The city of Leipzig, located in central Germany, has a long and moving history with the first settlers coming to the area in the 7th century. The ethnic group of the sorbs set up a trading base and called it “Lipsk” after the lime trees that grew there. The privilege of gaining borough and market rights in 1165 was the starting point of Leipzig’s successful development into an important trading city. The imperial trade fair privileges granted by Emperor Maximilian in 1497 subsequently put the city on the European trade fair map. A new chapter of trading begun in 1895, when Leipzig hosted the first “Mustermesse”, a modern fair format exhibiting only sample products and ordering large amounts later on. This concept was maintained up until today. In more recent history, the opening of the trade fair grounds in Leipzig north with its stunning glass architecture expressed the cities sense for adapting to new standards.
Today, Leipzig is one of the fastest growing cities in Germany with a population recently exceeding the 600.000-inhabitant-line. The heart of the Saxon metropolis is the merely one square kilometre big city centre. However, there are about 1.500 restaurants, bars and cafes all over the city many of them offering outdoor seating areas which make for the perfect Mediterranean atmosphere in summer.
Unique System of Arcades and Courtyards
Impressive trading houses and exhibition buildings, passageways and arcades still give Leipzig’s city centre its historic character. Many features have been extensively restored over recent years to reflect the wealth and influence of trade through the ages, with many historic details sensitively retained. A self-contained network of around 30 arcades, 20 of them originals, can be found within the inner city area, which spans approx. 1 km², and is unique in Germany.
The best-known and most lavish arcade is the Mädler Passage, with its elegant glass skylights and Auerbachs Keller, a cellar restaurant steeped in tradition, once a favourite haunt of Goethe. The arcade was built between 1912 and 1914 by the wealthy merchant Anton Mädler, and was inspired by the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele in Milan. The 140m long shopping arcade contains exclusive fashion boutiques and fine restaurants, not to mention other small shops, including confectioners and stationers.
Leipzig – where music calls the tune
There is hardly any other city in the world that can claim as rich a musical heritage as Leipzig. Names like Johann Sebastian Bach, who headed St. Thomas' Boys Choir for 27 years, and Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, whose last and sole private residence has been preserved in Leipzig, are inextricably linked to the city. And that’s not it: Richard Wagner was born in Leipzig, Robert Schumann wrote his Spring Symphony here and Clara Wieck, born and raised in Leipzig herself, became one of the most renown pianists of her time.
Leipzig’s musical roots go back to the early 13th century, when margrave Dietrich appropriated an existing church (predecessor of present St. Thomas Church) and turned it into a donation for the Augustinian canons, who were interested in gaining more power. The school that was part of the church first had the task to teach boys liturgical singing. From this the St. Thomas Foundation and the St. Thomas Boys Choir developed. Over the centuries the boys choir together with its Thomaskantor (music director) were in charge of performing a considerable amount of sacred and secular music in and around Leipzig. Since the early 20th century the motets have taken place regularly on Fridays and Saturdays in St. Thomas Church. In honour of Leipzig’s most important Thomaskantor, JS Bach, a memorial was set up in St. Thomas courtyard. Bach’s final resting place can be visited in St. Thomas’ chancel.
Being built in 1165 and providing approximately 1.400 seats, St. Nicolas Church is not only Leipzig’s oldest but also biggest church. It was the starting point of the Monday peace prayers in ’89 which led to the Peaceful Revolution and subsequently the German Reunification. The church was converted a couple of times and hence, there are features from the Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Classicism era. It houses a four-manual organ which counts among the biggest in Germany.
Ever since the early 13th century, Leipzig developed into the centre for classical music in Germany. The nowadays world famous Gewandhausorchester has its roots in 1743, when citizens from Leipzig founded the “Grand Concert” which was performed by 16 musicians.
Today, almost 200 musicians belong to the ensemble whose Gewandhauskapellmeister (music director) is Andris Nelsons since March 2018. The Gewandhaus concert hall was built on the initiative of a former music director, Kurt Masur, in 1981. The Grand Hall seats more than 1.900 visitors and the Mendelssohn Hall about 500. "Gesang vom Leben" ("Song of Life"), Sighard Gille's striking mural encompassing a vast area of the main foyer's sloping ceiling and the largest contemporary painting of its kind in Europe, forms the Gewandhaus's figurehead. Illuminated at night, it radiates through the glass façade onto Augustusplatz. In front of the Gewandhaus concert hall is the 18m high Mende fountain from 1886.
The hour of birth for Leipzig’s opera had already come in 1693, which makes it the third-oldest European opera house after Milan and Hamburg. The opera house on Augustusplatz was opened in 1960 with a performance of Wagner’s ”Meistersinger von Nürnberg”. It was designed by Kunz Nierade in a neoclassical style. Recently under the direction of intendant Prof. Ulf Schirmer, Leipzig Opera has the ambitious goal of having all of Richard Wagner’s operas in its house repertoire by 2022. From June 21 until July 14, there will be a grand Wagner festival where his 13 operas shall be staged in chronological order.
The majority of Leipzig composers’ homes and workplaces is still standing today and has been turned into museums. This is unrivaled in Germany and, in international terms, is second only to Vienna. Unique in Leipzig, however, is the proximity of these sites. Since 2012, the Leipzig Music Trail connects 23 authentic sites of Leipzig’s music history on a 5km walking trail. Curved stainless-steel shapes set in the ground mark the “ribbon” that makes its way through the city centre. An audio guide and audio samples complement the musical journey.
The Mendelssohn house in Goldschmidtstrasse 12 is the last and solely remaining private residence of composer Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy worldwide. He was the most important Gewandhauskapellmeister (music director) and started the renaissance of Bach’s music in Germany. His study and the drawing room, in which beside Wagner also Schumann and Berlioz were guests, have been restored in their original form. The Effektorium, a virtual orchestra that one can conduct and a floor dedicated to Fanny Hensel and Kurt Masur round of the exhibition.
Opposite St. Thomas Church, Bosehaus from 1710 houses the Bach Museum Leipzig. The museum presents the life and works of Johann Sebastian Bach and his family in an interactive multimedia exhibition. One of the highlights is the treasure room, where original Bach manuscripts and other precious items are on display.
Worth a visit is also the Leipzig home of Robert and Clara Schumann at Inselstraße 18. The young couple moved into this architectural gem after their wedding on 12th September, 1840. Today, numerous concerts are hosted in the music salon of the Schumann House. In 2019, in honour of the 200th birthday of Clara Schumann a new permanent exhibition called Experiment of an artist marriage was opened.
Architectural highlights & memorials in the city centre
Leipzig central station is the perfect starting point for a stroll through the city centre. After 13 years of construction, it opened on 1st October 1915. Ever since it counts among the biggest passenger stations worldwide. Nowadays, more than 1.300 trains as well as 120.000 travellers pass the building daily. These numbers rose extremely after the opening of Leipzig’s city tunnel in 2013. The 4-stop underground passage through the city centre connects Leipzig with its surrounding region: Fast and convenient for tourists and commuters likewise.
Since Leipzig main station was extensively modernized in 1997, it is not only an important transport hub but also hosts a shopping arcade with about 140 stores and restaurants.
The Old Town Hall, built by Hieronymus Lotter in only 9 months in 1556, is an outstanding example of German Renaissance architecture. Until the beginning of the 20th century it was the seat of the Leipzig city council. Since 1909, the building has been home to the Museum of City History. In 1672 a golden inscription circulating the building was added to the façade. It is one of the longest inscriptions in the world. The 10.000 square meter big market square in front of the Old Town Hall has been the main spot for trading business in Leipzig since the 13th century.
The Old Stock Exchange on Naschmarkt is right behind the Old Town Hall and can be reached via a passageway. It was built from 1678 to 1687 after the designs of Johann Georg Starcke. The building which resembles a pavilion is Leipzig’s oldest meeting venue. The former stock exchange hall can be rented for events up until today. In front of the Old Stock Exchange, visitors will spot the Goethe memorial from 1903. It shows the great German poet during his time as a student at Leipzig university.
The last remaining passage from Leipzig’s early trade fair years is Barthels Hof. The courtyard dates back to 1750 and houses a traditional restaurant serving typical Saxon cuisine. One of the surrounding houses impresses with the oldest remaining fragments (from 1523) on a Leipzig façade.
The 200m long Katharinenstraße is Leipzig’s main street for baroque architecture with remarkable houses of wealthy merchants like the Fregehaus or Kretschmanns Hof or the Romanushaus. The latter was built for Leipzig’s mayor in 1703.
Just a few minutes walking away is Augustusplatz with the 142m high city high rise dominating the view. The former university building was built between 1968 and 1972 and resembles an open book. On the 29th floor, visitors can eat in central Germany’s highest restaurant “The Panorama Tower”. An observation deck on the 34th floor offers spectacular views over the city.
Next to the city high rise the impressive new campus building of Leipzig university marks the north end of Augustusplatz. It was designed after the plans of Dutch architect Erick van Egeraat and opened its doors in 2017. Part of the façade resembles the former university church which was intentionally blown up by the GDR regime on 30th of May 1968. Being founded in 1409, Leipzig university is the second oldest university in Germany with no interruption in teaching. Approximately 30.000 students from all over the world are enrolled here.
On the south western corner of the inner city centre is Leipzig’s New City Hall. It was erected on the former foundation of Pleissenburg castle in 1905 and has been the seat of the city council since then. The 110m high tower is accessible during public tours and offers a wonderful view over the ciy centre.
Opposite the New City Hall, visitors can see the impressive building of the Federal Administrative Court (1895) on Simsonplatz. Apart from the Reichstag in Berlin and the Ruhmeshalle in Görlitz, the court building is the only monumental structure with a dome from the Wilhelminian era.
The most visited museums and leisure attractions
Leipzig Zoo on Pfaffendorfer Straße 29 opened in 1878 and hence, is one of the oldest Zoos worldwide. Due to its rich biodiversity with around 800 species Leipzig zoo earned itself international reputation. Apart from the world’s biggest ape enclosure Pongoland, the tropical hall Gondwanaland (size of two football pitches) allows visitors to experience the secret world of a tropical rainforest. More than 17.600 botanicals and 300 animals call Gondwanaland their home. With 1.8 million visitors per year Leipzig Zoo is the most popular tourist attraction in the city.
Another unique attraction in the south of Leipzig is the Panometer Leipzig. Inside of a former Gasometer of the public utility company, the artist Yadegar Asisi exhibits 360–degree panorama pictures on the 32m high walls. The current exhibition „Carolas Garden“ offering a behind the scenes look into an allotment garden is on display until the end of 2020.
In the city centre, the Museum of Fine Arts (Katharinenstraße 10) opened in 2004 as the first newly built museum in Eastern Germany after the German reunification. The collection inside the prize-winning architecture shows around 3.500 paintings and 1.000 sculptures with a focus on Dutch and German art from the 15th to the 21th century.
A Leipzig visit is not complete without having seen the Monument to the Battle of Nations. It was inaugurated on 18th October 1913 for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Nations which took place on the exact spot of the monument. During this battle 125.000 soldiers lost their lives. With an absolute height of 91 meters, the monument is the highest in Europe. The impressive dome is decorated with 324 rider reliefs inside. The observation deck can be reached via 500 stairs – or a convenient elevator ride.
The Grassi Museum at Johannisplatz was built between 1925 and 1929. The building houses three different museums which collections are among the most important in Europe: The Grassi Museum for Ethnology, The Grassi Museum for Applied Arts and the Grassi Museum for Musical Instruments of the University of Leipzig.
More than 200.000 visitors per year wander the floors of the Forum of Contemporary History (Grimmaische Straße 6). The museum commemorates the opposition, resistance and moral courage shown in the GDR against the background of German division. The exhibition, documentation and information centre offers a forum for active participation in addressing contemporary German history from the end of the Second World War to the present.
Another tourist magnet focussing on GDR history is the Museum in the Round Corner (Dittrichring 24), which is located in the former Stasi offices for the district of Leipzig. The permanent exhibition called Stasi – Power and Banality explains the structure and operation of the Ministry of State Security of the GDR.
New urban lifestyle: Living in old factories
Leipzig takes a special place in Germany’s industrial history. The western district of Plagwitz was the first large-scale industrial area in Germany to be planned from scratch. The industrial pioneer Carl Erdmann Heine decided to drain the swampy land in order to make room for housing and factories. He built the Karl-Heine-Canal which was meant to connect Leipzig with Hamburg and the North Sea via the rivers Elster, Saale and Elbe. And he worked hard to attract industrial companies to Plagwitz, making sure their grounds were connected to the new rail and canal networks. The combination of housing and jobs was unique, and in connection with the ideal transport links triggered an industrial boom.
After 150 successful years of industrialization, many companies went out of business after the breakdown of the GDR regime. The population shrunk. Buildings, factories and old rail tracks were abandoned. Karl-Heine-Canal was merely a dirty body of water than a flourishing transport connection. The city had to come up once again with a new plan. Together with the help of investors a development programme was started. Today, Plagwitz ranks among the most popular districts in Leipzig. Thanks to successful renovations of former factories, the revitalisation of Karl-Heine-Canal and the development of a vibrant creative scene, the area is a successful example of urban transformation.
One of the main attractions in Plagwitz is the Spinnerei. Formerly the largest cotton mill of continental Europe (1884 – 1989), it is now home to galleries, exhibition halls and artist studios. Just around the corner is Kunstkraftwerk Leipzig. Since 2016, it has distinguished itself as a European hotspot for new media art. Emphasis is placed on immersive art projects that pick up the industrial environment and combine different forms of art and technology. The largest video projection system in Germany allows for spectacular insights into classical art pieces.
Leipzig’s nightlife leaves nothing to be desired. In addition to its wide range of high culture, there’s always something exciting for night owls to discover. The dozens of pubs in the Südvorstadt on Karl-Liebknecht-Straße are some of the most popular haunts. Here the blend of squatter scene and club culture took off at the start of the nineties. Today the venues have spilled out beyond these former limits. “KarLi”, as the street has affectionately been nicknamed by locals, is a remarkable mix of culture and international gastronomy.
Concert-goers should pay a visit to the venue Werk II. The former materials testing machine factory houses galleries and associations, a friendly pub and culture of all genres. Concerts are frequently held here. Leipzig’s culture is also very much in evidence at one of the oldest cinemas in Germany – the UT Connewitz. 100 years after its opening, the stage with portico relief still radiates the glory and splendour of the original architecture. Situated at the other end of KarLi is naTO - the trade fair city's cinema venue for alternative films far away from the big multiplexes. The Distillery – a stalwart among the world’s house and techno clubs and the oldest techno club in eastern Germany – is the place to end a night out.
Explore the Leipzig Region by bike, boat or on foot
More than a third of Leipzig is covered in green spaces. The floodplain forest crossing the city from north to south like a wide green strip is perfect for hiking and cycling trips. Green lungs like Clara-Zetkin-Park or Johannapark can be reached within 15min walking from the city centre.
For those looking for active recreation, the Leipzig New Lakeland is the ideal spot. More than 20 lakes and a wide network of waterways allow for visitors to go swimming, boating, cycling or simply relax on one of the many sandy beaches. Even rafting is possible at Kanupark Markkleeberg. At the shores of Lake Cospuden, families can spend a day full of action at Adventure Park Belantis with more than 60 rides. Further attractions in the Leipzig New Lakeland include the floating church VINETA and the CAMP DAVID Sport Resort at Lake Schladitz.
Apart from water-based activities, visitors can set out to explore the many cycling and hiking paths at nature park Düben Heath, Dahlen Heath or Wermsdorf Forest. The Luther Trail Saxony passing little towns like Grimma, Torgau and Colditz along with impressive castles like Castle Rochsburg, Kriebstein or Leisnig is also worth a visit.