Having led the way in the 1989 democratic revolution, Leipzig is heroic in more ways than one. Words: KIM SMITH
Less than a month after German protesters began ripping down the Berlin Wall in 1989, ticked-off residents in Leipzig, eastern Germany, stormed the Ministry for State Security, the secret service of the former German Democratic Republic (also called the ‘Stasi’) and removed its power. Without violence and before the secret police could pull files, the people of Leipzig successfully smashed the most important pillar of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany.
As Stasi officers surrendered, protesters celebrated their liberation in the streets and have been doing so ever since. A famous saying that ‘a man without a belly is a cripple’ gives you some idea how partial the locals are to putting a couple away. Be sure to test a Gose beer.
For leading the democratic revolution, Leipzig was pegged Stadt der Helden, which means City of Heroes, a title it deserves in more ways than one. After suffering great neglect during communism, the city – also more than half destroyed in World War II because of its strategic rail links – worked its butt off to shake its turbulent past and become one of the country’s biggest go-getters. It’s also been the chosen digs for a list of big names, most notably composer Johann Sebastian Bach, who spent 27 years of his life as a musical director here. A museum in his honour sits opposite St Thomas’ Church, where he worked, and a jumbo-sized statue of the music man towers nearby. Other greats include Robert Schumann, Richard Wagner and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
As well as St Thomas’ Church, which is home to the world-famous St Thomas’s Boys Choir, it’s worth checking out St Nicholas Church, the chief meeting point for peaceful demonstrations against the GDR. Services for peace are still held here every Monday.
The most impressive sight in the city by far, though, is the Monument to the Battle of Nations, cobbled up to salute those who lost their lives at the Battle of Nations fought against Napoleon in 1813. It was the largest fray in Europe before World War I, with more than 500,000 troops fighting over five days at the cost of 100,000 lives. Reflect at the top of the colossus – as Germany’s tallest tribute at 91m, it offers a tiptop view.
For something a bit different, head to the Panometer, where a sweeping art installation – a full-scale 3D reconstruction of the ancient city of Rome – has been set up in a former gas storage. It’s a world first and the brainchild of celebrated architect Yadegar Asisi. Keep your eyes peeled for Emperor Constantine marching into the city with his hopped-up procession.
Or if you’re up for a day trip, head to Colditz Castle, a fortress where Allied prisoners, including two Australians, were locked up during World War II. Less than 50km south of Leipzig, it offers an incredible insight to how captives lived and detailed examples of the how lucky ones broke free.
There’s also a host of other sights in Leipzig itself – City History Museum, Leipzig Zoo and Museum of Fine Arts – but if you’ve only got time for one more stop, make it the Stasi Museum, in the former headquarters of the secret police. Here you can see how the locals were spied on and check out some freaky costumes officers used to disguise themselves, false stomachs and moulded noses included.
• Kim Smith flew to Leipzig with Berlin Air, who fly daily services from Stansted. One-way tickets start from £24. See www.airberlin.com or call 0871-5000 737