Saturday, March 23, 2013

Germany East: Leipzig

Editor's note: Having researched and written a series of posts for our up-coming trip to San Francisco, and having already purchased tickets for my next trip to Germany (late May/early June), I figure I had better finish up with the posts from the previous trip. This is the penultimate entry I had planned, and I've taken advantage of the end of Spring Break to put the finishing touches on them both for you. The other one will appear on Wednesday.

German National Library
I spent the last two weeks of my January research trip in Leipzig, at the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek (German National Library). This private institution is in the southeastern corner of the city and abuts the Alte Messegelände (Old Trade Show Grounds). The German National Library celebrated its centenary last year, and its magnificent building will be 100 years old in 2016. It still amazes me that Germans continued to do things like build libraries during World War I. Back then it was called the Deutsche Bücherei.

The first morning in Leipzig I woke up to a fresh blanket of snow:

Iconic double Ms at the eastern entrance
For a variety of reasons I chose not to live in the same Haus I did back in May 2011, so I was happy to discover a small Pension just a 10-minute walk away. The Messegelände is 100 years old this year, and the buildings that aren't being torn down for being too old (or ugly--quite a few date to the Communist period) are being re-purposed. A number of Christian associations have purchased Building 14 and use it for worship, a school, a community center, and to house some missionaries. The first-floor cafe and third-floor hostel (Cafe/Pension 14) are run by a Christian businessman a little older than I am. He remembers when only the party elite were allowed to come to events at the Messegelände.

Herr Stiehl and I had a lot of opportunities to talk, since I was the only one at breakfast. Most tenants at the hostel are factory workers and feed themselves from the primitive guest kitchen upstairs. I wanted to start the day with a hefty breakfast that I could stretch into a second meal, so I paid extra for a spread like the one in the photo. It included tea, orange juice, two rolls, meat, cheese, jam, jogurt, muesli, several fresh fruits, and sometimes a soft-boiled egg. I slipped a sandwich and piece of fruit into my bag for later. For my other meals I used the large discount grocery store in Building 11 next door.

Among other anniversaries being celebrated, last year was the 300th birthday of Frederick the Great of Prussia, and this year Richard Wagner would have been 200. Even though he is most associated with Bayreuth in nearby Bayern (Bavaria), Wagner is a native Sachsen (Saxon). He was born on 22 May 1813 in Leipzig and lived here for two years, until his stepfather moved the family to Dresden. Leipzig is making a big deal about it, having concerts and exhibitions and the like. I didn't catch any of those, but one Saturday night I did go to the famous Gewandhaus to hear what I assume was the final performance of the semester of the student orchestra. They were pretty good--and played "the can-can" as an encore, complete with students in local skirts and knee-high socks doing a silly dance.

Finally, 2013 is 200 years since the Battle of Nations, the decisive battle between Napoleon Bonaparte and the combined armies of Russia, Prussia, Austria, and Sweden, fought on the flat land just south of Leipzig. (Saxony fought with the French. Oops.) It was the largest battle in Europe before World War I and marked the decisive end of Napoleon's European campaign. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of that momentous event, in 1913 Emperor Wilhelm III dedicated the Völkerschlachtdenkmal. (The next time French soldiers would cross the Rhine River int Germany was toward the end of WWI.) This monstrosity of a monument turns 100 later this year, and there are celebrations planned for October. 

Sunrise at the Monument to the Battle of Nations

Who else is celebrating a big anniversary this year? Tell us in the comments!

1 comment:

  1. Wow, that's a lot of anniversaries for Leipzig this year! What a privilege to spend a few weeks there this summer! I'll be featuring it in the next book, so clearly it's high time I learn more about its "present anniversaries" too!

    Keep up the posts and the travels!


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