|During efforts to resurrect the centre of
Leipzig to its former glory in the 1960s, traces of 6,000 year-old human
settlement were discovered in the area located between the Parthe, Pleisse
and Elster rivers. The first documented references date from 1015 A.D. At
this time, the castle known as Lipzi (old Sorbian for lime tree), which
gave the city its name, had stood here for 100 years.
Also at this time, the foundation for Leipzigs transformation into a trade centre was laid. Around 1165, Leipzig received its town charter and rights as a market town. Due to its strategic placement along the market routes to Prague, Berlin and Frankfurt, Leipzig quickly experienced a flurry of commercial activity which has continued to this day, and has left its mark on the citys infrastructure. The axes running through the town centre still indicate the East-West and North-South routes. The 10,000 square metre Marktplatz (Market Square) and the Altes Rathaus (old town hall, now the Museum of Local History) have stood here nearly unchanged since the 15th century, whilst the Naschmarkt (Food Market) and Alte Handelsbörse (Old Commercial Exchange) date from the 17th century.
In 1497, the right to hold trade fairs was granted to the growing city of 10,000 inhabitants. In the surrounding 110 kilometre area, only the town of Leipzig had the right to stock goods and organise trade fairs.
Renaissance buildings, some of which were later redesigned in a Baroque style, are found in the renovated Hainstrasse (e.g. numbers 8 and 13). The entire town centre, as well as the Katharinenstrasse and Grimmaischen Strasse, contains examples of the 17th century houses built by wealthy merchants. Other impressive examples are the Mädlerpassage, Barthels Hof and the baroque Romanushaus in Katharinenstrae.
To this day, the annual March book fair holds particular importance. Since the first printing of a book in Leipzig in 1481, the city has been a centre of publishing and printing. As early as 1550, the university library was one of the largest in Europe. Since 1912, a copy of every published book and journal in the German language has been stored in the Deutsche Bücherei. The adjoining Deutsches Buch und Schriftmuseum offers information about the development of the printed word.
Since 1999, the book fair has taken place at the Neues Messegelände (New Exhibition Centre). Its imposing glass cupola makes a trip more than worthwhile.
The history of the church here is just as old as the tradition of trade fairs. Completed in 1496, the Thomaskirche soon became a focal point during the early days of the Reformation. Indeed, Luther announced the introduction of the Reformation here. The churchs world-renowned choir, the Thomanerchor, has existed since the 13th century, and still sings Mass and motets regularly. This choir and its church are notable in light of their role in the life of one Johann Sebastian Bach, who spent half of his life here as choirmaster. His five-year cycle of motets is still performed to this day. A visit to the Bach Museum should also not be missed.
The other large church in the town centre is Nikolaikirche, the starting point of the 1989 Monday demonstrations that eventually resulted in the unification of the two German states. The Monday prayer services that developed into the demonstrations are still held to this day.
The University of Leipzig also enjoys a long tradition. It was founded in 1409, which makes it one of Europes oldest. It boasts a whole host of famed former students such as Leibniz, Thomasius, Gottsched and Gellert, and more recently the philosophers Hans-Georg Gadamer and Ernst Bloch. Indeed, the list of famed graduates does not stop there: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe arrived in Leipzig in 1765 to study law, as well as to drink and celebrate in Auerbachs Keller, and ' although hard to believe - to learn standard German. Today "Sächsische" is classified as its own characteristic dialect, but in those days a broad and soft accent was considered proper. Goethes famous drama Faust is partly set in Auerbachs Keller.
Fifty years later, in 1813, Napoleon was defeated to the south of Leipzig. The Völkerschlacht (Battle of the Nations) claimed 85,000 dead and 100,000 wounded. In 1913, the Völkerschlachtdenkmal was built, and became the largest monument in Europe. An ascent to the viewing platform at the top is worthwhile as it affords a view of scenery marked by the open-cast mining of brown coal to the south of the city.
The recent history of Leipzig is first and foremost marked by the Wende, or change, of 1989, and the ensuing boom in construction. Middle German Radio moved its headquarters to Leipzig. Jürgen Schneider restored a large part the town-centre before going bankrupt and losing billions, and then fled to the other side of the world before ending up in jail. In Leipzig, he is seen as a sort of popular hero whose love for architecture led him to prison. Leipzig views itself in grand terms and some might argue with a touch of arrogance: media metropolis, trade fair centre, book city, mini-Paris, or city of the citizens' movement. All these labels indicate a high degree of liveliness, although unambiguous adjectives cannot be granted. What can certainly be guaranteed is a lack of boredom. Yesterday, today and tomorrow are present always and everywhere, and beg to be discovered and experienced.