After five wonderful days in Paris, we travelled to Leipzig as my partner has a passion for the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. When we arrived at the large old railway station in the late afternoon he was over the moon to hear Bach organ music being played loudly over the loudspeaker system.
A great many other musical luminaries also worked in Leipzig including Felix Mendelssohn and Robert and Clara Schumann. Richard Wagner was born there and received his musical training. So for a classical music lover Leipzig was sure to be heaven on earth!
Our apartment was only 700 metres away from the station and right in the heart of town. We trundled our suitcases along the main street, the Peterstrasse, bumping into raucous but good natured groups of football supporters who were hitting the town after the game.
I peeked at the window displays in passing, just gorgeous! Our apartment was four floors up and fortunately there was a large lift so we didn’t have to drag our luggage up four flights of stairs. It was spacious, on two levels and had a small balcony
Once unpacked we felt like a light evening meal so we walked to a nearby little Vietnamese restaurant. The food was good and incredibly cheap. My three tiny deep fried spring rolls, plus a bowl of deep fried tofu, rice noodles and vegetables in a well flavoured broth followed by a small helping of fresh fruit salad and yoghurt came to just $9 NZ. John ordered duck which was a little more expensive.
We had read in our guidebook that St Thomas Lutheran Church, where Bach was the cantor and for which he composed many pieces of music, is a wonderful place to hear music. He is also buried there. It has its own church school to provide the voices for its all-male choir and two excellent organs.
So the following morning, being Sunday, we scrubbed up as best as we could. This proved to be a bit of a mission as when we travel we carry as little luggage as possible. We thought we’d done rather well but were nowhere near to matching the outfits of the very smart parishioners.
The church, which can seat 1700 people, was already packed when we got there but we managed to find seats upstairs. It turned out to be a very lengthy Lutheran Confirmation service which lasted nearly two hours but the music was wonderful!
Afterwards, we took ourselves off to Zum Arabischen Coffe Baum, one of Germany’s oldest coffee houses established in 1711. Bach and Schumann and other musicians often came here. But, being a popular tourist spot, the café was very crowded. We passed up on our coffees and headed three floors up to the coffee museum where a large collection of coffee memorabilia was displayed on several levels in rather cramped surroundings.
Then we braved a visit to the Stasi Museum which was fascinating in a horrific kind of way. Leipzig was part of East Germany (although the Americans beat the Russians to arrive here, so there must have been some horse-trading in 1945).
The museum was in the former headquarters of the East German Secret Police. The kinds of bugging and surveillance devices they devised (like miniature cameras) looked amateurish compared with modern technology but were innovative at the time. And it was somewhat hard to believe that the disguises on display would have fooled anyone!
It also showed how a vast network of spies was recruited, including children as young as thirteen, who were encouraged to spy on parents, neighbours and friends. Amazing to think this was all happening in our lifetime and that many of the citizens who either spied or were spied upon still live here.
That was a very dark period in the history of Leipzig. But its citizens later played a crucial role in bringing down the Berlin Wall and the reunification with West Germany. Thousands took part in peaceful candlelit demonstrations called the Silent Revolution against the East German state in 1989 demanding more freedom,
For dinner that evening we went to a traditional German restaurant, stodgy and not for the fainthearted! John enjoyed a huge slab of Wiener schnitzel, boiled potatoes and cauliflower bathed in butter. I couldn’t finish my large plateful of fried snapper, Mediterranean vegetables, also fried in much butter, and a heap of squidgy fat little potato noodles.
On our second day we did the Leipzig Music Tour, a delightful self-guided leisurely five km stroll through central Leipzig and its leafy suburbs. It marked the spots where many of its musical luminaries including Bach, Wagner, Schumann, Mendelsohn and Grieg had lived and worked, as well as passing a musical publishing house and the home of the famous St Thomas Boys choir.
We needed to take a break from paying homage to musical luminaries! And what could be a better place for a retired zoo vet to spend some time than in the Leipzig Zoo? So that afternoon we walked another kilometre to look at their huge collection. I had hoped to catch sight of the NZ kea but it stayed hidden from view in its cage. We did see a huge ape collection, many exotic cats, a stunning hyacinth blue coloured macaw and a huge heated tropical rainforest that must have cost tens of millions of euros to construct. A lovely visit.
In the evening we wandered 100 metres up the street to the old St Nikolai church (where Bach also composed many pieces including his St John’s Passion) to hear a free concert by the Concordia choir from a Lutheran Minnesota college. Hearing their young voices soar in this old church was a magical experience.
We would be off to Poland the following morning to meet up with old friends. After our full on week in Paris it had been good to catch our breath in this smaller, relaxed and very orderly town which is steeped in musical history.
By Lyn Potter
Lyn is an Avid Traveller (both local and international), always with a camera at the ready.