Leipzig is not just a city of music. It is a city of change. In the 1980s, it was also a centre of the protests against the East German leadership. From 1982, people would congregate at St Nicholas Church – which is also part of the Leipziger Notenspur and has frequent concerts – for peace prayers. Gradually these turned into Monday demonstrations and the peace movement started.
On 9 October 1989, some 70,000 people congregated in the square a candle in their hands and sat down. Despite threats of violent reprisals, the protest concluded peacefully, and exactly a month later the Berlin Wall came tumbling down in the Peaceful Revolution that led to the reunification of the country. The event is commemorated in the Festival of Lights, celebrated each year in October.
As I stroll around Leipzig’s parks and surrounding streets later in the day, I feel like I am back in London. However, there you sense there is a constant battle between bike and car in which the pedestrian becomes collateral damage – in Amsterdam the war is over and the bike has won; woe betide he who ventures unwittingly into a bike lane. In Leipzig, I feel there is a harmony between the bike and the pedestrian. Each has its own place; and when you do happen to stray off the straight and narrow into the bike lane, a gentle ring of a bell rather than “Oi you!” suggests politely that you might be so kind as to move across, bitte schön. In Leipzig, their bitte is worse than their Bach.
The following morning, I decide to flip from music to art. First up, is the Museum of Fine Arts, just off the market square. The top floor has a display of contemporary art with a clear emphasis on female artists and sexuality. Perhaps this is the cultural equivalent of the top shelf of magazines in newsagents? Below are floors devoted to European art from the 17th to 19th centuries, as well as to the New Leipzig School of painting, which achieved prominence in the art world in the 1990s with works by Neo Rauch and Tilo Baumgärtel.
Both artists are part of the artistic community at the Spinnerei, my next destination, Rauch still has a studio here. Originally a cotton mill, the largest in mainland Europe, at its peak 2,000 people lived and worked at the Spinnerei in a community with its own kindergarten and allotment, producing cotton that was transported across the country via canals.
In 1992, the huge warehouses were converted into art spaces and studios – there are now more than 100. Recently the community has diversified and there’s even a call centre based here, as well as a hair salon, but the emphasis is most definitely on the creative with 14 galleries, including the non-profit space Halle 14. The “cosmos of art” has three main exhibitions each year in spring, autumn and winter, as well as an outdoor cinema from May to September, when the place becomes abuzz with Leipzigers watching films, partying and spilling out onto the nearby Karl-Heine-Strass, which is one of the more popular night spots in town.
My last morning, I visit the Gose Brewery in the beautiful Bayern Station (Bayerischer Bahnhoff) for a tour and tasting – apparently morning drinking is acceptable in Leipzig. Although the brewery only opened in 2000, gose is one of the oldest styles of beer in Germany. Named after a small river of that name, it has a sourer taste than your traditional pilsner. In 1738, the story goes that Prince Leopold I was so disappointed with the brews of Leipzig, that he allowed a local innkeeper to introduce gose beer from Glauditz. Soon gose became the main beer of the city, with Goethe a particular fan. Accounts that the beer, a supposed aphrodisiac, has been helping Leipzigers have sex since 1738, are unsubstantiated.
By the 1960s, the beer had lost its pulling power, and went into remission for more than 20 years before the current revival. Gose is not brewed in accordance with Germany’s Reinheitsgebot beer purity law as both coriander and a bit of salt is added to it, explains the brewmaster, Matthaus as he settles me down for a blind tasting. However, I soon give up on the gose, I still prefer dunkel to gose, and drinking in smoke-filled jazz bars around midnight than railway stations at 11 in the morning. Some things will never change.
For an excellent guide to cultural Leipzig and places more off-the-beaten track, visit:.hidden-leipzig.com.