Bach, Faust, Porsche – and Other Leipzig Tourist Attractions

by Chris on November 17, 2010

What to do in Leipzig? Lots. With an outstanding new Bach museum, a Porsche plant, and (best for us) a strong connection to Faust, there’s more to this former East German city than you’d imagine.

Leipzig, Germany

I didn’t expect too much from Leipzig when we arrived for the second portion of the SATW convention.

Rathaus, Leipzig, Germany

After all, Dresden had been such a delight – and we had very little time to see it all. And while Leipzig has some cool historic buildings, such as the Altes Rathaus (town hall) above, they are more spread out around the city so they don’t have the impact of many European cities.

Leipzig, Germany

But sometimes it’s good to arrive in a place without expectations. We found ourselves charmed by the modern art and sculpture that we found in Leipzig streets.

Leipzig, Germany

There’s been enough artistic momentum coming out of Leipzig’s Art Academy in recent years for academics and collectors to refer to the works as The New Leipzig School. Most of the more famous artists under this banner are painters, but there’s a fair amount of sculpture as well.

public art, Leipzig, Germany

Even while it was under Communist rule, Leipzig had a flourishing art scene, primarily because of the Academy for Visual Arts, which has been around since 1764. While we admired the artwork in the street, the city also has a large Fine Arts museum as well as a Contemporary Art Museum.

Auerbachs Keller, Leipzig, Germany

We did have a bit of a personal connection that I wanted to explore. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe studied law in Leipzig from 1765 to 1768. During his tenure in the city, he frequented a beer hall called Auerbachs Keller, which he later used as a setting in his famed play Faust.

Auerbachs Keller, Leipzig, Germany

First mentioned in records dating back to 1438, Auerbachs Keller is still an operating restaurant today. To get there, you go through the Mädlerpassage, an old shopping arcade in Leipzig’s historical district. We had a set dinner here in one of the historic rooms and while the buffet food wasn’t the greatest, the atmosphere made it worthwhile.

Faust, Auerbachs Keller, Leipzig, Germany

The legend of Dr. Johann Georg Faust predates Goethe. Faust was a real figure in the German Renaissance, and worked as an alchemist and magician in the early 1500s. Because of his ventures into astrology, the church denounced him as a blasphemer in league with the devil. This reputation led to stories such as the one that claimed Faust rode a wine barrel up from the cellar at Auerbachs Keller to the street, something that could only happen with supernatural assistance. Scholars believe this legend is what inspired Goethe to make Auerbachs Keller the first stop where Mephistopheles takes Faust.

Faust, Auerbachs Keller, Leipzig, Germany

My husband was excited to be at a restaurant where his name had such history. At one point, he and another travel writer went into a private dining room occupied by a group of men in their 50s and 60s. The writer introduced Don as Herr Faust and Don held up his name tag to shouts of laughter.

Leipzig, Germany

Auerbachs Keller may have an ancient reputation for debauchery, but we noticed that Leipzig had an active nightlife throughout the city. Some members of our group found a hookah bar; others reported a Soviet-themed dive. We sneaked away and had our own date night in one of the packed cafes on Barfubgabchen, a narrow cobblestoned street near the historic center.

mushroom salad, Leipzig, Germany

The stop gave us a welcome break from the bratwurst and meats we had been eating. This salad had huge mushrooms that tasted delicious to our veggie-starved palate.

Leipzig, Germany

Although the night was chilly, we were warmed by the massive heat lamps employed by most of the cafes. We were surprised at how full many of the restaurants were on a Monday night. But our server scoffed. “You should see it on the weekend,” she said.

Johann Sebastian Bach, Leipzig, Germany

Perhaps Leipzig’s most famous historic resident is composer Johann Sebastian Bach. Born into a musical family in Eisenbach, Bach moved to Leipzig with his family in 1723 to take a job as cantor at St. Thomas Church (Thomaskirche).

Thomaskirche, Johann Sebastian Bach, Leipzig, Germany

At the time, Leipzig was one of Germany’s cultural capitals, and the appointment at St. Thomas, known for its boarding school for choir singers, represented a prominent career point for Bach. Although he often traveled to act as an organ consultant, Bach spent the majority of his life in Leipzig with his large family (he had 20 children with two wives, although only 10 survived to adulthood). Some of Leipzig’s other famous composers, including Felix Mendelssohn and Richard Wagner, performed and studied here. Wolfgang Mozart even performed the organ at St. Thomas in 1789.

St. Thomas Church, Leipzig, Germany

Thomaskirche is a Lutheran church that is just as elaborate as many Catholic cathedrals. There’s been a church on the site since the 12th Century and Martin Luther himself preached here in 1539.

Johann Sebastian Bach's grave, Thomaskirche, Leipzig, Germany

Bach’s remains have been interred in the church since 1950.

Bach Museum, Leipzig, Germany

Every year, Leipzig hosts BachFest that attracts more than 65,000 classical music lovers from around the world. And this year, the city opened a state-of-the-art Bach Museum in March, just in time for Bach’s 325th birthday.

Bach museum, Leipzig, Germany

The Museum is a great way for a music lover to spend an afternoon. There are historical musical instruments, including an organ console that Bach examined himself, as well as original sheet music written by Bach.

Johann Sebastian Bach Museum, Leipzig, Germany

Admission to the museum is 6 Euro and it’s free on the first Tuesday of every month.

Mendelssohn house, Leipzig, Germany

Bach is by no means the only composer celebrated in Leipzig. Felix Mendelssohn’s private home is also a museum, where you can see artifacts and sheet music. There’s also a performance space in his apartment where concerts are occasionally held.

St. Nicholas Church, Leipzig, Germany

Besides its cultural legacy, Leipzig has played an important role in modern history. In September 1989, East Germans began gathering in front of the St. Nicholas Church in protest against the Chinese Communist regime’s crackdown on demonstrators in  Tienanmen Square.

St. Nicholas Church, Leipzig, Germany

Because the Lutheran Church supported their efforts, the demonstrators eventually became more bold and started campaigning for rights in their own country. Eventually the non-violent resistance spread to other East German cities such as Dresden and Berlin.  This Peaceful Revolution led to the fall of the Berlin Wall on Nov. 9, 1989.

Porsche plant, Leipzig, Germany

Our final stop in Leipzig? A visit to the space-age Porsche plant just outside of town.

Porsche factory, Leipzig, Germany

Even the most jaded travel writers couldn’t resist getting their photo taken in the sweet Porsches – myself included!

Porsche plant, Leipzig, Germany

If you’re a Porsche enthusiast, you can drive on the Leipzig test track and take a factory tour. It’s a big thing in Porsche circles to go to Leipzig or Stuttgart and pick up your Porsche in person. So maybe I’ll be back some day. Hey, a girl can dream!

| Chris Gray Faust is a veteran journalist, travel expert, social media butterfly - and editrix of this site. Like what you read? Check out her writing, editing and social media services.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Marilyn Marx November 18, 2010 at 4:41 pm

That Porsche suits you, Chris! Great piece on Leipzig. It filled me in on some of the things I missed, perhaps most especially that gorgeous salad!

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Chris November 21, 2010 at 4:47 pm

Marilyn – Thanks, but I think it will be a while before I have one of my own :) The salad was delicious, especially after those meat-and-cheese intensive breakfasts!

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Tom Adkinson November 18, 2010 at 10:44 pm

I’m usually not one to seek out churches to tour, but St. Thomas Church was an exception. The Bach connection was key, and the photo I got of the Bach window was rather good.

While standing at the altar rail for a different shot, I sensed people behind me. I turned and found myself as the back row of a Hungarian girls’ high school choir. They were starting an impromptu concert, regardless of my presence! I squeezed past the girl on the end and then photographed the concert.

Such a good memory of Leipzig.

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Chris November 21, 2010 at 4:48 pm

Tom – That sounds like a great memory! I love how German churches have historically placed a great emphasis on their choirs, and I can see why singing groups from around the world want to perform in them.

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Ingo November 21, 2010 at 2:23 am

Glad you enjoyed Leipzig that much. Very nice report and pictures. (You mixed up one picture of Nikolaikirche interior with the Thomaskirche pictures).

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Chris November 21, 2010 at 4:45 pm

Ingo, thanks for pointing that out. It’s fixed now!

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jobs in australia November 24, 2010 at 12:16 am

I saw that you really have a great time traveling there. Very cool Porsche cars. Really wanna have one someday.

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Tim Morston November 26, 2010 at 9:49 am

Interesting blog and some fantastic pictures – All my pictures of the Rathaus have the tram pylons in them, impressive work! Leipzig is a nicer city than Dresden in terms of culture, I think, although the old buildings in Dresden are much more closely situated.

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Nancie December 3, 2010 at 5:32 pm

Not a city I was familiar with. Great post, and I love that Porsche!

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