-track, where many a fortune has been won and lost.
Fine food and drink, followed by a wild night out on the town has only recently become a problem-free proposition in Leipzig. Until the opening of Markt 9 in Barfussgässchen several years ago, there was arguably not a single proper bar in the city centre. Now, however, the small street is full of tapas bars (Tapa Mundo and Spizz ), reopened historical inns like the Zum Arabischen Coffeebaum as well as countless clubs. In the summer months, a large, open-air seating area is set up directly on the main marketplace, allowing visitors to eat, drink, meet people, and celebrate late into the night.
Those who find the clientele here too young or stylish can look for something more suitable on Gottschedstrasse in the Schauspielviertel. Its proximity to the theatres ensures that the people here are generally a bit older, but therefore more cultured or at least culturally oriented. Visitors can meet up with actors lunching at the Luise , while dancers, music students and architects sit together at Maga Pon . The Barcelona specialises in Spanish cuisine and offers fine wines and cocktails. Many other pubs and restaurants provide specialities and ambience from far away lands, and in summer often set up tables on the street or in courtyards. At the start of Gottschedstrasse, visitors can attend cultural events or dance the night away to electronic music at places like the Kosmoshaus and Kabarett Club.
With respect to restaurants and bars, the southern district of Leipzig is the oldest area of the city. Students, artists, and the Szenevolk (in-crowd) have lived in and around Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse for generations, and these most definitely form the majority of the clientele in this area's haunts. Ex-students also keep memories of student life alive here. Here, you'll find Killywilly , a legendary Irish Pub, Cortex , a trendy cocktail lounge with electronic music and Avocado , the best-known vegetarian restaurant in the area. Bohemian poets and actors frequent the Cafe Grundmann and enjoy coffee, red wine and antipasti in its art-deco interior. A very new and critically acclaimed restaurant is the Kitchen , with its changing weekly menu featuring authentic international cuisine.
Farther to the south is the Connewitzer Szene, in which alternative and underground lifestyles are still practised. One can purchase beer and enjoy home-cooking in buildings occupied by squatters—those interested will find these places easy to find!
Visitors looking for something a bit more traditional will find it in the city-centre. A must for afternoon coffee and cake is the Riquethaus , housed in a former colonial office with a beautiful facade and coffee-house charm. You'll find traditional German fare in Auerbachs Keller . Goethe worked on Faust here during his time in Leipzig. The interior is decorated with scenes from the famous drama, and Mephisto himself shows up from time to time to frighten the guests a bit.
Sophisticated Saxon cuisine can be found in Zill´s Tunnel , a traditional Leipzig restaurant, dating from 1841. A step up is the Kaiser Maximilian , one of the few Leipzig restaurants to receive a recommendation from the Michelin Guide. In its stylish and modern atmosphere, diners will certainly experience an exceptional evening. There's also one clear leader when it comes to international cuisine: Yamato celebrates Japan's culture, culinary and otherwise, at the highest standards.
Simpler sushi can be found at Mr.Moto , where guests must fish the plate of their choice off an artificial stream. Good Cuban cuisine at reasonable prices is to be found at Varadero . Some recommendations for Italian are Don Camillo & Peppone , and the Emporio, where one can additionally purchase directly imported wine and foodstuffs. The most service-oriented Indian restaurant is the Maha Radscha in Karl-Liebknecht-Straße, while the most solid Mexican fare is on offer at Sancho Pancha in Industriestraße.
Fast food is now available on almost every street corner. In particular, one can find snacks from all over the world in the Hauptbahnhof and the city center.
In sum, there is considerable choice in all things culinary in and around Leipzig. Frequent ownership changes and new openings makes it impossible to give reliable tips for some areas. However, the choice of German and international cuisine in the range of good to very good is quite acceptable. In the town center and the Schauspielviertel, everyone will find something to their taste and in line with their budget.
City centre tour:
Arriving in Leipzig, the first thing to catch your eye will most likely be the central train station, Hauptbahnhof Leipzig . Reopened in 1998, it's a paradise for window shoppers and shopping junkies. From here, head down Nikolaistraße in the direction of the town centre. To your left, you will see the building that lent the street its name–the Nikolaikirche . Its catchphrase is "open for everybody" and you can take this motto as gospel, as this church–dedicated to St.Nikolaus, patron for travellers and salesman in 1175 - is open to visitors every weekday from 10am to 6pm. It is not just architecture enthusiasts who will fall in love with this church - music-fans are sure to be fascinated by the church's concert organ. The courtyard of the church plays host to the Alte Nikolaischule ("Old Nikolai School"). Opened in 1511, it was the first municipal school in Leipzig. Today, it's a restaurant. Guests have the pleasure of eating lunch whilst entering into the spirit of its famed pupils such as Leibniz and Wagner.
After a hearty lunch, wander in the direction of Augustusplatz . Whichever way you look, you will be met by interesting sights such as the Mendefountain standing 18 metres high, contrasting with the Gewandhaus behind it. This building, brilliantly illuminated at night, has even been graced by the likes of the famed conductor Kurt Masur. Should your gaze fall a touch to the right, your jaw will surely drop. The University of Leipzig Tower is quite a sight. Opened in 1975, the building known by locals as the "wisdom tooth" is now in the throes of reconstruction after being sold off by the university. The nearby Opera House is always worth a visit, especially when the opera ball is taking place–normally in November. Over the other side of Grimmaische Straße , we reach Marktplatz. The Altes Rathaus is worth a visit—built in Renaissance style, the building also boasts a baroque tower. Today, it's home to the City Museum, where you can visit exhibitions free of charge on the first Sunday of every month.
The Mädlerpassage is famous throughout Germany. It is one of the only old commercial centres which has survived centuries of turmoil. In front of the entrance to Auerbachs Keller you'll see the statues of Faust and Mephisto. Legend has it that a simple rub of Faust's shoe will bring you good luck! After a spot of window shopping in the Mädlerpassage, it's just a hop, skip and a jump to the post-gothic Thomaskirche . Not only do the concerts of the Thomaner Choir take place in the church, but the tomb of Johann Sebastian Bach is also to be found in the choir-room. A statue of the great composer stands in front of the south entrance. The other stands in the park at Dittrichring. The perfect end to your trip to Leipzig would be a visit to the house of the Bose family. The house is on the courtyard in front of the Thomas Church and houses the Johann Sebastian Bach Museum and archives.
The city's motto is "Leipzig is coming!"— and whoever comes to Leipzig certainly won't regret it!