Hailed as the ‘new Berlin’ and ‘Hypezig’, Leipzig is a post industrial city positively brimming with creativity, from visual arts to the world’s largest Goth festival. Sasha Arms, author of guidebook Carl Goes Leipzig, reports with pen and lens.
Leipzig is a former industrial city of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). What fewer people know is that Leipzigers played a crucial role in the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. In October 1989, there was a huge public prayer for peace at St. Nicholas Church. It triggered protests on a massive scale against the East German government and the Berlin Wall fell the following month.
After the wall fell, Leipzig experienced a huge population decline, as residents sought more money and prosperity in the west. Nowadays the very opposite is true. Artists and entrepreneurs in particular are flocking to Leipzig in droves, tempted by the abundance of space, inspiring old industrial buildings and creative freedom the city offers. Many liken it to the creative inhabitation Berlin has experienced, but where Berlin is now seen by many as being ‘fully booked’, Leipzig still has space, a cheap cost of living and a fiercely independent spirit.
Best of the Beaten Track
Leipzig has a strong music and art heritage. Johann Sebastian Bach, among others, lived and worked in the city. He was the music director at St. Thomas Church (Thomaskirche) for a number of years, until he was buried there in 1750. As a result, music fans from across the world visit Leipzig just to visit this church.
The Leipzig Opera is another particularly notable music and performance art spot. The Academy of Visual Arts (Die Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst Leipzig) is world famous for the New Leipzig School art movement. While it’s only possible to visit the school for public exhibitions (unless you’re a student), some of the movement’s most influential artists, Neo Rauch and Rosa Loy – who are also incidentally husband and wife – still live in Leipzig today. Brad Pitt was one of the more recent celebrities to purchase Neo Rauch’s work. Visit the Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei – a huge art complex in a former cotton mill – to experience where their artist studios are located today. There are public gallery tours there three times a year as well as various ad hoc events.
Leipzig doesn’t have many tall buildings, but City-Hochhaus is the largest and has a viewing platform at the top.
Leipzig Hauptbahnhof – the city’s train station – is the largest train station in the world by floor space. It has a shopping mall and a surprisingly good restaurant strip built into it too. Funnily enough, locals love to hang out at the train station in their spare time.
The city centre in general is full of beautiful cobbled streets with cute courtyards to duck into. Leipzig Markt – the market square – is the centrepiece to this.
Leipzigers love green space too. The Leipzig Riverside Forest (Leipziger Auwald) runs around and through the city – it’s possible to travel through the city via parks and the forest alone.
Another great view of the city is found at Fockeberg – a hill made from the rubble of World War II.
The city is also surrounded by magnificent lakes – former coal mines which were flooded to form amazing recreational areas. Given half a chance, Leipzigers cycle down to their favourite lake – Cospudener See – which is affectionately known as ‘Cossi’.
Every nook and cranny in Leipzig has something hip about it. The Plagwitz neighbourhood in the west of the city is bursting with creativity. Walk along Karl-Heine-Strasse for a self-guided graffiti tour – look out for an actual Ilyushin 18 airplane on top of the Da Capo building.
Check out Kunstkraftwerk – a cultural centre inside a former gas power station – and the quirky German Allotment Museum (Deutsches Kleingärtnermuseum), where you’ll also stumble across one of the city’s most off-the-beaten-track beer gardens.
‘Karli’ – the locals’ name for the neighbourhood around Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse in the south – is another hip area. Check out die naTo for socio-cultural events and stop for a coffee at röskant, where they roast their own coffee on-site. Feinkost is also a must-stop; it has a flea market, cultural events and an open-air cinema.
Many Leipzigers say the east of the city is the most emerging neighbourhood these days. A little rough around the edges still, there are some amazing creative ventures to be sought out. This includes The Japanese House (Das Japanische Haus) – a non-commercial space for subculture that runs everything from exhibitions to communal cooking evenings.
Along a similar vein, urban gardening is another popular pastime in the city – such as Annelinde – where you can volunteer and attend food events.
On Sundays, locals head to the city’s favourite park: Clara-Zetkin Park. Musicians, artists and the city’s free-spirited inhabitants congregate on the bridge, Sachsenbrücke, where impromptu music and festivities spring up.
Experience & Events
Leipzig is brim-full of cultural venues that have calendars of events ranging from the alternative to the mainstream. Check out UT Connewitz inside an old cinema and Moritzbastei, found inside the city’s old fortifications, for an idea of the diversity of events around.
Leipzig also has a number of annual festivals each year that transform the city. The one that exercises the imagination most is Wave-Gotik-Treffen, the world’s largest gothic festival. The city’s fashion sense turns black for a long weekend – there’s everything from cemetery tours to gothic opera performances.
The DOK Leipzig documentary festival and Designers’ Open are also popular annual events among the creative community. Fuckup Nights Leipzig, at the Basislager co-working space, is a funny monthly event where entrepreneurs talk about their experiences of failure.
Jazz lovers will enjoy the Jazztage festival, while open-air classical concerts by Gewandhaus in Rosental park are also amazing events.
And of course the city puts on a fantastic Christmas market – which dates back to 1458 and has more than 250 stalls. The world’s largest freestanding advent calendar can be found at the market every year too.
Leipzig’s hotel scene is full of the quirk of the wider creative community. On the wackier end of the spectrum Hotel Paris Syndrom and Hotel Volksboutique. These are two whimsical hotel rooms inside works of art in the Museum of Contemporary Art Leipzig (Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst Leipzig, GfZK), designed from top to bottom by artists. For a feeling of Leipzig’s former squatting culture, Ost-Apotheke is a part-hostel, part-artistic hotel where an eclectic bunch of the city’s creatives also live.
Slightly more conventional is Arthotel ANA Symphonie, a very good-looking and design conscious hotel in a prime city centre location. At the top end of the spectrum is INNSIDE Leipzig by Meliá, which offers a more polished style of hip.
Find the above and many more options on Booking.com, where you can filter hotels by rating and location to find an ideal stay for your weekend break in Leipzig.
There’s no shortage of eateries to suit every occasion in Leipzig. In particular, it’s been voted as one of the best cities for vegan food in Germany. The most popular vegan restaurant in the city is Zest, which offers a seasonal menu of really inventive flavours. You’ll also spot organic or ‘bio’ eateries everywhere in the city. For some of the best organic ice cream, head to TONIS.
Elsewhere, it’s possible to travel around the world when it comes to cuisine in Leipzig. Leipzig locals especially rate ZCHẢCÁ for sushi, Chinabrenner for Chinese and Salon Casablanca for Moroccan food. Brothers Cafe & Bäckerei is a revered Turkish bakery in the east of the city with a daily lunchtime menu. Münsters is a firm favourite for German food and a traditional beer garden.
A typical Leipziger pastime is to sit outside at pavement seating for as many months of the year as possible. Karli is a particularly popular neighbourhood for this.
Bavarian Railway Station – an old railway terminus-cum-bar – is the place to go for traditional Leipzig gose beer, a sour beer which has been brewed in the city since the 18th century.
On the modern end of the spectrum, Imperii is a cocktail bar with incredibly inventive concoctions, drinking vessels and cocktail theatre. There are even reports of there being a guy responsible for making the smoke that is pumped around certain cocktails as they are served.
For nights out, Conne Island is one of the top spots for sub-culture. Music events happen throughout the year, many of which spill out into the secluded green space by the venue. Leipzig is also well-known for electronic music and talented DJs. Try Institut fuer Zukunft (IfZ), Distillery and Tanzcafé Ilses Erika, to name but a few.
It’s not unusual for impromptu and private gigs to happen in the city. Keep your eye out for posters, flyers and on Facebook if you’re interested in rubbing shoulders with the nightlife in-crowd.
Leipzig/Halle Airport (LEJ) is a small airport with a number of airlines flying into it. Best of all, it’s an easy 15 minute train journey right into the centre of Leipzig. Berlin is just over 100 miles away, so it’s not difficult to fly into the German capital either and take a high speed train (ICE) to Leipzig in around an hour. Getting around Leipzig itself couldn’t be easier either. Do as the Leipzigers do and cycle everywhere – nextbike Leipzig is the city cycling scheme – you can get from one side of the city to the other within half an hour. Or jump on and off the trams.
Check out Kreuzer (website and magazine) and LeipGlo for various Leipzig tips and events. The Leipzig Region tourist office also offers a fountain of knowledge.
Well, it would be odd not to mention my city guide book that has just come out: Carl Goes Leipzig. The book takes an insider look into the city, with eight in-depth interviews with city locals, from artist Rosa Loy and choreographer Heike Hennig, to architect Noriko Minkus and Spreadshirt entrepreneur Hugo Smoter. Leipzig hasn’t been widely written about yet – the only other up-to-date sources of written material come from Leipzig Region.
As We Were Dreaming (2015) received good reviews in the press for its depiction of Leipzig just after the wall fell. It’s a coming-of-age drama showing a group of teenage boys trying to work out how to use their newfound freedom. Katze im Sack (2005) is apparently a ‘romantic film for those who don’t like romantic films’, which was set in Leipzig and shown at the Berlinale film festival. The airport battle in Captain America: Civil War was filmed in Leipzig/Halle Airport.
Soundtrack to the City
Leipzig – Balthazar
Nobody Knows – Pieter Piek
Air – Johann Sebastian Bach
I love Leipzig – Aeroplane
Keep reading Urban Travel Blog for more Germany travel posts, or check out our full spread of weekend break recommendations.