Tired of all the tourists in Berlin or the hordes of hipsters? Ready to try something new and still off the beaten path? Take a swing down to Leipzig.
It’s about two hours from Berlin by car and it’s still fairly unknown to outsiders, which is funny given its long history as a major commercial center and artistic city. The city has undergone a major renovation since the fall of the Berlin wall, but prices remain low compared to Berlin or Munich. As life gets more expensive in Berlin, many artists and students are starting to move to Leipzig, which gives the city a vibrant and diverse atmosphere. It’s the kind of place where you can visit a thousand year old church in the morning, eat lunch in a friendly family run cafe, watch an opera in the afternoon, and then party all night long without breaking the bank. And perhaps best of all, the people tend to be laid back and relaxed.
Its location on both the Via Regia and the Via Imperii, the two most important trade routes of the Holy Roman Empire, ensured that Leipzig was a major economic power in the Medieval period. Despite being one of the richer cities of the former German Democratic Republic (DDR), the city took a major hit to its economy and prestige before the fall of Communism. Leipzig was the site of several major protests before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and protesters would gather every Monday at 1700 just outside the St. Nicholas Church in the city center to peacefully demonstrate against the regime. The church was founded in 1165 and is famous for its organ. The composer Johannes Sebastian Bach lived in Leipzig, and his remains rest in the St Thomas church. Statues to Bach and Felix Mendelssohn Barthody stand nearby. The city was also the first in Germany to have a long distance railroad, which connected Leipzig to Dresden.
Johannes Sebastian Bach
St Nicholas Church
So what’s to see and do? First off, find a place to stay. There are several major hotel chains in Leipzig, but AirBnB offers some interesting alternatives. Try to grab a place in Sudvorstadt near the intersection of Kurt-Eisner Strasse and Karl-Liebknecht Strasse. Karl-Liebknecht Strasse has a number of nice bars and restaurants, and offers a more bohemian feel as it is still an up and coming area.
Another alternative is to look at the more upscale area near Waldstrasse, the road leading to a large forest reserve to the northwest of the city. This area is a bit calmer and definitely wealthier than Sudvorstadt/Connewitz, with some really beautiful buildings. Both neighborhoods are connected to the city center by trams, and are safe at night. The city center also offers a number of housing opportunities, though the prices tend to be higher. Also, think about grabbing a multi-day tram pass so that you can hop on and off at will. Leipzig is well-served by buses and trams, and it’s often quicker and easier to take a tram than to drive around town.
Once you’re settled, head in to town to the main train station (Hauptbahnhof) and take a quick stroll through the shopping complex with the station, which is the largest in the world by floor area. Across from the train station is the old town, which features a mix of older buildings (often in the Gründerzeit style), communist structures, and some ultramodern structures. Make sure to stop by the Old Town Hall in the Market Square and to see the old stock market. Definitely find the time to pop into some of the covered shopping areas- some, like the Mädlerpassage, are quite fascinating.
The Auerbachs Keller, founded in 1525, is located in the Mädlerpassage and provides some typical German dishes with a nice atmosphere. The more well-read will remember the Keller as a setting for Johan Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust. Goethe studied law for three years in Leipzig before focusing on his love of writing and poetry.
The Auerbachs Keller, founded in 1525
The New Town Hall features a tower straight from a fairy tale (plus the Ratskeller for a nice German meal), and the Augustusplatz is home to the Opera, and the Gewandhaus Orchestra. Other attractions include the Stasi Museum which covers the history of DDR’s secret police, the Leipziger Zoo (which includes a huge tropical area kept at a steamy 30+ degrees year round and some interesting building projects), and two football teams: RB Leipzig (based in the Red Bull arena), and FC Lokomotive Leipzig)
After a bite to eat, try the two-hour bus tour (departs near the central train station), which is a great way to get a quick feel for the city and its disparate neighborhoods. There are also cruises along the various canals, lakes, and rivers in and around Leipzig. The tour passes by the Monument to the Battle of Nations (Völkerschlaktdenkmal), a tribute to the 1813 Battle of Leipzig which saw Napoleon defeated by a coalition of forces from Russia, Prussia, Sweden and Austria. Built in 1913, the monument is one of the finest examples of Wilhelmine architecture. Visitors can climb to the very top of the monument (if they don’t mind walking up 500+ steps) for a great view of southern Leipzig. A short walk towards Zentrum-Sudvorstadt is the Alte Messe, an open multipurpose area that often hosts circuses and the Leipzig Bierbörse (at the end of May). If you keep walking towards the city center, you will then come across the Deutsche Nationalbibliiothek (library) and the Musikarchiv (musical archive). If it’s published in Germany, or in the German language, you’ll find it here. Leipzig is host to a number of concerts and events throughout the year, so there is always something going on.
When it comes time to party, there are a number of bars on Karl-Liebknecht Strasse in Sudvorstadt, Das Werk in Connewitz host big events, and Barfußgäßchen Strasse in the center of town is packed with small bars and a dance club. The dress code is pretty casual, so do not worry about packing your finest club outfits. Focus on the fun!
Leipzig is surrounded by parks and lakes offering some stunning views. One of my favorite places to go jog is to pass through Leipziger Auwald woods in Zentrum-Nordwest from Waldstrasse until I hit the Elsterbecken and the Neue Luppe canal, which features a seemingly never ending running and bike path. Markkleeberg See (lake) is a former open pit coal mine that has been turned into a recreational area and features Germany’s only artificial whitewater slalom course for kayakers at the Kanupark (Canoe Park). Dresden, another great city to visit, is about two hours away by car, and the countryside offers everything from open plains to rolling hills.
Leipzig has always been a lot of fun whenever I have visited and always seems to have a new surprise for me. I especially enjoy the mix of people and architecture in the city, with beautiful old buildings now being renovated and new construction filling in the gaps left from the war and Communist neglect. It’s a vibrant city that effortlessly mixes the new and the old without any of the attitude of superiority that seems to permeate certain parts of Berlin. Many people dismissively call the city “Hypzig” as they claim that the news of its revival is overdone, but I think that the city and its inhabitants have definitely done a great job in building a city with a lot to offer but that also still has a cosy feel to it. Whether you visit it on its own or as part of a bigger tour through Eastern Germany, it’s well-worth the time.