Leipzig has a colourful history stretching back more than 1,000 years. In the 7th century the Sorbs first settled here, establishing a trading post known as ‘Lipzk’ or ‘place of the lime trees’. After Leipzig was granted its town charter and market privileges in around 1165, it quickly developed into an important centre of commerce.
The decision of Maximilian I to award Leipzig imperial trade fair privileges in 1497 turned the city into one of Europe’s leading trade fair venues. This eventually spurred industrial growth on the city's outskirts, and a population surge to half a million by the time of the world’s first samples fair, held here in 1895. The city remained one of the hubs of global trade until the outbreak of World War II: and even during the 40-year life of the German Democratic Republic, the trade fair tradition was kept alive.
The most recent phase of Leipzig’s development as a centre of commerce began in April 1996 when the Trade Fair’s new exhibition complex was opened, featuring trailblazing architecture, spacious avenues and the stunning Glass Hall at its core. Since then Leipzig has hosted soccer World Cup games, created huge artificial lakes and a cross-city railway tunnel, and rejuvenated the urban waterways, while restoration of the city's fine Gründerzeit architecture continues apace.
Nowadays, Leipzig is a dynamic commercial and artistic centre. The former trade show buildings, and passages and arcades painstakingly restored since 1990 now contain shops, restaurants and cafés to suit all tastes and budgets. The Central Station is also great for shopping – for in addition to being one of the biggest railway termini in Europe, since 1997 it has housed a mall with more then 100 shops, restaurants and cafés open until 10 pm.
Pub districts also feature a number of restaurants and cafés playing host to the city's exciting nightlife. There are three main spots: Drallewatsch (the Barfussgässchen area), Schauspielviertel (the district centred on Gottschedstrasse) and Südmeile (in and around Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse). Alternatively, the 450-year-old underground vaults of the Moritzbastei harbour Europe’s biggest student club with a diverse mix of dance and live music, catering for young and old alike. Whatever the time of day or night, there’s always something happening in Leipzig!
As for hotels, guests can choose one of 12,000 beds in all categories; alongside internationally famous hotel chains, there are several typical Saxon guesthouses and bed & breakfast establishments.
Visitors will discover many of the sights just strolling through the pedestrian-friendly centre. The Mädler Passage, for centuries the city’s most exclusive arcade, is home to the famous Auerbachs Keller. Serving wine since 1525, this tavern was immortalised in Faust by Johann Wolfgang Goethe, father of German literature. The café-cum-restaurant 'Zum Arabischen Coffe Baum' is one of Europe’s oldest coffee houses and counted Robert Schumann among its regulars. Nowadays the museum within contains an exhibition on the history of coffee – Saxony's ‘national drink’.
The Old City Hall, one of Germany's finest Renaissance buildings, can be admired on the Market Square. It houses the fascinating Museum of City History. Behind it, the ornate Old Stock Exchange is fronted by a statue of Goethe, who studied in Leipzig, affectionately referring to the city in his Faust:
“You’re right! Leipzig’s the place for me!
My Leipzig will I praise!
A little Paris, one that cultivates its people.”
The University of Leipzig was founded in 1409, making it the second oldest in Germany. It is associated with many famous names such as Richard Wagner as well as Nobel laureates Carl Bosch, Gustav Hertz and Werner Heisenberg.
St Nicholas’s Church, the oldest and biggest in Leipzig, rose to fame in 1989 as the cradle of the Peaceful Revolution. Services on a peace theme were (and still are) held here every Monday. The demonstrations in late 1989 which developed from these services finally toppled the East German government, paving the way for German reunification.
All visitors are drawn to St Thomas’s Church, home of the world-famous St Thomas’s Boys Choir and where Johann Sebastian Bach spent 27 years as organist and choirmaster. His tomb can be seen in the chancel. The motets performed every Friday and Saturday by the choir, as well as the outdoor concerts in front of the statue of Bach in July and August, are especially popular. The Bach Museum is opposite the Church.
Among other musical highlights are the Sunday recitals at Mendelssohn House. Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy lived and died in the building, now the only museum in the world dedicated to the composer. Two more important centres of music are to be found on the redesigned Augustusplatz: Leipzig Opera House and the Gewandhaus concert hall. The renowned Gewandhaus Orchestra dates back more than 250 years, making it one of Europe's oldest.
Schumann House is dedicated to Robert and Clara Schumann: the latter was born Clara Wieck in the city centre. Here visitors explore the Schumann's time in Leipzig, including their many friends and visitors. One of these was Richard Wagner, also born in the city and the subject of a small museum in the Alte Nikolaischule which he attended as a youngster. The city also hosts a string of music festivals, large and small, such as the International Bach Festival in June, the A Capella Festival in April, the Leipzig Jazz Festival in October, and the Mendelssohn Festival in October/November. And for those with more modern inclinations, the International Goth festival over Whitsun weekend is an unmissable spectacle.
Leipzig Museum of Fine Arts in its controversial glass cube opposite Wagner's birthplace, holds one of the finest collections of art in central Germany. Contemporary trends can be viewed and discussed at, among others, the Leipzig Gallery of Modern Art, opened in 1998. Art-lovers should also make for the Baumwollspinnerei – an industrial site which has been converted into studios and galleries for artists in and around the celebrated ‘Leipzig School’.
Other museums and monuments include the gigantic memorial to the 1813 Battle of Leipzig; the Grassimuseum complex with sections dedicated to Musical Instruments, Ethnology and Applied Arts; the Schiller House, where the poet and dramatist wrote his 'Ode to Joy', and the 'Runde Ecke' museum in the sometime HQ of the GDR's Security Police.
Leipzig has more to offer than historical sights and entertainment. The Auenwald stretches right across Leipzig – a swathe of urban parks and woodlands unparalleled in Europe. Leipzig Zoo is also world class, its major attractions including Pongoland (the biggest enclosure of anthropoid apes in the world), an expansive African savannah and the Tiger Taiga. And two highlights of the Botanical Gardens of the University of Leipzig are the pharmaceutical garden laid out to a mediaeval design and the butterfly house.
The Monument to the Battle of the Nations affords a magnificent view of the city. The tallest monument in Germany, it commemorates (like the nearby Russian Church) those who fell at the Battle of Leipzig, also known as the Battle of the Nations, where Napoleon met defeat in October 1813.
The city’s appeal looks set to increase in the years to come – in the science sector following the refurbishment of Leipzig University on Augustusplatz, and in business with car plants built by Porsche and BMW having been followed by DHL’s new European hub at Leipzig/Halle Airport. In addition, four hotels with a total of around 700 beds will further improve the city's excellent tourism infrastructure.
The pioneering city-centre tunnel, completed in December 2013, has improved accessibility to the entire Central German region and makes for smoother long-distance transport links. Dresden, Berlin, Halle Weimar, Erfurt and other interesting places are less than two hours away by train.
All the city's sights are easily accessible via the trams and buses of LVB, the safe, cheap and efficient public transport authority.