So the muse clearly has been…hiding out for the last while. That being said, it certainly hasn’t been much of a time to travel for most of the world, no exception here. My summer teaching was finally over a week or so ago and I decided it was time to hit the road again, to try to get my travel “mojo” back after nearly two and a half years of masks and lockdowns, yada yada.
It made sense to head down to Leipzig for a couple days. It’s close, only about 160 kms away from Berlin, easy to reach by train or bus, and a rich historic location in its own right. It started as a trading city during Roman times and of course is well-known in musical and cultural circles as having hosted J.S. Bach, among others. It’s now considered by some to be “the most livable city in Germany” and is a economic and intellectual powerhouse, “the new Berlin,” if the hype is to be believed.
But…I couldn’t find its soul. I couldn’t feel the energy of the place. It didn’t help, of course, that it was hot as blazes the days I was there and any sane people had probably decamped to cooler greener spots, but all the same, I’ve found soul in hot cities before. My experience can best be summarized by saying Leipzig felt to me like a celebrity cosmetic procedure gone a bit wrong. Think Darryl Hannah with really big lips, Jennifer Grey with a bad nose job. The center of Leipzig is, basically, just a lot of big new shopping malls, chock-a-block full of the usual global franchises interspersed with generic restaurants sporting nearly identical umbrellas and panting tourists enjoying nearly identical Aperol Spritzes. It was disheartening, frankly.
That being said, I’ll do my very best to give you the soulful bits I could unearth in my quick gallop through the place. First, an entryway shot of my crib, the lovely Hotel Fregehaus, originally built in the Renaissance and “updated” about 1706:
The hotel is near the center of the city and only a few steps away I spotted this lovely roof detail:
Since I didn’t want to eat in a tourist trap, I asked my hotel about how to escape the rabble and hang out with the locals. I was directed to a lovely restaurant, Pilot, a short walk outside the city center. There I enjoyed a classic Sachsen meal of roast pork and potatoes:
Nearby, I spotted Leipzig’s spare but moving memorial to its Jewish population whose fate was similar to many others during that time. This presentation is on the site of the former synagogue destroyed in 1938. The chairs form a mute testament to the community that was lost.
A short walk away (it’s a very small inner city, everything is basically a short walk away) is the Thomaskirsche, where J.S. Bach worked from 1723 to 1750. Originating as a monastery in the 12th century, it also hosted during its lifetime Mozart, Mendelssohn, and Wagner. The statue is, of course, J.S., and he is buried inside:
…charmingly, the back of the statue is as detailed as the front, but just the pipes, ma’am, just the pipes:
…and then inside, the organ itself, most probably not the original, but in the original spot:
In a very different vein, not far away but still a musical pilgrimage site, here is the home of the Leipziger Kammerorchester, clearly a bit of an architectural change of pace:
The musical theme is woven pretty tightly throughout the city. I found this little gem nearby:
As I headed back to my bus to head homeward, I saw this interesting juxtaposition of the “new” town hall with a “mini-me,” joined together at a busy intersection:
Nearby, a cheery mural advocating for all the lovely progressive virtues we wish our societies would adopt:
A shocking storefront, even when I was girded for the worst:
And finally a cool spot to wait for the bus…aesthetically lovely benches that were hell to sit on for an hour and clearly discouraged any napping, but at least a respite from the sun and heat:
I don’t want to end on a complete downer so I’ll quickly add that I plan to go back during a cooler month and avail myself of some of the outstanding museums that I know await me there. But those of you who have traveled with me here know my sense of frustration and sadness at the “urban taxidermy” that afflicts a lot of the beautiful old haunts in this part of the world. So welcome back to my excursions, and hopefully you won’t have to wait so long for the next installment.