Leipzig is an historic city at the confluence of three rivers in eastern Germany. Just 160 km (100 miles) from Berlin, Saxony’s largest city was an important trade city during the days of the Roman Empire. The city is famous for its musicians: Bach, Wagner Mendelssohn and a boys choir that originated in the early 13th century. Martin Luther preached here. Though a bloody battle in which Napoleon was defeated 200 years ago was fought here, the city is famous for peace today. In more recent times, Leipzig was where peaceful demonstrations to reunite Germany started.
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The history of Germany since 1949 is the focus of the Zeitgeschichtliches Forum. This history museum begins when Germany was split in two following World War II, covers the building of the Berlin Wall and reunification in 1989, and continues until the present day. The Palace of Tears centers on life in the Soviet section with East German opposition to the one-party regime. It pays particular attention to everyday life under Soviet domination. Personal experiences are detailed in 3,200 items in the permanent exhibition as well as another 200,000 items on history of the German Democratic Republic.
Though he lived 300 years ago, Johann Sebastian Bach is one of the greatest composers of all time, his works including Brandenburg Concerto and Mass in B minor. Leipzig’s Bach Museum is a great place to explore his music and life. The museum is located in a house across from where he lived – his house was torn down but that of his wealthy neighbors wasn’t. It features a “treasure room” containing Bach’s original manuscripts. There’s even a room where visitors can listen to audio recordings of his greatest pieces.
If Goethe were alive today, he probably wouldn’t recognize Auerbach’s Keller, the wine bar he made famous in Faust, or its surroundings. The basement wine bar was built in 1529, and over the centuries buildings were restored or new ones built, until today it is a huge shopping arcade called Madler Passage. The glass-covered complex also includes restaurants and offices. But it is the ambiance, the decorative buildings, the statuary and the opportunity to experience surroundings from years gone by that draws everyone in. OK, the upscale boutiques filled with unique items probably helps, too.
Avid fans of spy novels definitely won’t want to miss visiting the Museum in der Runden Ecke (Museum in the Round Corner). The outside of the curved building belies what’s inside. For forty years it was the office of the East German secret police who kept close tabs on Leipzig residents. The museum is devoted to disguises, surveillance equipment, torture equipment and propaganda the Stasi used to control and manipulate citizens. The Stasi was in the process of destroying everything when a citizens group wrested control. Al the displays are in German but audio guides in English are available.
City-Hochhaus soars over the rooftops of Leipzig as well it should, since it is the city’s tallest building. The 30-story skyscraper climbs 142 meters (466 feet) into the sky. Completed in 1975, the City-Hochhaus has a unique multi-faced architecture that presents a very modern style in a city that’s been around since the early 11th century. Locals refer to the City-Hochhaus, officially known as the Panorama Tower, as the “sleep tooth” because of its design. There’s a restaurant on the 29th floor. Go up another floor to the observation deck for breathtaking views as far as the eye can see.
New Town Hall (Neues Rathaus) looks more like a palace or castle than a town hall, just that’s what is has been since construction was completed in 1905. It is a landmark not only in Leipzig but also in all of Germany, since its tower is the country’s tallest city hall tower at 115 meters (377 feet) high. The New Town hall sits on the site of an old palace; the city fathers decided the palace’s Rapunzul tower silhouette should be maintained. The town hall was occupied by Nazis during World War II, with numerous suicides happening here in the waning days of the war.
On its website, Leipzig Zoo (Zoologischer Garten Leipzig) boasts about its animal welfare, species conservation efforts and how it’s the most modern zoo in the world. These things are important, but it’s not why people visit the zoo: They want to see the 850 species of animals the zoo has. They want to see animals in settings that resemble their native habitat – the Leipzig Zoo is good at that, no longer using cages for the animals. These settings include Gondwanaland, an indoor tropical rainforest the size of two soccer fields, Pongoland where gorillas and chimps live, or the rare Chinese pangolin, a mammal with scales.
Over the centuries the 12th century St. Nicholas Church, or Nikolaikirche, has been Romanesque, Gothic and now Baroque. Its graceful white interior columns soar to the ceiling; the Luther Pulpit, so named because it existed in Martin Luther’s time, can be found in the north chapel. Leipzig’s first Lutheran service took place here. Everything about the interior of this Lutheran church evokes elegance, serenity and peace. Johann Sebastian Bach was its musical director. In more recent times, the 1,400-seat church became the starting site of the Monday Demonstrations, peaceful demonstrations that eventually led to the reunification of Germany in 1989.
From the outside the old gasometerr, a container built in 1909 and used to hold natural gas, doesn’t look like much. Go inside the Panometer, however, to see the world’s largest cloth murals. The murals are 344 feet in circumference and 30 meters (98 feet) high; visitors view them from a platform that is almost 50 feet above the ground. These murals are digitally printed on strips of cloth, pieced together and then hung. The theme changes periodically. The theme for 2018 is Titanic; past themes have included Leipzig in 1813, Amazonia, ancient Rome and Mount Everest.
St. Thomas Church is a late Gothic Lutheran church with an important music and religious history. Great composers like Richard Wagner, Johann Sebastian Bach, Mozart and Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy played here. Bach served as its music director and is buried here. Martin Luther preached from the pulpit in1539. St. Thomas is famous for its Thomanerchor, a boy’s choir that has been in existence since 1212 – the church was founded in the 12th century. The current building dates to 1496, with a tower and chapels added over the centuries. Gothic paintings can be found inside.
Market Square dates back centuries ago when knights played games here. Old City Hall, now a history museum, was built in 1509. The grand ballroom is used for concerts. Other old buildings surrounding the square house restaurants and shops. The city’s top markets and festivals, including Christmas and Easter, take place here every year. The rest of the year Tuesdays and Thursdays are the best days to visit the market. That’s when farmers sell beautifully arranged fresh produce and bouquets of flowers. The market is a good place to get food for a picnic to enjoy in one of Leipzig’s many parks.
Volkerschlachtdenkmal is a massive monument that commemorates the defeat of Napoleon in the October 1813 Battle of the Nations. The battle involved 800,000 soldiers from 20 countries, with 100,000 killed or wounded. The monument was built for the 100th anniversary of the battle in 1913, paid for by donations from Leipzig residents and the City of Leipzig. The monument is nearly 300 feet (91 meters) tall with 500 steps. There’s a viewing platform at the top. Made from concrete and stone, the monument stands where some of the battle’s bloodiest fighting took place. Statues of soldiers killed surround the first floor.