It’s no surprise that Germany has grown to become one of the most visited countries in the world (it’s currently number seven, according to UNWTO). It’s centrally located in Europe, accessible to both the east and west, and rich in history, culture, and, arguably, the world’s best beer. But travelers drawn by the clout of Deutschland’s biggest players — Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt, Cologne and Hamburg — run the risk of overlooking its best open secret: Leipzig.
While its number of residents hovers just over 550,000, the largest in the eastern state of Saxony, Leipzig is also home to the nation’s highest quality of life (according to a 2013 survey by GfK) on account of its cheap rents, green spaces and number of social services for children and seniors. For non-residents, there are just as many spoils. Goethe once dubbed Leipzig the “little Paris” of Eastern Europe, though today’s crop of locals are more likely to compare its budding arts and tech sectors to that of post-Wall Berlin in the early ’90s, with a raw and invigorating subculture of young, high-energy creatives; the German newspaper ZEIT recently branded the town “Hypezig”. And sitting less than 100 miles from the capital city, a short single-hour train ride from Hauptbahnhof to Hapuptbahnhof (that’s German for central train station), Leipzig might just be Europe’s most accessible up-and-comer. Just go easy on the gose. The local brew is quite tasty.
From the History Books
The name Leipzig is of Slavic origin, and believed to derive from the term “lipsk”, which means “where the linden trees stand”. Though records of its existence as an established community date back to 1015, the city first rose to prominence in 1165, when it hosted the first annual Leipziger Messe, today the oldest running trade fair in the world. It continued to be an important trade center throughout the Holy Roman Empire, sitting at the intersection of two important medieval trade routes, the Via Regia and Via Imperii. Sometimes called the German “city of music”, Leipzig was the late home of Johann Sebastian Bach, where he famously worked as Kapellmeister, or head of music-making, at the Thomaskirche; Leipzig was also the birthplace of composers Richard Wagner and Felix Mendelssohn.
During WWII, Leipzig was the sixth largest city under the power of the Third Reich, and the location of the Erla Maschinwerk aircraft factory that produced many of the Bf 109 German fighter planes flown during the war. On April 18, 1945, war photographer Robert Capa documented a battle between German and American troops. Perhaps Leipzig’s most iconic mark on 20th century history, however, is attributed to its role in fall of the Iron Curtain. The city was the stage for the recurring Monday Demonstrations around Nikolaikirche and Augustplatz, which on one occasion, in October of 1989, saw as many as 320,000 protestors march in opposition to the oppressive nature of the GDR. Two weeks later, on November 9, the Berlin Wall fell.
The medieval part of the city, which still serves as its geographic core, is encircled by the Promenadenring, a public walkway that is also Germany’s oldest communal park. First-comers will mostly stick close to this area, with many of the city’s historical landmarks situated inside, or around, “the ring”. Westin Leipzig is a luxury hotel situated next to the Hauptbahnhof. Not only is the large swimming pool a draw, but its double Michelin starred restaurant, Falco, is one of the finest dining establishments in all of Europe, overlooking Leipzig from the hotel’s 27th floor. For those more keen on exploring Leipzig’s thriving arts scene in the Neulindenau neighborhood, Meisterzimmer is an excellent choice located a renovated cotton-spinning factory, Spinnerei. There are four rentable, fully furnished apartment spaces (starting at €75 per night), which are nestled among the city’s most prominent art galleries, a cinema and a respectable biergarten for food and drinks. Where to Eat
Every guidebook on the city will direct you to Auerbachs Keller, a long-standing dining establishment dating back to 1525. It is a setting in Goethe’s Faust, and is said to have been frequented by the writer; though it’s heavy on tourists, the restaurant still serves up hearty and delicious Saxon dishes, such as Sauerbraten (pot roast) and Kartoffelsuppe (carrot soup). Nearby is Zum Arabischen Coffe Baum, the oldest coffee house in Europe, with a 15-room museum dedicated to coffee’s place in historical Saxony. Stop by for a traditional gose at Bayerisher Bahnhof biergarten, a converted railroad station, which brews the best of the local specialty beer in house. Lazy Dog is a local institution in the Connewitz neighborhood, specializing in late-night hot dogs. The Paris Syndrom cafe, located in the Museum of Contemporary Art, is worth a coffee break, if only to admire its posh interior design, while Handbrotzeit, back in the city center, offers fresh baked goods and a respectable German breakfast of eggs, meat and cheese. What to Do
Take advantage of Leipzig’s prideful promotion of all things Bach by visiting the Bach Museum, or visiting during the annual Bach Fest, which packs a number of the world’s best classical musicians into the city every June for a number of concerts and events. Auteurs and indie cinema buffs should head over to UT Connewitz, one of the oldest theaters in Germany, which hosts art house screenings and underground concerts on any given night. Connie Island is one of the city’s newest music venues, where punk and hip hop fans can catch a bit of the local sound. Leading the pack of galleries in the Spinnerei is EIGEN + ART, an internationally renowned space thanks to its affiliation with Neo Rauch and other notable German artists. Gearheads should take a tour of the Porsche factory, which manufactures all of the Cayenne and Panamera models coming out of Germany. Venture Out
Leipzig is surrounded by lush riparian forest. Ride a bike through the Leipzig Riverside Forest (German: Leipziger Auenwald), or take a guided canoe ride along the Karl Heine Canal. If Berlin is also on the itinerary, a well-marked 204-kilometer cycling route connects the two cities, called the the Berlin-Leipzig Cycle Route (or “BeLe” for short).
What to Pack
The Gear You’ll Want
Twill 5 Panel Cap by Nonnative $135
Max Used Cash Jean by Acne Studios $229