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Leipzig for Music, Art and Coffee Lovers

by Barbara Rogers

May 8, 2020

Photo: Stillman Rogers

Destinations / Europe

Couples who share a love of music will quickly feel at home in the east German city of Leipzig, hometown of composers Bach and Mendelssohn. The city’s annual Bach Festival fills the city’s churches and concert venues with music. The church where Bach played and taught is home of the world-famous St. Thomas Boys’ Choir, and Leipzig’s Gewandhaus Orchestra is one of Europe’s most celebrated.

 

Leipzig’s vibrant contemporary art scene, its compact Old Town’s beautiful covered galleries and charming Art Nouveau coffee houses (not to mention the pastries they’re famous for), make Leipzig a perfect choice for a romantic getaway. No wonder it is one of the most popular destinations in eastern Germany.

 

The central point is the huge square, known as the Markt, which extends in front of the impressive Old City Hall, one of Germany’s most beautiful Renaissance buildings. The farmers market is held here, along with concerts, and it becomes a great outdoor concert hall during the Bach festival.

Leipzig Old City Hall and Market. Photo: Stillman Rogers

The nearby St. Thomas Church (Thomaskirche), where Martin Luther preached in 1539, became a center of Protestant sacred music, and Bach served as music and choir director for more than 25 years. It is still a year-round music center, with the famous boys’ choir and frequent concerts drawing music lovers. Bach was also music director of St. Nicholas Church, where several of his works were first performed — go here to hear the organ, one of Europe’s finest.

 

A block behind St. Nicholas on Augustusplatz is Neues Gewandhaus, home of one of Europe’s most renowned symphony orchestras. The main concert hall houses one of the city’s two Schuke organs (the other is at St. Thomas Church).

 

Leipzig is not just about Bach. You can visit the authentically restored and furnished 1844 home of Felix Mendelssohn to see the composer’s study and music salon. A highlight of the museum is a chance to conduct a virtual orchestra, using the innovative conductor’s podium, called an Effektorium.

 

Leipzig’s Museum of Fine Arts contains more than 3,500 paintings from the Middle Ages to the present, but the city is perhaps better known for its current lively arts culture, inspired and nourished by the transformation of a complex of 20 former cotton mills into the Leipzig Spinnery (Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei). The 50-acre former industrial site now includes art galleries, craftsmen’s workshops and studios and galleries representing about 100 artists, as well as vast exhibition spaces. Exploring this complex, you’ll find fashion designers, printers, potters, photographers, conceptual artists, sculptors, videographers, a goldsmith, a café and restaurants. If all this inspires you, an enormous art supply store can set you up with everything you need to get started.

Raspberry Torte Riquet, Leipzig. Photo: Stillman Rogers

Between all these highlights, you should take time for another of Leipzig’s great contributions to European culture: the coffee house. Germany’s first coffee house is thought to have been in Leipzig, and you can learn all about them at one of the oldest coffee shops in Europe, Coffe Baum, also home to a quirky but surprisingly large — and free —Coffee Museum. Displayed through 15 rooms are more than 500 artifacts tracing the history of coffee and the local coffee house culture.

 

Stop downstairs for the signature Baumkuchen, and, as you tour the city, look for these coffee houses near other attractions. Opposite St Thomas Church you’ll see cane chairs and tables in front of the Art Nouveau-style Café Kandler. Foil-wrapped Bachtaler (Bach coins) are good souvenirs — bonbons of hazelnuts, mocha nougat and fine chocolate wrapped around a whole coffee bean.

 

Another branch of Café Kandler hides in the beautiful Specks Hof, part of the Mädlerpassage and its adjoining passageways and atriums that tunnel through buildings at the end of the Old City Hall. Built to shelter tradespeople from the weather, they connected shops with merchants’ houses, morphing with time into elegant shopping arcades.

 

Our favorite coffee stop is the ornate Art Nouveau confection of Cafe Riquet, beautifully restored and redolent of the era’s stylish haute-monde atmosphere. It’s easy to spot, with its exotic pagoda roof, colorful mosaics and pair of copper elephant heads flanking the door.

 

Apart from the Cotton Mill complex, all these attractions are a short walk from the value-priced INNSIDE Leipzig Hotel, across from St. Thomas Church. In a distinguished old building, the new hotel offers contemporary rooms, a bright lively vibe, lots of public space and a rooftop bar and pool with views over the city.

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