Would you like a Coffee with your Concerto? A weekend guide to Leipzig
The cultural heart of the former East Germany, Leipzig has undergone a meteoric rise to become the trendy choice for high-minded travellers
Despite its steadily simmering reputation as a hub of culture, food and partying, Leipzig, the historical epicentre of what was once East Germany, remains an under-the-radar city, defined by a blend of old and new. This is demonstrated by the juxtaposition of grit-filled, hopping neighbourhoods and the ornate, traditional town centre, the latter of which was lovingly restored to its original glory after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
So, whether you come for classical music or contemporary art, there is plenty to entertain for a weekend with a friend or partner. Sure; the grandiose architecture which so famously defines the cityscapes of Berlin, Hamburg and Munich cannot be found here, but what it lacks in flamboyance, it makes up for in personality.
The unique shopping arcades which spread through the atmospheric central hub blend heritage and modernity, and here you can find luxury boutiques, department stores and high street names meandering behind pretty facades. The Petersstraße and Grimmaische Straße are arguably the most well known shopping areas, and you can easily get lost in the lavishly restored buildings and courtyards and get carried away with your credit card.
Expect lots of interesting perusing even if you don’t want to buy anything, and then relax with one of the city’s specialites: coffee and walnut cake, which is a popular mid afternoon experience. The Zum Arabischen Coffe Baum café is considered as the oldest coffee shop in Europe, dating back to 1556; Napoleon Bonaparte, Johann Bach, Robert Schumann, and Franz Liszt all frequented the premises in their day. The owners may have changed, but the building has retained its sense of history and has transformed some of the upper rooms into a museum dedicated to the coffee culture of Leipzig, complete with original coffee grinders, roasters and coffee cups.
Foodies, in particular, will find plenty to be getting on with; there are several Michellin starred restaurants across the city, offering world class fare in unusual locations. Falco at the Westin, for example, gives diners stunning views from its elevated location as they enjoy a remarkably inventive menu, and guests can even watch the restaurant’s very own pair of nesting kestrels from the lounge via a live webcam. Meanhile, Frieda Restaurant over in the Gohlis-Sud district, offers modern, unpretentious cooking in a friendly setting, including a gorgeous courtyard garden.
I was pleased to discover that Leipzig is also home to an impressive monthly antique market, which draws crowds of eager beavers to rummage. The Agra Market is a German institution and is regarded as one of the best vintage fairs in Europe, and for two days on the last weekend of each month the huge, deserted old fairground in which it is based is transformed into a knick-knack collector's paradise. Over 1,000 second-hand and antique dealers gather at the site, while buyers queue up to snap up everything from the classical to the cult and kitsch. Whether you’re looking for vintage furniture, old toys, historical musical instruments, old books, classical paintings, jewelry, coins or crockery - or just coming to browse - the atmosphere is electric and it’s easily accessible on Tram line 11 in the direction of Markkleeberg-Ost to the Dölitz tram stop.
Whether you prefer to rummage for records or listen to live sounds, the city also has a notable musical heritage, and was at numerous points the home of some of the world’s greatest composers, including Bach, Mendelssohn and Wagner. The former of the three has his own stunning museum, where one can learn all about him and partake in interactive experiences such as remixing your own Bach concerto by tapping plexiglass images to create a new tune. The famous Church of St Thomas, where he served as the choirmaster for the last 27 years of his life, is also open to the public, and you can while away a peaceful couple of hours listening to talented boys' choir which still performs regularly.
If Mendelssohn is more your style, you can deep-dive into his life in the impressive Mendelssohn Haus, which has three floors devoted to the well known composer and his lesser known sister Fanny.
While strolling around the town centre, you mustn't miss the stunning Opera House, housed on the same site as the original which was destroyed along with all of Leipzig's other theatres during an Allied air raid on 3 December 1943. This new building was opened in 1960, and the sleek mid century architecture complements the timeless programme of events perfectly. No matter the time of year you visit, there is a constantly evolving programme of operas, plays and ballets by Wagner, Puccini, Mozart and Schroder, which is well worth booking into if you’re on a romantic break.
Further afield, the university has brought a breath of fresh air, and the Plagwitz district is a hub of startups, pubs, galleries and coffee shops which extend over wide sidewalks on the way to the canal. Head to Karl-Heine-Strasse (known locally as KarLi) and soak up the vibrance of the trendy locals drinking craft beer or rummaging at the weekly "Westpaket" craft market. Check out unusual shops and adventurous loft spaces which have been renovated from former factory buildings, with the Spinnerei, a former cotton mill factory, leading the way in contemporary art. The Eigen + Art Gallery is also based here and is well worth a visit to check out local and emerging artists, and The Täubchenthal is a hip and happening media hub in the heart of west Leipzig.
This urban metropolis is easy to explore by foot and has plenty of green spaces, entertainment and attractions to interest any type of visitor. But many travellers to the city spend their first visit wining and dining and soaking up the its unique blend of old and new, before realising that their weekend break is over. Anyone who sets foot in this spectacular metropolis will no doubt leave feeling a second visit is necessary; I know I did.