An April 2003 trip
to Leipzig by drhough
Quote: Leipzig is a city that makes a bold, unique statement: a slant on romance with the sharp slap of reality. Both are only slightly tinged with the Communist presence here. The rest is pure Leipzig Legacy: a perfect past, inspired, cherished and alive.
The dream hangs on the air and settles amid a varied cityscape. One skyscraper in this
city of 160,000 serves the sheer purpose of variety, lest too many black steeples become
boring. I take the "monolith" as a message to look to the future. Less modern buildings
record a Communist dream with artistic figures in relief; others, mostly blue metal,
remind us of the urgency of rebuilding after WWII. Museums, ancient churches and
composers’ homes reveal the earlier idyllic perfection of communities with the world’s
best music and art. Statuary everywhere serves to characterize the soul of Leipzig in a
rare expression of doubt alongside of certainty--both determined to sing out! I’m not
trying to wax poetic when I say that this city bares its soul to visitors or that the world
must be watching to see what it will do next. The opening (soon) of the new building for
the fine arts museum will bring more art out of storage to add to the already impressive
collection in a city that seemed to me so full. Baroque sculptor Balthasar Permoser
originated from nearby Dresden, and he and Russian painter Kandinsky are well
I visited Leipzig to see its intellectual and artistic past, not its beauty. Without the
extreme beauty of Weimar (or its World Heritage designation), 50 minutes away,
Leipzig still enchants, thanks to a past replete with famous talent and new ideas. The
second oldest university in Germany (established 1409) is here, the magnet that attracted
talent from the classical era to the modern, and the Symphony made famous by Felix
Mendelssohn, Conductor still impresses.
Madler Passage is a covered outdoor pedestrian mall with interesting shops and
another interesting restaurant, Mephisto. For more shops, supermarkets, and supplies, the
train station has everything. It’s the largest train station in Germany, complete with
American-style indoor mall.
We needed no transportation in Leipzig. Our Marriott for one night and our Westin for
another were both a block from the train station, and all the sites we visited were within
the "ring" surrounding the Old Town. Visitor Info at Richard Wagner Strasse 1 has maps
of attractions, but we didn’t even visit the tourist office, since the hotel supplied us with a
fine map. Leipzig has a good transportation system of buses and even a light rail system
for points out of town.
Hotel | "Leipzig Marriott"
The building exterior was nondescript, and the hotel entrance was not obvious. In the
lobby, there was no mistaking that this was a Marriott. In this part of eastern Germany,
where Bauhaus or Minimalist style is predominate, we felt transported to an English country house with finer furnishings and plenty of home-style decoration. A huge straw chicken greeted us with Easter eggs just inside the door, and as we walked around his table, we could see the open bar and restaurant area busy with guests.
Check-in was smooth, and in the elevator up, we noticed no deviation in Marriott’s
famous color scheme. (It’s their story, and they’re sticking to it!) Rich red, green, and gold in every pattern that can be coordinated with another pattern filled the entire interior. I had to appreciate "the Marriott touch," their comfort and quality when I saw how it transformed this featureless building. If we had seen the outside first, we might not have stayed here, but rest assured, nothing is missing inside. It’s as if the hotel chain
over-compensated for the drab exterior with extra-fine furnishings in all the rooms.
Every other hotel where we stayed in Germany had more "style"--perhaps I should say
more "intellectualizing" of style--but Marriott is the winner of my award for comfortable rooms with quality furnishing.
The concierge was helpful and provided walking maps of all Center City attractions,
all within the "ring" and a short walk. On this trip, we also stayed at another hotel in
Leipzig, one outside the ring. This one inside the inner circle eliminated the necessity of crossing the busy highway every time we went out. There is an indoor pool, sauna, and spa we didn’t use, since we found our relaxation listening to music at the museums for Bach and Mendelssohn, both a short walk.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 12, 2003
AM HALLISCHEN TOR 1
We were lured out of the drawing room into the music salon, with rows of chairs facing
the grand piano. The flat is used by students at the school, and we were lucky enough to listen to a very accomplished pair of musicians. They recreated for us the
excitement of the music scene in 19th-century Leipzig, just as the program at the Bach Museum had for the century before. We had walked here directly
from the Bach Museum, where we had enjoyed what we thought was a totally different style,
and then, to our surprise, we learned that Mendelssohn had admired Bach’s "frolicking
playfulness" and considered it his inspiration for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, his
accompaniment to the Shakespeare romp with fairies that culminated in Mendelssohn’s
When I realized the two composers had lived just a few blocks apart with only 59 years
separating their lives, I got the idea of how staggering and continuous is Leipzig’s claim
to musical fame. Robert Schumann would live here, too, and study Bach’s legacy while
composing his Spring Symphony. Mendelssohn would catapult to fame the Leipzig Orchestra under his direction, as Bach had done for the St. Thomas Boys' Choir.
When the students said "goodbye," we visited Mendelssohn’s study, where he had
composed and worked with his students. His paintings and bust of Bach are notable in this
very colorful room, an inspirational place for creating those happy compositions (like the
Italian Symphony) Mendelssohn is famous for. On the way out, we asked about
functions and discovered that the flat can be rented for weddings--how perfect!
The house/museum is open every day 10am-6pm with concerts Sundays at 11am.
(Perhaps that is what our students were practicing for late on Saturday afternoon.) Anyone visiting Leipzig should not miss this perfect listening experience. On the walk back
through Augustusplatz, one can’t help notice the state-of-the-art Gewandhaus, or
Concert Hall, where the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and Choir perform. The Mendelssohn Hall and the Great Room here are likely venues for Mendelssohn events.
For concert schedules, check Gewandhaus’ website:
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on September 12, 2003
Leipzig, Germany 04103
+49 341 127 02 94
The first rooms housed paintings of the German Romance school, mostly
landscapes--those with misty mountains, waterfalls, and woodlands inhabited by shepherd
folk and nymphs. Interspersed with these were a few statues by Rodin and, curiously, a
display about sex. I’m still puzzled by this pairing, but this was temporary housing. We
continued past more statuary: one exquisite representation in bronze of Flora by Adriaen
de Vries, a hanging bust of Medusa, and my favorite, Der Barockbildhauer, or
"Baroque Sculptor" by Balthasar Permoser. (Permoser lived in Dresden. His anguished
faces are interesting.) His Die Verdammnis, or Gothic bust Damnation, is
also here. Max Klinger was born in Leipzig (1857-1920), and the statue of Beethoven he
worked on for years is here, along with his bronze bust of Nietzsche.
Most impressive was the painting collection which occupied room after room and
included several by Lucas Cranach the Elder, such as his Portrait de Luther en Junker
Jorg and many other Luther subjects. Other painters represented were Rubens, Pieter
Bruegel (the Elder), Frans Hals, Max Liebermann, Pieter de Hooch, Max Beckman, and
others, mostly German and Dutch. Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee were also
"naturalized" into this region, thanks to their affiliation with the Bauhaus Movement in
design, and both are well-represented here. My most clear memory and newest
"favorite" is Frans Hals’ Der Mulatte. The brilliant red clothing, shiny lighted
face, open-mouth smile, and carefree cocked head jumped off the wall and drew me right
to it in a room full of wonderful paintings, but close up, I was unsure if the painter had
intended me to like this character. He has a drunken counterpart I’ve located:
Peeckelhaering is slumping and sneering! I also enjoyed Pieter Bruegel’s Der
We stayed a few hours and could have stayed a few more, but we had underestimated the
importance of the exhibits here and the extent of them--and we were hungry! An
attendant explained that only one-tenth of their collections were displayed in this
temporary housing and that the new building (next door) would be opening by December
2003. I’m looking forward to returning and spending the better part of a day. I took
notes on the last few rooms we hurried through and keep referring back to them so that I
don’t forget any of the details of these important German and Dutch artists.
Museum der Bildenden Kunste
Grimmaische Strasse 1-7
Attraction | "Bach Museum"
Inside the door, we paid a small admission and were given a headphone program in
English and pointed to the museum rooms on second floor. Several displays of
instruments corresponded to the audio program’s explanation of music
evolving or coming into favor in Bach’s day, why the composer chose to write for
particular instruments and not for others, dialogues he had with other musicians about the
direction of music in their day. Some members of the Bach family were
discussed and some of the composer’s personal items displayed, but the focus of this
program was his contribution to the world of music and his responsibilities as Cantor of the church and Music Director for the city and its four principal churches.
This was absolutely not boring! Every display has chairs facing it where one can sit while
listening to the lengthy recorded discussions, and each one is interspersed with musical
interludes selected to illustrate each point. We felt at home and relaxed, as though in a
classroom lab, but totally on our own, and we learned a great amount, including a new
appreciation of the composer’s music, which sounds much sweeter and less "mechanical"
to me now! What I think I hear is the perfection that characterized this period in Leipzig’s history up to Bach’s death in 1750.
After the self-guided tour, one can listen in a lab with rows of headphone stations designed for that purpose. Attendants help recommend and locate specific recordings. In addition, the print archive includes the largest collection of Bach’s original work outside of Berlin. There’s more. This home of Georg Heinrich Bose, this Renaissance-era residence of the Bach's friends, formerly housed a famous collection of musical instruments, the deWitt Collection, as well as the Richter Art Collection the poet Goethe so praised. There is also a university collection that includes instruments made by the famous friend of Bach, Johann Christian Hoffmann. Anyone interested in these can ask at the reception desk to be pointed in their direction. We didn’t ask, simply enjoyed listening to "perfect" music in "perfect" surroundings assuring us of a utopian Leipzig past. The narrative took a romantic turn at Mendelssohn Haus.
Leipzig, Germany 04109
+49 341 964410
West Virginia, United States