Best known as a mecca of music, Leipzig is a dynamic, cosmopolitan city rooted in history, offering travelers a diverse array of enriching activities where heritage and modernization connect. To the delight of any history buff, here the past comes alive at every turn, its delightful aspects as well as its darkest shadows. Happily, the lessons of the past exist side-by-side with today’s giant rays of hope; they all converge in Leipzig’s exalting culture scene.
The spirit of protest is alive and well: the city hall was formerly the site of the fortress where, in 1519, Martin Luther made the break with Rome that gave rise to the Protestant faith. And, as the site of the 1989 Peaceful Revolution, Leipzig continues to stand for forward-thinking change today.
Indeed, the spirit of innovation and progress—from centuries-old history to the present day—is the core value of Leipzig: a magnificent metropolis whose cultural scene welcomes the creative traveler with open arms and minds.
1. Europe’s City of Music
Hardly any other city on Earth can claim as rich a musical heritage as Leipzig, which has reversed its musicians, past and present, for more than 800 years, celebrating them with world-class festivals every year. Travelers can attend a performance of the St. Thomas choir, a world-renowned boys choir and the city’s oldest cultural institution, at the 13th-century Gothic St. Thomas Church, where the music director was none other than Johann Sebastian Bach.
Afterward, walk the 3.3-mile Leipziger Notenspur (Leipzig Music Trail), where you’ll encounter the original workplaces of famous composers including Felix Mendelssohn, widely known as the most important conductor to front Leipzig’s Gewandhaus Orchestra and thought to have fundamentally changed the city’s musical scene. You’ll also see where composers Edvard Grieg, Clara and Robert Schumann, and Richard Wagner worked, the Gewandhaus Orchestra, and the Opera Leipzig along the trail.
2. A bastion of creativity and innovation
For young creative people, Leipzig is no longer an insider secret. The city is renowned across the globe for its dynamic art, music, and festival scenes. Tradition, openness, and the high “feel-good” factor continually attract creatives to the city to stay, making Leipzig a trendy visitors’ destination for individualists. Head to Plagwitz and Lindenau in the west of Leipzig and discover the Spinnerei.
Once Europe’s largest cotton mill, yarn production ceased in 1992, its industrious spinning replaced by the even more dynamic energy of Leipzig’s artistic community. Today, the Spinnerei is an internationally famed art center that’s home to upwards of 100 artists’ studios and eleven galleries and exhibition spaces—an impressive repurposing that now forms a center of the Leipzig art scene, unrivalled worldwide.
More visual inspiration is on offer at Museum of Contemporary Art, home to international modern art created from 1945 to the present. In Leipzig, inspiration is eternal and ubiquitous: here, creative types don’t just feed their soul, they gorge as at a year-round holiday feast. Are you that culture-vulture who journeys far to visit the haunts of poets, philosophers, and preachers? In the city that was home to Schiller and Goethe, you’ll be delighted to visit the latter’s favorite beer hall, Auerbachs Keller (which he immortalized in a scene of Faust).
3. The Peaceful Revolution
An absolutely transporting experience is guaranteed at Nikolaikirche (St. Nicholas Church), where worshippers started praying in 1982 for a peaceful end to the Cold War buildup of nuclear weapons. By October 1989, congregants were protesting the growing repressions of the SED (or East German Communist Party) regime. On October 9, 1989, around 70,000 people took to the Leipzig streets, despite the threat of a command to shoot. With candles in their hands, they peacefully demanded more freedom and democracy in East Germany—a decisive catalyst for the start of the Peaceful Revolution that finally led to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Chanting Wir sind das Volk (We are the People) and “No Violence,” people marched across the city’s inner-city ring road.
Then, on November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall collapsed. With this Peaceful Revolution, the good people of Leipzig changed the course of history for the benefit of all: a great comfort when visiting the Stasi Museum, which has kept intact the headquarters of the secret police, complete with drab linoleum and fluorescent fixtures, plus audio tours and displays serving as a sober reminder of what life used to be like in East Germany.
4. A water enthusiast’s dream
Are you most in your element on the water? Lucky you, Leipzig boasts more bridges than Venice. It’s also located directly on the water, and while almost all of Leipzig is walkable, it’s a great place for a scenic boat ride. To see first-hand why one of the city’s nicknames is “Little Venice,” book a canoe, kayak, inflatable boat, or boat tour and embark on a journey through the city’s interlocking system of natural rivers and canals. Among them is the Karl-Heine-Canal, a two-mile artificial waterway that runs through the Western part of the city, featuring no fewer than 15 bridges. Traversing it, you’ll pass by several historic sites, among them the golden-hued tower of the Philippuskirche (Philip Church) in the Lindenau district and former industrial architecture with artistic façades.
5. A culture-rich region
Within an hour’s drive from downtown Leipzig you’ll find castles, fortresses, and miles of idyllic cycling and hiking trails. This is also the location of the Leipziger Neuseenland (New Lakeland), a district of more than 20 distinct, family-friendly lakes with activities to suit every holidaymaker’s taste. These flooded lakes are impressive feats of man-made engineering, parts of an ambitious project that will see completion in 2060. The largest lake, Zwenkauer See, has a maximum depth of 159 feet and is on the site of a former lignite open cast mine. The lakes are perhaps the ultimate expression of the region’s spirit of change that makes Leipzig such an extraordinary, unforgettable destination.