As I leave Leipzig on the train to go back to Berlin, the sun is setting in bright golden colours, sinking, falling onto and into the Saxonian fields and woods, swiftly changing the sky from grey to yellow to orange to red until the light fades entirely. I am quite sure that I will be on this train again fairly soon. I have had an initial fix. And now I want more.
Conference trips are great. They often take you to interesting cities, and if you’re lucky all expenses are paid. That is beside the fact of course that there is an ideally interesting conference to enjoy. The problem with conference trips is: You never have enough time to actually see the city. I want to take you to Leipzig with me nonetheless because I can see a love affair starting here, and my small number of impressions may be all the more powerful because they are few. I did not even take out my proper camera. Therefore, my impressions come to you through the filters of our ever so beloved instagram.
Granted I had been quite sure I would enjoy Leipzig. It had been described to me as the new Berlin; or as Berlin, but more cozy; or as Berlin, but less gentrified; or as Berlin, but *gasp* cheaper (I know, incredible, right?). Basically it had sounded like a more perfect version of the German capital. And it may very well be. It is green and friendly, incredibly lively, the streets are lined with the secession buildings I love so much, beautifully restored and glowing in their clean white, pale yellow or light grey paint – or with colourful street art.
The city centre combines modern architecture and old buildings to a harmonic whole. Street musicians entertain the crowds, and people take their time to linger for a while and listen. There is an exceptionally high number of kids running and playing on the green strips downtown, and your obligatory group of punks is hanging out right next to the screaming children. I must admit that I thought Leipzig would be somewhat more morbid, dark, and bohemian. I find it quite clean. But I instantly feel that it would be a city that I would absolutely love to live in. I feel comfortable here.
The conference is in Specks Hof, an old trade fair building with beautiful secession windows in the stairway showing allegories of different professions, but also of virtues. I especially enjoyed this man, symbolizing “Love for Peace”, and the woman standing for “Talkativity”.
In one of the lunch breaks I walk over to the market square. At the Forum for Contemporary History, a sign reads: “Careful! History leads to insights and causes consciousness.” Just in front of this, there is a statue that a colleague once sent me a picture of and that I am happy to now have seen myself because I find it deeply impressive. It is called “The step of the century” and shows a figure whose right side is stretching in the Hitler salute and marching in goose step, while the left half of the body is bowed down in submission and with the arm performs the socialist greeting, usually accompanied by the word “Friendship”. The figure’s head is crouched into the coat, as though in hiding, trying to gain distance from the totalitarian regimes the body language is so affirmatively demonstrating. The statue symbolizes a willing support of the system with the body; and an opportune and deliberate closing of the eyes to the injustice of it. I think it is, in its simplicity, one of the most powerful monuments to German history in this country.
Before I make my way to the train station on the last conference day to return home, I stop by Nikolaikirche which unfortunately is closed. Massive and influential protests against the regime of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), socialist East Germany, took place in and around this church in the autumn of 1989 and played a significant role in the soon to follow downfall of the wall. This part of German history, I feel, is quite present in the city centre. On the ground in the square behind Specks Hof I find an unobtrusive, small reminder of the Volksaufstand, uprising, in 1953, one of the first occasions when GDR citizens protested against their gouvernment. They were brutally chastised. The monument shows the date and the traces of the tanks that were used by the state power to regain power.
Since I cannot visit this Nikolaikirche, I make my way to Thomaskirche where the great German baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach was cantor for quite a while and found his last home. There is a devotion taking place, and I am so lucky as to enter the church as an acapella choir is singing a beautiful and sorrowful piece that almost tears my heart apart. The church is very plain – after all this is deeply Lutheran country. Protestantism came into existence not very far from here. I love the beautiful dark red crossed struts in the dome of the church, and the plain white walls and pale reddish marble of the arches.
When I say that these few excerpts out of my perception of Leipzig are all I could muster this time around, I am sure you agree with me that it is not enough. I am once more convinced that there are diamonds to discover in close proximity of home – it is not always necessary to travel far.