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Leipzig (Part 2)

Come Sunday morning I realised I still hadn’t explored the city, so after a lazy start and with much to see I set off to ramble the quiet streets of Leipzig.

My friend Thomas, who spent his university years in Leipzig, had suggested a few areas to see, as well as put me in contact with his mate Klaus, with whom I spent a delightful Sunday afternoon touring some of the sights I’d missed, and a few I never know existed.

Step outside the city centre and into residential Leipzig and you’re treated to some impressive old apartment blocks, and some even more impressive houses (stately might be a better description for them). Even though I had a relatively late start (late for me anyway), most of Leipzig was still asleep - of course, it’s hard to say whether it was a typical Sunday or whether the locals were nursing museum hangovers. There were a few families rugged up (it was still cold and cloudy) and out and about on their bikes (especially in the park near the zoo), but other than those few, I had the streets to myself.

After moseying about for an hour or two (and eventually finding somewhere to eat brunch) it was time to get myself to the Grassi Museum to see the University of Leipzig’s Musikinstrumentenmuseum collection before meeting up with Klaus.

There are more than 9,000 objects in the collection, with European musical instruments dating back to the Renaissance. Many of the older instruments are recognisable predecessors of today’s bowed, blowed and banged-on orchestral instruments. However, the collection also includes more than a few weird and wonderful instruments now rarely, if ever, played (like the Virginal, the Hurdy-Gurdy, the Serpent, and the Klavierharpe - a clavichord crossed with a harp). Many of the 400-500 years old relics are in remarkable condition, even the much graffitied double bass crafted in 1662 by Gottfried Tielke looked like it was waiting to be played (assuming anyone nowadays knows how to play a 5-stringed double bass). The graffiti I could make sense of appeared to be names and dates, including a very legible ‘F.W.Schwartzenberger 1823’ (and something far less legible dated 1817).

The Grassi houses two other collections; the Grassi Museum of Applied Arts and the Grassi Museum for Ethnology.

Then off to meet Klaus for a private walking tour of Leipzig. We zigzagged our way around the city centre - highlights as follows:

  • Neues Rathaus - New Town Hall, and by new they mean only 118 years old.

  • Bundesverwaltungsgericht - Federal Administrative Court. From a distance, we could see protesters and police in front of the building (a massive structure with a very large forecourt). As we got closer we realised a good number of the protesters were children and all protestors were on bicycles - it turns out they were advocating for more bike paths. I’ve never seen joy-riding protesters but they appeared to be having a grand old time.

  • The Opera House and the Concert Hall.

  • Various university campus buildings, including the beautiful new (very new in Leipzig years) Paulinum, which features the stone portal of a destroyed church in its glass facade.

  • The Nikolai Kirche and the Thomas Kirche - Bach was Cantor at the latter and is buried there between the two choirs and in front of the ornate baptismal font. Incidentally, Bach was not the authorities’ first choice, but having tried and failed on two previous occasions to secure a new Cantor for St. Thomas’, they ‘settled on mediocre’.

  • Richard Wagner Platz and his statue.

We also popped into the University of Leipzig’s library - Bibliotheca Albertina. I’m pleased to report that even on a Sunday there were plenty of students in the library (and some even appeared to studying!). Like many of the buildings in Leipzig, it is old, large, ornate and beautiful. It is also open to the general public as it exhibits some pretty impressive documents, such as the Ebers Papyrus (which has its own showroom). The Ebers Papyrus is the longest scroll in existence (well over 18 metres) and is the Gray’s Anatomy textbook of Ancient Egypt. There is a complete translation of it (in German) on display too. No mention of leeches as far as I know.

By now we were ready for afternoon tea so we popped into the cafe in the Museum der bildenden Künste (fine arts). We didn’t visit the museum proper, but the entrance (home to the famous Bach statue by Max Klinger), the foyer, and the cafe were all in and of themselves lovely to visit (there’s something calming and soothing about that museum’s spaces).

Refreshed, we headed off to stroll through some of Leipzig’s (many) lovely passages before calling it a day. Most of the passages in Leipzig are beautiful and some are quite ornate. In the Mädler-Passage, perhaps Leipzig’s most famous passage, are two statues - Goethe’s Faust and Mephisto, and Faust and the Students. Like thousands before me, I rubbed Faust’s shiny left foot for luck.

I learned much from Klaus (who clearly loves his home town) in the four delightful hours we spent together, including the secret behind Leipzig’s history as a centre for trade… Leipzig lies at the crossroad of Via Imperii (the old trade route that ran north to south) and Via Riga (which ran east to west).

Thank you Klaus for a wonderful afternoon (and thanks Tom for connecting us).

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Unknown member
May 10, 2023

Jac, it all sounds so fascinating, and you are obviously enjoying and getting a lot out of it. This, of course, I glean from your wonderful account of it all. Goodness Me. Old World Europe - Immersed in culture and history, and imbibed by the populace. And so good to have an enthusiastic contact in the afternoon to guide you and share the experience with. M

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