Music, architecture, churches, museums: Those are just a few words associated with Leipzig, the city often referred to as “the new Berlin.” A city with a rich history of music, Leipzig was once home to Bach, Schumann, Wagner, Mendelssohn and Mahler. The city also features diverse architectural styles – Renaissance, Baroque and Jugendstadt, to name a few. The churches in the city are sure to amaze. In addition, more than 30 intriguing museums dot Leipzig.
Travelers should become acquainted with the city’s history. Leipzig takes its name from the Slavic word Lipsk, which literally means “a settlement where the linden trees stand.” The city was first mentioned in writing during the 11th century, and there have been markets in Leipzig as far back as the 12th century. Leipzig has made quite a name for itself in the field of education. The university even hails from 1409, and it earned a reputation as an excellent center of learning shortly thereafter. Goethe was just one of many influential figures to study here.
The Leipzig Book Fair, now the second biggest of its kind in Germany, can trace its beginnings to the 17th century. During the following century, Leipzig became home to numerous book publishers. That tradition continued until World War II, when bombs decimated the Graphic Quarter. On the outskirts of the city, there is a vast monument to the 1813 Battle of Nations, the largest battle in the world until World War I. During this battle, the allied nations forced Napoleon to withdraw from Germany.
Before World War I, as part of the German Empire, Leipzig thrived in business, culture and education. After the war, the Weimar Republic came into being. The Roaring Twenties were carefree times, but the Great Depression of 1929 put a damper on the formerly cheerful atmosphere. In 1933 Hitler’s party, the National Socialists, came into the limelight as terror and atrocities became the norm.
The city was severely damaged during World War II. American soldiers liberated Leipzig on April 18, 1945, but soon thereafter the USA gave the Soviets control of the city. The German Democratic Republic or East Germany was established during 1949, and Leipzig would remain part of the totalitarian state for 40 years, until 1989. During the Communist era, companies were nationalized, and cheaply built housing estates became eyesores in the city. Residents of Leipzig played a key role in the country’s toppling of the Communist regime, and demonstrations in the city helped Germany forge a path to democracy. The German government dubbed Leipzig “the City of Diversity” in 2008.
There are plenty of possibilities for sightseers in Leipzig. One of the highlights is the Church of Saint Nicholas, the largest church in the city. It was originally a Romanesque edifice, erected in 1165. The church got a Gothic makeover in the early 16th century. Since the end of the 18th century, the interior has had a classicist appearance. The columns have superb capitals shaped as palm trees. The Church of Saint Nicholas is seeping with historical resonance. This is where the 1989 October so-called Peaceful Revolution began in Leipzig as residents came here to protest against the totalitarian regime. An event called “Prayers for Peace” has taken place here since the 1980s. Bach used to play in this exquisite space, and Martin Luther preached about the Reformation here.
To be sure, Bach figures prominently in the city. The Bach Monument stands out in front of the Church of Saint Thomas. This church acquired its Late Gothic look in the 15th century, but inside the Neo-Gothic style dominates. Its stained glass windows are remarkable. Also, it has one of the steepest roofs in Germany. Bach was this church’s organist from 1723 to 1750. The outstanding composer is buried here. Don’t overlook the 16th century crucifix, either. The hair on Jesus’ head is real.
The Old Town Hall hails from 1556 and holds the distinction of being the first Renaissance hall built in the country. During the early 20th century, the Museum of City History moved into the space. The museum is sure to enchant with its paintings, sculpture and furnishings as the exhibits take sightseers on an unforgettable journey through Leipzig’s history from the very beginnings to the present day. The Grassi Museum complex consists of the Ethnography Museum, the Applied Arts Museum and the Musical Instruments Museum. Don’t miss the Museum of Antiquities or the Museum of Fine Arts, either.
The New Town Hall is another architectural jewel. It was modelled after Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio. This structure is one of the biggest town halls in the world with an area of 10,000 square meters. Its tower is the highest on a town hall in Germany. The town hall fountain is also dazzling, adorned with fairy tale creatures.
That’s not all – there is much more to see. The design of the arcade building Mädler Passage was inspired by the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan. Take time out here to gaze at a Glockenspiel of Meissen china. It plays on the hour.
You will be filled with awe when you set foot on the Augustusplatz, one of Europe’s largest squares. The various architectural styles will amaze. Home to the city’s symphony, the Gewandhaus is modern as is the Opera House. With an innovative design unveiled during 2012, the Paulinum is modelled after a former church that was destroyed during totalitarian rule in 1968. The first high-rise in the city, dating from the 1920s and consisting of 11 stories, was modelled after the clock tower at Saint Mark’s Square in Venice. Look closely at the top of the building: There’s a ball showing the phases of the moon and a sculpture of a man ringing a bell.
Those are just a few of the highlights. The main train station was once the largest in Europe with its 25 platforms, two entrance halls and two waiting rooms. Its architecture is masterful. Goethe used to be a regular at Auerbach’s Cellar, where you can stop for a beer. This establishment inspired a scene in Faust. Coffee lovers will not want to miss the Coffee Baum, once the gathering place for prominent composers. You can also grab a bite at the Baroque court featuring over 30 cafes and restaurants.
Those are just a few of the many delights that Leipzig offers. If you have even the slightest interest in architecture, music, churches and museums, Leipzig will not disappoint. The university town is bustling with many possibilities that will create unforgettable memories.