A weekend trip to Leipzig is all you need for a serious fill of culture, architecture, and sunshine. Leipzig, in East Germany, is like the smaller rebellious sister of Dresden. Just one hour apart by train, both cities have a fascinating history. Dresden is glorious and grand, with prominent memories of the second world war on display everywhere you look, like the Frauenkirche in Dresden and other buildings). Meanwhile, Leipzig, not quite restored to the caliber of Dresden, looks and feels a little rougher. It was a former stronghold of the Stasi, the East German secret police. It was here that the anti-communist movement was founded in the depths of the St. Nikolas church, leading to more widespread protests and the eventual downfall of communist East Germany. On the sunnier side, the famous composer Bach lived his last 27 years in the city. Mendelssohn conducted the Leipzig Gewandhaus orchestra. The famous German scientist and thinker-extraordinaire Goethe studied here. It´s a city full of varied history, and today, artists and musicians are flocking here, maintaining the artsy culture in a new way.
I chose springtime for my weekend trip to Leipzig, when the cherry blossom trees were exploding. I cannot say enough times, VISIT GERMANY IN THE SPRING. It is just awesome.
The sun was out and Germans, true to form after a long grey winter, were out in droves, sipping coffees and beers in the sunshine. The Altstadt is gorgeous, with the Marktplatz (market square) surrounded by charming buildings and the city history museum.
Winding roads extend like spokes from the plaza, each one with delightful German architectural treats. Directly next to the Marktplatz is the St. Thomas Church, where Bach was the choirmaster. Next door is a museum devoted to him, if that takes your fancy.
Head south towards the Neues Rathaus (Town hall), a mammoth medieval looking creation. It´s a building you can imagine knights in shining Armour bursting from at any moment.
A unique feature in Leipzig is it´s “passages” – enclosed shopping arcades hidden within buildings in the city center. Leipzig is the only European city with such an extensive network of these passages and courtyards. The city was considered an up-and-coming trade center, and this network provided ample space for traders and vendors to peddle their wares while staying out of the wind and rain. Largely luxury items were sold during peak trading times throughout the 16-18th centuries. The Madler passage, one of the most famous, is now filled with modern clothing stores, cafes, and gourmet food stores, sunlit by gorgeous skylights high above. The Barthels Hof passage is worth a visit just for the entrance, the only remaining example a Baroque façade.
St. Nikolas Church, though not the most beautiful spot, is probably the most significant building in the city. In the 1980s, prayer meetings slowly evolved into discussions and protests against the communist regime, and the church became a symbol for the Peaceful Revolution. Townsfolk attended meetings within the church, fully aware that they were being monitored and not knowing what consequences they might face. The Stasi museum, all about life at that time, is fascinating. It resides in the Runde Ecke building where the communist secret police once interrogated those rising against the regime.
I thoroughly enjoyed wandering the town with its beautiful architecture and trees bursting with blossom. It´s stacked with museums and shopping, so there is really something for everyone.
Restaurant Recommendations: The historical Zum Arabischen Coffe Baum café has delicious traditional German cakes, the perfect spot for an afternoon break. Try a quadruple-layer black forest cake, or Eierlikor torte – white cake layered with German egg liquor custard.
Another coffee and cake option is the delightful Riquet cafe, filled with elephant and Amarula memorabilia. They have traditional German cakes to rival the best of them.
For some proper heavy German fare, a spot like Zill’s Tunnel will definitely fulfill your need 🙂
If you want something a little less. . . German, White Monkey Pizza does a great job – fresh flavors and the option to create your own masterpiece. Their Riesling is stellar as well.
Luxury for Less Hotel: Art Hotel Ana Symphonie is lovely, decked out in sunny primary colors and funky décor. Free wifi and free tea and coffee are available 24 hours a day. They also give the best advice. . .
A weekend trip to Leipzig is a fascinating journey – a place with both a rich cultural and political history. It still looks today like nobody quite knows what to make of it – somewhere between West and East Germany, famous for many things but at the same time often passed over by many tourists. I hope you make the time to pay it a visit when you´re in the neighborhood.