Lufthansa Highlights Leipzig: "A lively tour of Leipzig"
It’s half past seven in the evening and I’m walking around downtown. Doing the “lipsi step.” You’ve never heard of it? Left foot left, right foot left tap, feet together. It was invented here in Leipzig in the 1950s. An East German attempt to combat the twist. Only it never caught on.
Cobblestones. Cold, round streetlamps. Children in hoods. Matching shoes and scarves; stretch jeans tucked into boot tops. Married couples dining out, enjoying traditional food. Brightly lit windows in old facades, a scent of vanilla wafting from a tea shop. Postcard stands being brought inside. An accordionist plays the Turkish Rondo one last time. Something reminds you of a fairy tale by Wilhelm Hauff. The Pinguin milk bar (Katharinenstrasse 4) is where I polished off my very first ice cream sundae as a kid. On a cold day, you can get a hot milk here for 1.60 euros.
The marketplace - a work in progress for years. This is where Woyzeck the wigmaker was decapitated in 1824 for stabbing and killing his mistress in a fit of jealousy. His story inspired Georg Büchner. A snowflake touches my lip. It’s time for hot chocolate at the World Coffee shop in Hugendubel’s bookstore (Petersstrasse 12-13). Second floor, past Religion, past Philosophy, down at the end by Vehicles and Hobbies. They say it’s the place to meet people in Leipzig, but I don’t see my type. Did anyone ever write a song about the air in Leipzig? Like the famous one about Berlin? Not that I know of. You can see the air on cold nights like this, when your breath comes out as steam. But it’s nicer to know what’s in it. A toxic whiff of Bitterfeld, a strain of Bach. The soft breath of peaceful revolution, the sweat of one-time Young Pioneers; Walter Ulbricht’s shrill voice and Schiller’s “Ode to Joy,” which he wrote here.
On Neumarkt, you can hear the bells of St. Nicholas and St. Thomas chime in harmony. Prayers for peace in one church ushered in political change in the late 1980s; Marx and Engels stood godfather to Karl Liebknecht in the other. Bach’s Mass in B Minor is playing at St. Thomas’s tonight, but right now I need something to eat. I head for my favorite Korean restaurant, the Kim in Strohsackpassage (Nikolaistr. 6–10).
Not quite cosmopolitan, Leipzig is a world in itself. Maybe you have to leave and come back again to see what normally only tourists appreciate. I left a teenager and returned at 40. To me, Leipzig is a blend of childhood memories and new discoveries, of high-gloss capitalism still tarred in places with the old socialist brush. Forget pigeon-dropping-covered sentimentality and the faltering East German upswing, forget “Dona Nobis Pacem” and the local anthem “Sing, mein Sachse, sing.
Being home is about rituals, too. When I eat Korean, I always order the same things: bulgogi (strips of spiced beef fried at the table) with kimchi (Chinese cabbage in a sour marinade) and hot sake (rice wine). The restaurant is no sight for sore eyes – the location is a shopping mall, the decor standard Asian – but Kim’s food is excellent and you never bump into the usual suspects because they’re busy hanging out at the Barcelona or the Sol Y Mar on trendy Gottschedstrasse.
It takes just a couple of dozen steps to cross the center of Leipzig. Passage, my favorite movie theater, isn’t far away either (Hainstrasse 19a). The cozy seats in the back rows of its biggest auditorium, the Astoria, are a great place to smooch.
After the movie, I suggest taking a romantic Twenty Years Since the Fall of the Wall nighttime stroll down Hainstrasse (where the novelist Theodor Fontane worked as an apothecary’s apprentice), then left past the Galeria Kaufhof department store on your right, past the pedestrian zone and the construction site where they’re rebuilding the University Church, and down between Mendebrunnen and Gewandhaus toward the main post office. Leipzig, city of heroes and music, book fair city, mother of the New Leipzig School, a state of mind, an attitude, a home of sorts.
Time for one last drink. Either a Miss Marple, a non-alcoholic cocktail, at Sonder Bar, or a drop of the hard stuff at First Whisk(e)y Bar, where they have 150 different whiskeys (both bars, Strohsackpassage, Nikolaistr. 6-10). I go for a glass of Lagavulin, a 16-year-old single malt that smells of peat and algae and tastes like burnt cable – not for wimps! I rarely go dancing, and only under protest. But after a second dram of Lagavulin I feel the burning heat of youthfulness and head out through the night, past drunks and straight through a group of punks and adventure-hungry tourists to the greater Barfussgässchen area, humorously referred to as Drallewatsch (an old Saxon word for “having fun” or “going out for a dance”). Along the way, I wonder, fiery-breathed, where all the passages – Mädler, Strohsack, Messehof - lead. And all those modernized old buildings? Who lives there?
The basement at Spizz (Markt 9), across from the old town hall, is always jammed after one in the morning and there’s usually something going on – Jazz Funk Disco or Piano Boogie Night – on the little stage above which wind instruments hang from the ceiling. Admission is free. Left foot left, right foot tap... The lipsi step never caught on but Leipzig is getting ready for the big time.