I went to Leipzig with only a vague idea of what the city would be like. Two of my good friends lived there and from their description, it seemed like a wonderfully relaxed, student-y place. It sounded like Berlin before everybody heard about it and made it impossible to find anything but Polynesian vegan restaurants in Prenzlauerberg.
What I did not know is how important Leipzig is for European culture. This struck me as soon as I left the palatial, cavernous Leipzig central station on a rainy June day and started wandering around. I stumbled across Auerbach’s cellar, where one of the most famous scenes in Faust is sent and where Goethe drunk while a student at the Univeristy of Leipzig. A few hundreds of meters was the chapel where J.S. Bach composed and played his most famous pieces on a rather unassuming organ. On the other side of the cellar was St Nichola’s church, an architectural masterpiece of pastel tones and leafy columns, which gained fame for protests in 1989, which preceded German reunification. Angela Merkel studied here, and Nietzsche was born nearby. A few miles further was the place where Napoleon lost the Battle of Nations in 1813. In many ways, how little we know little about Leipzig, is how little we know about Germany.
But the city wears its history nonchalantly. In the old city core, locals sit in wonderful old cafes and stroll through many galleries. Students chill in front of the newly renovated campus at the site of a 13th century church, which was blow up in the communist times. There is little pomp and few tourists.
Despite this, Leipzig is Germany’s boomtown. Startups are cropping up and students are hanging out in the derelict industrial area of Plagwitz. The city is fighting for dominance in the Eastern state of Saxony against its more famous rival Dresden. My friends love it for its convenient size and good cultural life. Not only can you get all the latest German hipster trends (retro juices are the thing now), but you can also go to one of country’s best opera houses.In post-industrial parts, gentrification did not progress enough to destroy their charm and replace old shops with identikit hipster-coffee shops. Proximity to Berlin also helps if you ever get bored in this 500,000 city.
Although I stayed only for two very rainy days, I was charmed.
One unmissable thing is climbing the massive Battle of Nations monument, mostly because it looks like it would not be out of place in Gondor. Once we got up to the roof, past massive muscular statues, the flatness of Saxon land looked impressive rather than boring. The sign for Leipzig fair, held since 12th century, was turning in the distance. Even a nearby crematorium looked like a fairytale castle. We celebrated the view with Rotkaeppchen, a local sprakling wine.
Leipzig, get hype.