“Mein Leipzig lob’ ich mir! Es ist ein klein Paris und bildet seine Leute”
“I praise my Leipzig! It is a small Paris and educates its people.”
Last week I mentioned that I’d rekindled my love for Berlin, but that it wasn’t the small Paris that Leipzig is; the quote above is from Goethe’s Faust, probably the most famous piece of German literature which was set and written in the city. It has become a semi-official motto of the city, especially in the Sächsisch dialect written on the poster, and it pretty neatly sums up my feelings for what has become my adopted home for the past 9 months. There won’t be very many more opportunities for me to write here, so I figured I should show you Leipzig in all its glory!
Way back in the 18th century Leipzig was a bustling place. It was one of Central Europe’s main trading cities and was home to some of the most important figures of the German-speaking world like Goethe, Schiller and JS Bach. Bach was head of the Thomanerchor or the choir of St. Thomas Church, which continues to be one of the most well-respected choirs in the world. When he died, Bach fell into obscurity and was buried in an unmarked grave. It wasn’t until the 19th century when Wagner started doing performances of his work that he became popular again that he was exhumed and buried in the church…or at least that’s what the authorities think. Having spent 100 years underground in close proximity to several other dead people, his remains weren’t exactly in tip-top condition, which means they’re not entirely sure if the remains in the church are of one of the greatest composers ever or just some guy he happened to be buried next to!
The early 19th century was a pretty turbulent time to live in. In the first part of the 1810s, Napoleon was at the height of his power trip which took him and his army as far as Russia. However, in 1813 the tide began to turn and in the Battle of the Nations which happened just outside the city, he was comprehensively defeated and made a hasty retreat which eventually culminated in the Battle of Waterloo, where, thanks to ABBA, we all know he did surrender. After the battle an enormous monument was erected. It’s called the Völkerschlachtdenkmal (best German word ever), and is the ideal spot for some atmospheric sunset pictures! At the moment there’s a 360° picture on display nearby called the Panometer which shows the city as the French are retreating. It’s 32m high and really quite impressive – the video below does it far more justice than I can.
After World War 2 the communists took control of East Germany, and they stayed in power until 1989 when a revolution which started in Leipzig forced them into holding democratic elections and eventually reunifying with the West. After reunification a lot of Communist businesses found that they couldn’t compete with their much more efficient Western counterparts, and so Leipzig (along with the rest of the East) suffered really quite badly in the 1990s; people left the city in droves and unemployment rocketed. Despite having rebounded in the past decade or so (the local economy is growing faster than anywhere else in Germany these days!), there are still abandoned buildings on most streets which sometimes stand side by side with immaculately renovated historical ones, a reminder of the remarkable change that the city’s gone through.
But enough about history and eerie derelict buildings; Leipzig is a bustling city with a vibrant nightlife, mainly concentrated on Karl-Liebknecht-Straße, whose nickname is the Kneipenmeile or pub mile. If pubbing it it isn’t your thing (although you should go at least once and have a shot of Pfeffi, which is a mint-flavoured shot that’s as disgusting as it sounds), the flawless public transport network can have you in the suburbs in minutes. In the communist days there used to be a lot of mines surrounding the city, which have mostly been turned into lakes, one of which even has a wild water canoeing course!
It makes sense then that sport is a big part of Leipzig life, too. RB Leipzig, the most successful football team in the city, has just been promoted to the Zweite Bundesliga, roughly equivalent to the Championship in England. It was at the Red Bull Stadium that I found myself along with a record 4o,ooo Leipzigers on Saturday, where we watched them power to a 5-1 victory over 1.FC Saarbrücken (and their 30 fans). The atmosphere was electric and you really got the sense of pride that the people here have in their city. It’s a fantastic place to live with tonnes of character which I’ve been proud to call my home for the past 9 months, and hopefully I’ve done it justice here!
Coming up soon: ridiculous German songs, a trip to Lake Constance, and Saxony’s answer to the Alps. Mach’s gut!