Leipzig was the second largest city in the former German Democratic Republic and is located south-west of Berlin on the Leipzig basin (a flat plain in Western Saxony).
Leipzig started as a small Slav village near the confluence of the rivers Elster and Parthe. Its name is derived from ‘Lipsk’ which means ‘the place where the lime trees grow’. Leipzig was first mentioned in 1015, in the chronicles of Bishop Thietmar von Merseburg. Leipzig has long been an important intellectual and cultural centre. The University of Leipzig was established in 1409. Among Leipzig’s most famous residents are Richard Wagner (born here in 1813) and Felix Mendelssohn, and it also played a pivotal role in the career of Johann Sebastian Bach, who was organist and choirmaster of St Thomas’ Church and City Musical Director. During the eighteenth century, the poet and novelist Johann Wolfgang Goethe studied at the university. Leipzig was also the first city in the world to produce a daily newspaper.
This cultural flowering was based on economic prosperity, brought about originally by trade in books and textiles. In addition, silver was discovered in the nearby ‘Ore Mountains’ in the sixteenth century. In 1813 Leipzig witnessed the victory of allied Austrian, Prussian, Russian, and Swedish troops over Napoleonic forces at the Battle of the Nations. Twenty-six years later, Leipzig was the terminus of Germany’s first railway, which extended to Dresden.
The city was hit hard during World War II and much of its old architecture was lost to allied bombing. The reconstruction of the city was pursued under the communist government of East Germany. When citizens of the former German Democratic Republic began calling for a reunified Germany, Leipzig became one of the leading centres in the democratic revolution.
Major industries include construction, chemicals and heavy manufactures. Its annual fair is important for East–West European trade.
The city’s main airport is Flughafen Leipzig-Halle, 13 km northwest of Leipzig. The railway station, Hauptbahnhof, is the largest of its kind in the world and has links with all major cities in the country. There is also a smaller Bayerischer Bahnhof, predominantly for local journeys. Within the city, trams are easiest for getting around.
Places of Interest
The Battle of Leipzig/Battle of the Nations Monument is the memorial to the victory of the allies over Napoléon in Oct. 1813. Thomaskirche (St Thomas Church) was built in 1212. Johann Sebastian Bach was its cantor for the last 27 years of his life. His tomb has been in St Thomas’ Church since 1950. Opposite the church is the Bach Museum, documenting the composer’s life in Leipzig. The Opernhaus offers a mixture of modern and traditional productions, and the Neues Gewandhaus is home to Europe’s oldest established orchestra, once led by Mendelssohn.
The Ägyptisches (Egyptian) Museum has one of Europe’s leading collections of Egyptian artefacts and antiques. Meanwhile, the Grassi Museum Complex consists of three museums, including the Musikinstrumenten-Museum, the Museum für Völkerkunde (Museum of Ethnology) and the Museum für Kunsthandwerk (Museum of Arts and Crafts).