I surmise that the average American is occasionally guilty of thinking that the former East Germany must be utterly bland and uninteresting due to its tenure under Soviet rule. After all, the former West Germany has the likes of historic Heidelberg, bustling Frankfurt, and the glory of King Ludwig's Castles. As for the East... well, how many Americans can name one city beyond Berlin? (Remembering that half of it was part of the west!?!?) Never fear, that's why we're here.
We've made a couple trips to Leipzig -- Tom alone in spring 2002 and us together in late winter 2004. During both trips, Leipzig was undergoing different phases of a major urban renewal project that has seen the demolition and reconstruction of a number of buildings, market squares, and parks. Some of this is in anticipation of Leipzig potentially being an Olympic city in 2012, or for the bicentennial anniversary of the famous Battle of Nations from 1813 (which would be 2013). Some of it was just plain necessary as large parts of the old city were terribly neglected and in desperate need of recovery.
The old city Leipzig is really not that big considering the size of the metropolitan area. It can generally be combed in an afternoon. Within it, the two most distinctive and prominent buildings are the Altes and Neues Rathauses (shown in the first two photos). The former lords over the main city square and nowadays houses the city museum. The latter is situated at the southwest corner of downtown, with its beautifully restored façade facing outwards, but its inside still not yet cleaned after decades of Communist neglect.
Being close to Lutherstadt Wittenberg, where Martin Luther originally posted his 95 Theses, Leipzig is a haven of Lutheranism, and there are two prominent Lutheran churches worth visiting. The most famous is the Thomaskirche (shown in the third photo), located across from the Altes Rathaus. The famous composer Johann Sebastian Bach was once the choirmaster at the Thomaskirche, and a beautiful statue of the master adorns the church's southern terrace. Towards the east is the Nikolaikirche, whose interior décor is based on palm trees. Both churches are reknowned for hosting regular concerts -- Nikolai hosts weekly Orgel music concerts, performed by students of the local university, while the Thomaskirche's boys choir is a wonder to behold.
Leipzig has plenty of concert halls, museums, and historical sites. Among them are the Gewandhaus and Opernhaus, facing each other from across the Augustusplatz. While not elaborately decorated like other opera houses in Europe, the Opernhaus is massive in size. The Schillerhaus, home of the famous poet Schiller, is right behind the Altes Rathaus, while the Bach Museum is next door to the Thomaskirche. The Leipzig city museum is in the foyer of the Altes Rathaus, giving a thorough recounting of the city's rise to prominence in the middle ages.
If there is one sight to see outside of the downtown, it is unquestionably the Memorial to the Battle of Nations (Voelkerschlachtdenkmal), shown in the fourth photo. Located about two kilometers to the southeast, this ninety-meter high memorial commemorates the defeat of Napoleon by a coalition of Prussian, Russian, and Swedish armies in Leipzig in 1813. Typical of Prussian memorials, it uses a lot of stone to demonstrate power and strength. The inside contains large statues of Viking-like warriors with classic medieval weaponry bowing their heads solemnly toward the ground. Visitors (who are in good physical condition) can climb the 500+ steps to the very top for a wonderful view of the surrounding area. Nearby, and not to be missed, is the southern cemetery (Sued Friedhof) with its impressive crematorium.
For food and drink, there were many great places to eat. The Ratskeller in the Neues Rathaus has excellent food, and some of the tables host mannequins dressed in period costumes, giving the place a traditional Saxon feel. The main restaurant district is around Fleischergasse, a small side street running northwest from the Altes Rathaus. Also, the train station has a huge promenade loaded with eateries and great shopping. We were very happy with each restaurant and café we visited.
Shopping was also terrific there. Leipzig's shopping districts are very much alive, especially with the rediscovery of traditional Saxon porcelain and crystal.
Leipzig is definitely worth a visit. It has progressed very well since Germany's reunification, and has plenty enough to keep you busy for a weekend. Those with a taste for classical art and music will find Leipzig particularly enjoyable. Plus, getting there by train is super easy!
Trips taken 20 April 2002 and 13-15 March 2004 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2002, 2004 Tom Galvin