The former East German powerhouse is an unfinished symphony of modern movements and classic hits, writes Tina Walsh

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Leipzig is a city on the up. This former powerhouse of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) is now the country's fastest-growing city, an urban work in progress, where old factories and warehouses are being repurposed as art galleries and exhibition spaces and a young, dynamic workforce throngs its stylish cocktail bars at night.

That's not to say it has forgotten its cultured past: from Bach to Wagner, Leipzig was a magnet for famous composers and played an important part in the modern art scene during the Weimar Republic.

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Running until the end of September, the Bauhaus Saxony exhibition at the Grassi Museum commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus art school. There are works by lesser-known artists, as well as Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and Josef Albers.

From June 30, the exhibition Art of Printing 1919. The Bauhaus ... at the Museum of the Printed Arts will look at posters, advertising materials, typography, books and magazines inspired by the movement.

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Vienna House Easy opposite the main railway station, an attraction in itself, has 205 bright, modern rooms. Also in the centre, Hotel Furstenhof is a grand 18th-century merchant's house turned luxury hotel.

Leipzig's opera house. Photo / Getty Images
Leipzig's opera house. Photo / Getty Images

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From the Altes Rathaus on Markt, built in the 16th century and one of the best examples of Germany's Renaissance town halls, walk down Salzgasschen and then Schuhmachergasschen to St Nicholas Church, where the first "Monday Demonstrations" in 1989 kicked off the revolt against Communist rule, earning Leipzig the accolade City of Heroes. At the end of Grimmaische Strasse, walk across Augustusplatz, Leipzig's main square, to the 17th-century Leipzig Opera House, rebuilt after being destroyed in an Allied air raid in 1943.

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Museum in der Runden Ecke is the former district HQ of the Stasi, the GDR's ruthlessly efficient secret police service. Surveillance devices, propaganda leaflets and other exhibits are displayed to chilling effect. Admission is free and English audio guides are available.

Once home to Robert and Clara Schumann, the latter one of the most distinguished composers and pianists of the Romantic era, Schumann Haus Leipzig was a Leipzig cultural hotspot. The couple's diaries give detailed accounts of their acquaintanceship with famous composers, including Felix Mendelssohn, Franz Liszt, and Hector Berlioz.

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For uninterrupted views of the city, take the lift up 36 floors to the top of the Panorama Tower, Leipzig's tallest building. There's a viewing platform and a restaurant, and entry is free.

See a concert at Gewandhaus Leipzig, which holds nearly 2000 people and is home to one of Germany's oldest symphony orchestras.

The palm-topped column outside Leipzig's St Nicholas Church commemorates the demonstrations of October 1989. Photo / Getty Images
The palm-topped column outside Leipzig's St Nicholas Church commemorates the demonstrations of October 1989. Photo / Getty Images

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There's a well-stocked bar and a smokers' lounge at Imperii, where a stylish after-work crowd enjoys the easy-going ambience. Cocktails from about $16.

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Auerbachs Keller in the Madlerpassage has been a pub and restaurant since the 16th century and even gets a mention in Goethe's Faust. Tuck into roast wild boar and potato dumplings while admiring the original hand-painted vaulted ceilings. Expect to pay around $80 with wine.

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Spinnerei in the trendy Plagwitz west of the city is the sprawling site of what was Europe's biggest cotton mill. It once contained factories, workers' housing and kindergartens, now remodelled as 100 or so galleries, exhibition spaces and design studios. There's also a restaurant and an art-house cinema. Check out the filigree porcelainware by ceramic artist Claudia Biehne, which can fetch anything up to several thousand dollars. A taxi to the Spinnerei costs around $23, or it's a 15-minute ride on the number 14 tram. Some of the galleries and studios don't open until 1pm, so an afternoon visit is best.