FFor Goethe, the city was a little Paris, in GDR times it was a window to the West thanks to the major trade fairs, today many people celebrate Leipzig as the “new Berlin”, just as creative, just as lively, just as rich in culture, but cheaper than the capital. The travel guide bible “Lonely Planet” named Leipzig (ahead of its long-term rival Dresden) as Saxony’s coolest city.
There is something to it: The creative mix of bohemian, bourgeois and revolutionary people, which heralded the end of the GDR dictatorship 30 years ago, characterizes the place – and makes it one of the most exciting travel destinations in Germany, which can be enjoyed from all corners of the Federal Republic can be reached by train.
Arriving by train
Directly in the city center is the main train station, built in 1915, one of the largest in the country (23 tracks) and a sight in itself: from waiting rooms to entrance halls, everything is splendid – and twice there because it is half for the Prussian and the Saxon railways was built.
With the ICE you can get here without changing from Hamburg, Berlin, Frankfurt, Erfurt, Munich, Nuremberg and Dresden, there is a direct IC connection to Cologne and Düsseldorf.
Explore the city
Preferably on foot! Leipzig is compact, the city center is criss-crossed by pedestrian zones and a kilometer-long network of historic passages that is unique in Europe. The first were created 500 years ago, the most famous is the Mädlerpassage with “Auerbachs Keller”, one of the scenes in Goethe’s “Faust”.
Those who prefer to ride a bike: Rental bikes from Nextbike.de are available in large parts of the city (from one euro for 30 minutes, nine euros per day).
The most unusual city tour is offered by the Leipziger Verkehrsbetriebe: a two-hour tour by tram in glass or open tram cars through Wilhelminian-style quarters and old industrial quarters, past the Schillerhaus and town hall to the Monument to the Battle of the Nations (Saturdays and Sundays, ticket: 15/17 euros) .
And then there are the Weiße Elster, Pleiße and Karl-Heine-Canal, filthy in GDR times, today a beautiful area for individual or guided canoe tours and for excursions in open electric boats through the refurbished industrial district of Plagwitz or the Leipzig floodplain forest (ranaboot.de , elsterboot.de).
Sightseeing in Leipzig
The 854-year-old Nikolaikirche is a must: not only because of its photogenic pastel-colored interior, but also because it emanated the force that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 – this is where the Monday demonstrations started.
A few minutes’ walk away, the “Runde Ecke” memorial in the former Leipzig Stasi headquarters shows the depressing exhibition “Stasi – Power and Banality” about the apparatus of repression in the GDR in original rooms (linoleum floors, brown wallpaper, window bars).
Another highlight that puts you in a good mood is the six-hectare cotton spinning mill in the Lindenau district, a bundle of brick factories and chimneys, until the turn of the century a state-owned company, since the mid-1990s Germany’s largest art factory, from the “Guardian” as “Hottest place on earth” celebrated. Over 100 artists work here in gym-sized studios (the best known: Neo Rauch), eleven galleries exhibit world-class contemporary art, spinning mill tours take place regularly, and smaller tours every Friday and Saturday (spinnerei.de).
Of course, Leipzig also has classics to offer: The Thomaskirche is a place of pilgrimage for fans of Johann Sebastian Bach, who worked here as cantor, and home of the St. On Fridays and Saturdays you can visit motets with the famous Boys’ Choir.
The Seaside Park Hotel, friendly, bright and colorful, is located in the historic city center, right across from the main train station, double rooms from 114 euros (parkhotelleipzig.de).
Leipzig’s most exciting accommodation is offered by the “Pension Meisterzimmer” on the cotton spinning mill site – four loft-like apartments, spread over the old factory buildings, between 42 and 116 square meters, furnished with a mixture of industrial chic and Bauhaus, double rooms 90 to 110 euros (master room. de).
To recommend the common vegetable mix Leipziger Allerlei for a visit to Leipzig would be a bit banal. Leipzig larks are more exciting – not the songbirds (which have not been caught and consumed since 1876), but marzipan pastries in the form of pies, which were created as a substitute specialty at the time.
The craft bakery Kleinert (Brühl 14/16) sells top quality, Lerchen also serves the “Coffee House Riquet” in an Art Nouveau building with elephant decorations (Schuhmachergässchen 1). Those who like Saxon cuisine and a historical ambience are in the right place in “Auerbachs Keller” from 1525 (definitely try: Leipziger Schwarzbierfleisch), while the “Stelzenhaus” serves exotic dishes with a view of the Karl Heine Canal, such as ossobuco with vanilla.
For a nightcap you change to “KarLi” (Karl-Liebknecht-Straße), Leipzig’s trendy district, where so many casual clubs, bars and dance rooms are lined up that you feel as if you are in Berlin-Kreuzkölln.
This article was first published in May 2019.