“Leipzig is the place for me! Tis quite a little Paris; people there acquire a certain easy finish’d air.” So mused Goethe in his epic Faust. The second city of Saxony is no French grande dame – indeed, it’s not much of a looker despite efforts to patch up the damage of war. But nor is it as languid. After decades in a socialist rut, LEIPZIG is back in the groove. Those architectural prizes that remain have been scrubbed up, and glass-and-steel edifices are appearing at lightning pace. No city in the former East Germany exudes such unbridled ambition, but then none has so firm a bedrock for its self-confidence. In autumn 1989, tens of thousands of Leipzigers took to the streets in the first peaceful protest against the communist regime. Their candles ignited the peaceful revolution that drew back the Iron Curtain and achieved what two decades of Ostpolitik wrangling had failed to deliver. Not bad for a city of just half-a-million people. It’s seductive to believe that its achievement was inspired by the humanist call-to-arms Ode To Joy that Schiller had penned here two centuries earlier. In fact, the demonstrations were simply another expression of Leipzig’s get-up-and-go. Granted market privileges in 1165, it emerged as a rampantly commercial city, a dynamic free-thinking place that blossomed as a cultural centre to attract names such as Bach, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Wagner and, of course, Goethe as a law student. Even the GDR rulers cultivated trade fairs, allowing the city to maintain its dialogue with the West when others were isolated. In recent decades the same energy has found an outlet through one of the most exciting contemporary arts scenes in Europe and a nightlife that is refined and riotous by turns.
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