The city that set the stage for German unification leads the way as an intellectual and cultural center.
News watchers paid close attention to Saxony's largest city (population 515,249) in autumn 1989, when worldwide headlines proclaimed the Leipzig Miracle. Thousands of angry citizens, fed up with repressive East German governmental controls, proclaimed, We are the people and raised such a ruckus that the German Democratic Republic bureaucrats backed down - leading to Germany's national unification a year later.
Long before those outbursts shook the status quo, trade fairs made Leipzig prosperous and cosmopolitan. Johann Sebastian Bach, arriving from Thuringia in 1723, spent his last 27 years as music director of the Thomaskirche, where he founded the famous Thomaner boys' choir. A statue of the composer stands outside the late-Gothic church. J. S. premiered his Magnificatand St. John Passion at nearby Nikolaikirche. But today the 12th-century edifice has newer renown as the site of Monday-evening peace prayers that boiled over into 1989's banner-waving demonstrations.
There's more to see here in the heart of the Innenstadt. The 1914 three-part Mädlerpassage - whose skylit architecture is quintessentially Jugendstil/Art Nouveau - encloses chic shops, cafés and a rotunda sporting 25 Meissen porcelain chimes. In the same area is the free-admittance Zeitgeschitlisches Forum, a museum documenting daily life during the tightly regimented socialist era.
Elsewhere, watch for two extra-big structures. At the southwestern curve of a greenbelt marking the circumference of long-gone medieval walls, the turreted Neues Rathaus ranks as Germany's largest town hall, completed in 1905. Even more impressive is Leipzig's circa-1915 colossal Hauptbahnhof railroad terminal with vaulted ceiling and containing not just 15 tracks but 140 shops in its triple-level
Promenaden mega-mall. The high-speed Deutsche Bahn Inter CityExpress (ICE) train makes Leipzig an easy daytrip from Berlin, slightly over an hour away.
Two cultural stalwarts flank vast Augustusplatz (renamed Karl-Marx-Platz in G.D.R. times). On one side is the Neoclassical Opernhaus, where Leipzig-born Richard Wagner's operatic productions get top billing. Standing opposite is the modern Gewandhaus, home hall of the city's internationally distinguished symphony orchestra. Over on Sachsenplatz, Impressionist paintings by Max Beckmann (another native Leipziger) adorn the Bildende Kunst fine-arts museum.
At mealtime, take your pick. Auerbachs Keller (downstairs at Grimmaische Strasse 2-4, tel 49 341 216 100) oozes Germanic history, emphasized by murals depicting devilish episodes from Goethe's legendary drama, Faust. Contrasting atmospherics prevail in the pricier Panorama Tower restaurant (Augustplatz 9, tel 49 341 710 0590), featuring citywide panoramas from atop the 466-foot City-Hochhaus skyscraper, looming above Leipzig University's academic complex.
Prefer a Kaffee und Kuchen break? Café Concerto treats you to straight-ahead views ofKapellmeister Bach on his churchyard pedestal.