Leipzig hosts many festivals throughout the year. Our visit happened to coincide with one of them. “Wave-Gotik-Treffen” is a huge festival for fans of Goth style and music held over Pentecost weekend, which occurs on the seventh Sunday after Easter, every year. The event draws 25,000 visitors, all dressed in costume, and is one of the biggest Goth festivals in the world.
We were already in the middle of the Altstadt – or old city – once surrounded by a city wall. The city is largely pedestrian-only and compact, so the best way to see it is to wander and take in the array of architectural styles from Renaissance to Art Nouveau to Socialist style to Post Modern.
Along the way there are coffee shops, street musicians, students, and boutiques to enjoy. And today, we could also appreciate the full range of Goth attire – from corsets and parasols to piercings, chains, and punk hairstyles – as we strolled.
Leipzig was heavily damaged in WWII and also marked by its East German past. But it has a long history stretching back 1000 years (the city celebrated its 1000-year anniversary in 2015) and a rich musical heritage. Located at the intersection of two ancient Roman roads that became important European trade routes in the Middle Ages, Leipzig was granted the right to hold markets in the mid 12th century. Two centuries later, it was the first town in Germany to be accorded trade fair rights by the emperor. He prohibited trade fairs within 15 miles of the city, which gave Leipzig an advantage over its neighbors and helped it become rich from trade, publishing, and cotton. Leipzig grew to be a cosmopolitan hub and one of Germany’s most important cities. Its marketplace, trade fair buildings, and passages are all vestiges of the city’s prominence as a trade center.
We wandered over to the Marketplace, the heart of Leipzig, and the site of the Old City Hall, thought to be one of the best surviving examples of Renaissance architecture in Germany. The building is quite long and was apparently constructed in only 9 months, which is hard to imagine even today, let alone in the mid-1500s when it was built. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to see the museum inside, which takes you through the city’s history.
The weighing house (Alte Waage) also located on the Market Square and built in the mid 1500s was another favorite. This was where goods were weighed and fees collected during the city’s trade fairs, providing an important source of income for the city.
Across the square, we found the open doorway to the Mädler Passage, the city’s most famous shopping passage. Leipzig is filled with these indoor alleys, which originated in its early trading days.
Merchants needed a place to trade and sell their goods, which was usually on the ground floor of the main house facing the street, with living and office space above. In back were storage buildings with yards for loading. The passages between the front and back buildings were narrow, making it difficult for carts to turn around after they were loaded, so instead, the passages continued straight through to the next street. Eventually the alleyways were covered and became an internal network of halls connecting most of the city’s houses. This was where merchants presented their goods during the city’s famous trade fairs. Today the passages make up a unique system of shopping arcades. Though we only explored a few, there are more than 30 interconnected passages, some new and some historic, filled with shops and restaurants.
Inside, the Mädler Passage is a large arcade connecting to another beautiful passage. It is several stories high and topped with a glass roof. Now carefully restored, Mädler Passage is home to elegant shops. Originally, wine and porcelain were shown here during Leipzig trade fairs. Just inside, is a famous restaurant called Auerbach’s Keller, which we didn’t visit but was where the famous poet Goethe came when he studied at the university in Leipzig and where his famous play “Faust” is set. We wandered through the passages and eventually found ourselves on a street near to the city’s university. Leipzig’s university, founded in the 1400s and one of the oldest in Europe, was our next stop.
To be continued…