Just spent three days in Leipzig, Germany. With its small historic center where you can do everything on foot, surrounded by parks, I really liked the city. She knew how to preserve the charm of her heritage while projecting herself towards her new destinies, in particular in the artistic field. In Germany, Leipzig is a beacon! What to see, what to do in Leipzig in 3 days? Here are my top 10 must-sees in Leipzig.
Discover the life of the East, at the time of the GDR
Until reunification, Leipzig was located in the East, in the GDR. And it shows. The city is permanently marked by its past in the Soviet bloc. How was everyday life during this period? The question interests me and I am going to visit the museum of contemporary history, one of the most exhaustive in Germany on this subject. From the famous Trabant, the mythical car, to the reconstruction of a typical interior through the products that were found -or not, depending on the period…- in grocery stores and supermarkets, it’s a dive in the eastern world. Nothing is missing. And especially not the cultural lighting, with many explanations on censorship, propaganda. Living on the German border, I thought I knew everything about the former GDR. Well no. This museum, which takes the form of a forum, is fascinating! As a complement, a tour of the Saint-Nicolas church, not far from there. This is where the ground swell was born, with peaceful demonstrations, which would bring down the Berlin Wall.
La Spinnerei, a breeding ground for artists
Some 120 artists, from beginners to the most illustrious, have their studios there. To name just one: Neo Rauch, whose paintings sell for around one million euros! He made his debut at the Spinnerei in the mid-1990s and has remained faithful to it. A dozen galleries have also taken up residence there. Even if you are not an art lover, the Spinnerei is a must in Leipzig! First, because the place is beautiful. All brick, this former cotton mill has a lot of character, I even find it incredibly charming. The first of these enormous buildings were built from 1884. Since then, the Spinnerei – which in the interwar period was the largest spinning mill in Europe, employing more than 3,000 people – has not changed. Its atmosphere has rubbed off on the Plagwitz district, all around: it is the bobo and chébran district of Leipzig. Lots of shops, from the best ice cream parlor in town to nice bookstores and restaurants, as well as a lot of other “recovered” places. I really liked dragging my spats around this neighborhood.
The G2, a small and brilliant museum of contemporary art
There is no shortage of museums in Leipzig. In the artistic field, it was the smallest and most recent of them that caught my eye, the G2. It features the collection of Steffen Hildebrand, a major property developer who obviously has very good taste. It brings together all the big names in Leipzig. The G2 thus shows canvases by Neo Rauch, his companion Rosa Loy, and others such as Christoph Ruckhäberle and Uwe Kowski. Unknown to the French public, these artists are nevertheless making their way on the international scene in a very beautiful way. Neo Rauch’s works now fetch more than a million euros each.
Stroll through some of the 30 covered passages
From time immemorial, Leipzig has always been a city of commerce and industry. And it was necessary to exhibit the manufactured products: this is how the covered passages were born with their successions of shops. There are a good thirty across the city, from all eras. I liked the Mädlerpassage, the busiest, which resembles the Milanese passages. There is a chic café, which curiously is called pharmacy, and, a bit more, a large restaurant in a cellar. You can’t miss it, with its large statues representing Faust and Mephisto. For it is here that the poet Goethe, who had been a student in Leipzig, places a scene of this tragedy.
Spend an evening at the opera
Concerts, operas, ballets… Leipzig’s reputation is second to none in this area. People flock there from all over Germany, even from all over Europe. Bad luck for me, nothing on the agenda during my short stay. Shame ! But I still took the opportunity to attend a rehearsal of the corps de ballet, also famous, at the opera. Coming from all over the world – around twenty nationalities are represented – the dancers work hard under the guidance of their ballet master. Impressive ! In itself, the imposing building of the opera, which I was able to visit anyway on this occasion, is very interesting. Built in 1961 – so during the time of the GDR – in the Bauhaus style, it undeniably has allure. I admired the high corridors, the precious wood veneers, the large auditorium with its remarkable acoustics. As well as the subtle variation of the dandelion flower, symbolizing the culture that is spreading, in all the decorative elements.
The small but rich historical center
During his life behind the Iron Curtain, it is as if Leipzig had remained under glass: nothing has changed. The old buildings, the facades of the shops have remained as they were. At least for what was not destroyed during the Second World War. However, unlike many other cities, Leipzig was spared a lot. What makes it today a very interesting city, where I walk around with my nose in the air. In addition, everything can be visited on foot because the center is small. But dense: I admire quite a few constructions from the Middle Ages there, like the old town hall which displays its architectural treasures on the central square of Leipzig. Or the Saint-Thomas church: Luther preached there in 1539. Truly spectacular, the new town hall, built around the tower of a castle at the end of the 19th century, is a set of historic buildings that seem to me straight out of a Walt Disney.
The small palaces and large villas of the suburbs
The suburbs of Leipzig, too, are full of places to see. Most are accessible by tram, which has a very dense network. Among these nuggets, I really liked the little castle of Gohlise. A rococo marvel dating from 1756, with a very pretty onion-capped tower. All around, the huge villas of the industrialists who made Leipzig rich. And, almost at the end of the street, the farm – Gohlise was at that time a country hamlet – where the young poet Friederich Schiller composed during the summer of 1785 the “Ode to Joy”, later set to music by Beethoven . Today surrounded by opulent residences, the little house has become a museum. Further, towards the stadium, it is the large Wilhelminian buildings, from the end of the 19th century, which catch the eye.
Welcome to the Mendelssohns…
His living room, his office with one of the pianos on which he was working: the place undeniably has something more. It was the last address of the famous composer Felix Mendelssohn, who for a long time conducted the famous Gewandhaus orchestra in Leipzig. Until his death in 1847 at the age of 38, he occupied with his family the 9 rooms on the first floor of this beautiful residence. It became his museum in the 90s, at the instigation of another great chef of the Gewandhaus, Kurt Masur. Where Clara and Robert Schumann regularly came, but also Hans Christian Andersen, the Danish author of the famous tales, the musician’s environment has been reconstructed. With his objects, his furniture, the watercolors he painted. And, just like in Mendelssohn’s time, every Sunday there is a concert.
…and salute J.-S. Bach
Another great musician, whom Mendelssohn also greatly contributed to rediscover: J.-S. Bach, also intimately linked to Leipzig. He lived there for the last 27 years, it was in Leipzig that he composed a large part of his work. He who remains in the annals like the Cantor of Leipzig also has his museum. Not where he lived – the building was razed at the beginning of the last century – but close by, in an impressive private mansion. This is located just opposite St. Thomas Church, where Bach is buried. With many scores, rare manuscripts, the interactive exhibition is sumptuously presented in this large historic building. Even without being a fervent admirer of Bach, the building is worth seeing as it imposes itself.
The Nations monument, an ode to peace
Of all the battles led by Napoleon, that of Leipzig, also called the Battle of the Nations, is not the best known. But she made a lasting impression. And for good reason, since it caused some 100,000 deaths in a few days among the soldiers of the twenty different nations, in October 1813. So much so that Emperor William II had an immense monument built on the site of the massacre, like a ode to peace. It will take twenty years to build this colossal memorial, the largest in Europe, completed just for the centenary of the battle. 91 m high, 300,000 tons of granite and concrete. I have to say it impresses me. Especially since, just before leaving, a ray of sunshine makes him admire himself in the small piece of water in front of him: it is a gigantic cross that takes shape then.
- Leipzig Tourist Office
- The Leipzig Card (€12.40 for one day; €24.40 for three days) allows travel on all local tram lines, buses and trains. It also entitles you to various reductions in museums, cultural institutions, certain restaurants, etc.
The train journey is possible but long and expensive. The most direct remains the plane. A direct air link from Paris to Leipzig is operated by the low cost Vueling.
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The best places to visit Leipzig
- The Townhouse Hotel is a beautiful address in the very center, opposite the Saint-Thomas church and next to the Bach museum, quiet and comfortable.
- The Weinstock Restaurant, on the very central Place du Marché. Plush in the traditional, gourmet style.
- The Ratskeller restaurant is, as its name suggests, a huge cellar in the basement of the new town hall. Impressive ! It serves traditional dishes.
- The Freibad restaurant in the Plagwitz district is surrounded by converted old wastelands. Friendly, good food, nice terrace on the Karl-Heine-Kanal… what more could you ask for?
- The restaurant in the Panorama Tower offers a panoramic view of Leipzig.
- A French-speaking tourist guide to visit the city with detailed and interesting explanations.