Leipzig: The sleeping beauty has awoken

Shoppers enjoy local goods at a Christmas market in Leipzig, Germany. Leipzig is known for the Gewandhaus Orchestra, the Leipzig Opera and the hometown of Johann Sebastian Bach. (U.S. Air Force photo/1st Lt. Agneta Murnan)

Shoppers enjoy local goods at a Christmas market in Leipzig, Germany. Leipzig is known for the Gewandhaus Orchestra, the Leipzig Opera and the hometown of Johann Sebastian Bach. (U.S. Air Force photo/1st Lt. Agneta Murnan)

LEIPZIG, Germany -- If the communist influence over East Germany was the revolution of a prickly spinning wheel, Leipzig, Germany, was the sleeping beauty. Even after the fall of the Berlin wall, the prince of democracy and heavy capital investment battled dramatic depopulation, neglected buildings and unemployment to return the fair Leipzig as a regrown city thriving on culture and the arts.

In the last five years, unemployment rates have fallen six percent, while the population has increased by approximately 16,000, or about three percent.

Symbolic of this renaissance is the transformation of the Spinnerei, formerly the largest cotton mill in continental Europe, to a space accommodating 80 artists, 14 exhibition spaces, dance groups, a restaurant, theater and apartments.

As a tourist destination, Leipzig is known for the Gewandhaus Orchestra, the Leipzig Opera, the hometown and burial place of Johann Sebastian Bach, choir master between 1723 and 1750 of the Saint Thomas Boys Choir, now 800 years old. There are few nights during which poetry readings, live music and special exhibitions are not taking place in small venues around the corner.

A university town of over 601 years, approximately 27,000 students travel alongside tourists and city dwellers by bicycle, regular streetcar routes or foot between campus buildings, book stores, caf├ęs, clubs and pubs scattered throughout the city center. Breathtaking is the renovated Albertina University Library.

Tourists have frequented the Auerbachs Keller (cellar) since 1525, especially following the historic restaurant's inclusion as the location of a scene in "Faust," a novel written by one of Germany's most celebrated writers and Leipzig University alumni, Johann Wolfgang Goethe.

Through an extensive network of university exchange programs, roughly one third of the university students are foreign, and many Leipzig university students study abroad in turn. This contributes to the interest in the multi-cultural landscape and initiatives in Leipzig. The university museums include an Egyptian museum, botanical gardens and an art exhibition hall for the Leipzig school of art.

City attractions include natural and amusement parks (Belantis), lakes and the Leipzig Zoo.

The political scientist or history buff at heart would be interested in the Volkerschlacht Denkmal, remembering the "Battle of the Nations" and triumph of European coalition armies over Napoleon in 1813. The Stasi Museum documents secret police spy techniques.

A visit to the Saint Nicholas church will produce evidence of Leipzig's political significance to the reunion of east and west Germany. Following prayers for peace in the church in 1989, massive Monday demonstration marches took place in the city leading past the headquarters of the secret police. The replica of a church pillar can be found near the church, symbolizing the momentum of the spiritual movement from inside the church walls to the outside.

The 700 year-old Paulina Church, proud survivor of both world wars, was physically destroyed in 1963 as a casualty of contemporary political priority. The form of the church is being rebuilt as part of the university, showing that Leipzig has really broken the 40-year spell.

(Source: Sachsen state statistic office)