Leipzig – Traces of the GDR

Approaching the Leipzig University campus, we spotted the Panorama Tower. Built by the former East Germans in the 1970s, the tower is supposed to look like an open book. The locals call it the “wisdom tooth.”

Wisdom tooth and church
The Panorama Tower and The Paulinum

Next door was the Paulinum, a modern glass structure that houses the university student center and chapel. It looks a lot like a church, and that’s because it commemorates the Paulinerkirche, a 13th century church that once stood there. Amazingly, while much of the area was damaged during WWII, the Paulinerkirche survived nearly intact. Then, sadly, in 1968, the East Germans blew it up. This new “church” was built in 2007 in the same location on the footprint of the original.

Leipzig modern university chruch
Augustusplatz

We joined the bustling crowd of students and took a shortcut through the Paulinum to the Augustusplatz on the other side. This was once a beautiful public square until the East Germans demolished it. They replaced the historic buildings with modern socialist structures and re-named the square Karl Marx Platz. Today, it is once again called Augustusplatz.

Leipzig opera house #2
Leipzig Opera House

The opera house, built by the GDR (former East Germany), is actually quite beautiful.

Gewandhaus #3
The 19th century “Mendebrunnen” fountain and the Gewandhaus concert hall (behind)

The Gewandhaus is not nearly as attractive in my opinion, but it is worth looking inside. The enormous murals on the sloped ceiling of the reception area are the largest murals I’ve ever seen. They are supposed to be even more spectacular at night, when you can see them through the windows from the outside.

In the lobby, we found information about the history of the orchestra and concert hall. Gewandhaus means “building where cloth is traded.” The city’s first concert hall was located on the upper floor of the textile trade building. On the lower floor of the building was the Zeughaus, or armory, where the ammunition was stored. Luckily, the information pointed out, the orchestra was did not end up with the name “Leipzig Arsenal Orchestra,” as it would have been unfortunate from a marketing perspective.

When the Gewandhaus Orchestra eventually outgrew its space, the city constructed a new concert hall, which was later destroyed in WWII. This current Gewandhaus, built by the GDR (former East Germany), is actually Leipzig’s third.

Goths in Leipzig
Goth fans pose for pictures

We returned to the Marketplace via one of Leipzig’s busy pedestrian shopping streets. By now the street was full of Goth fans of every shape and size, old and young, wearing gowns, wigs, elaborate hats, and lots of make-up. While attire ranged from Victorian to punk, all aimed for a dark and gloomy effect, in contrast to the participants, who were enthusiastically enjoying the celebration. Their extravagant display only added to our impression that Leipzig is quite a diverse and interesting city.

5 figure leipzig #2
“Unzeitgemäße Zeitgenossen” or Untimely Contemporaries

We found an unusual sculpture in the middle of the pedestrian zone and were puzzled by the meaning. Information was hard to find but the title is “Unzeitgemäße Zeitgenossen” which translates (approximately) to “Untimely Contemporaries” in English. The sculpture was created by a university art professor in the 1980s before the wall came down. He was unhappy with the East German regime. It’s apparently a caricature. It is hard to imagine the GDR would have allowed the artist to make such a work and not surprising that the piece wasn’t installed in its current location until 1990, after the wall came down.

Nikolai Kirche Leipzig
Nikolaikirche, or St. Nicholas Church

We ducked into another historic arcade, this one with a beautiful stamped metal ceiling, and emerged on a narrow street just across from the entry to the Nikolaikirche, or St. Nicholas Church. The church was built in the 1500s in honor of St. Nicholas, patron saint of merchants, and became famous for being the site of the Monday peaceful protests that began in 1982. These demonstrations against the GDR grew to include thousands of people and helped bring down the Communist government in 1989. The church interior is mostly pink and green with columns that look like palm trees.

Battle of nations
Monument to the Battle of the Nations

There was so much more to see, and we only got a sampling of everything the city has to offer. We would have enjoyed seeing the Monument to the Battle of Nations on our way out of the city. The massive stone structure marks the place where Napoleon, who had dominated Europe, was finally defeated in 1813. It was getting dark, so after a full day, we decided it was time to continue to our next destination, Dresden.

 

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