Bach To The Future – Leipzig Style
Welcome to The Bach Museum
Master mason Malecki walked into St Thomas Church, Leipzig on 28th July 1949 and uttered those immortal words to church Superintendent Heinrich Schumann: “Hello there, Superintendent. I bring (you) Bach.”
The remains of the musical maestro, Johann Sebastian Bach, originally identified by anatomy expert Professor Wilhelm in 1894, were on the back of Herr Malecki’s handcart in an open zinc casket.
They were being reinterred after a decision to move them from the crypt at St John’s church following a 1943 bombing raid by the Allies.
Now, they take pride of place under a bronze plate in the choir at St Thomas’s in Leipzig, Saxony, and, in some ways, that is where the story of Germany’s ‘City of Music’ starts, finishes or continues depending on your perspective.
Johann Sebastian Bach standing proud
But had it not been for another musical luminary, Felix Mendelssohn, Johann Sebastian Bach might have silently been forgotten in his original resting place: the hospital cemetery at St John’s Church.
However, along with one of Germany’s finest opera houses and more musical references than any respectable conductor could shake a baton at, this talented duo – almost six decades apart - helped create a lasting legacy for their adopted home, turning Leipzig into one of the country’s must-visit destinations.
And, such was the baroque city’s importance in the 19th century, that even Bradford composer Frederick Delius got in on the act.
He studied in Leipzig from 1886 when he met and befriended Norway’s Edvard Grieg before achieving his own limited greatness as a composer.
These days his passing fame can most tangibly be evidenced in his West Yorkshire home city courtesy of a blue tourism plaque in Little Germany: long since dead but not forgotten.
“I used to live in neighbouring Leeds,” said our Leipzig Opera House guide in near-perfect English. “I lived on Clarendon Road whilst studying at the university. Loved it.”
Praise indeed, I thought, from a woman so intrinsically rooted in such a beautiful city - once home to wealthy merchants - where old meets new, and locals must still celebrate the day when elders were prevented from demolishing the magnificent Old City Hall in Market Square.
Leipzig's Old City Hall
We were touring the 1960 opera house, although music and voices have been making their dulcet tones on the site since the tail end of the seventeenth century; a bust of Wagner, saved from WWII bombings which not only flattened the previous opera house but destroyed 26% of the city, stood majestically as if to say ‘I survived!’
“He was quite arrogant,” confided our guide, “suggesting that a name plate would not be needed on his grave since ‘everyone will know who I am’” she grinned. “He was his own greatest fan!”
Photo Credit: Adam Kumiszcza
Ever mindful of ‘sustainability’ even the opera house is recycling its costumes these days, and is committed to net zero productions as the world becomes ever more concerned about its carbon footprint.
Photo credit: Tom Schulze
But, such considerations to one side, Leipzig already has the ambience of a beautifully clean, well-run city that oozes music at every turn, and takes pride in its specklessly clean streets, free municipal museums and delectable cuisine.
Food glorious food!
Sometimes known as the City of Heroes – here is a place that has little problem finding a tourist sales pitch – it was where the 1989 Peaceful Revolution began and the so-called Cold War ended, as events unfolded that would see the fall of the Berlin Wall and the demise of Checkpoint Charlie.
Leipzig’s ‘Stasi’ Museum in the Runde Ecke (the ‘Round Corner’ building) takes a look at the German Democratic Republic’s (GDR/DDR) answer to Russia’s KGB, and is a lasting legacy of darker times when obedience was achieved through fear.
These days, the focus is on kindlier times when some of the world’s most glorious classical music flowed from the pens of those long since gone.
The Bach Museum, once home to the composer's wealthy friend, Mr Bose, is as good a place as any to begin your musical journey.
Part of Leipzig’s Music Trail, the museum and other key sights, can be found within 1km2 of the main centre including nearby St Thomas Church, where Bach became ‘Thomascantor’ in 1723, holding the ancient title until his death in 1750.
St Thomas Church featuring one of the steepest pitched roofs in Germany
The church, home to the famous St Thomas boys choir who perform every week, also boasts one of the steepest pitched roofs in Germany, with a ridge height of over 45m and a cool annual maintenance bill of £190,000!
Inside the museum, opposite, you can get a comprehensive view of the great man’s life and work but, if you have an appetite for food, as well as culture, then why not combine both by sampling a taste of Bach’s favourite nosh in the Bachstub’l Restaurant next door: sausage with pickled cabbage and salt potatoes!
Bach's favourite food: sausage with pickled cabbage and salt potatoes
Once sated you will not only be ready for a swift walk across town, but prepared for your next musical challenge: conducting your own orchestra!
The equally impressive Mendelssohn-Bartholdy Museum, once the family home, will not only educate you about Felix Mendelssohn and his equally talented siblings, but it is also home to what’s been dubbed the Effektorium where would-be conductors can lead their own virtual orchestra through Mendelssohn’s works, with the gestures and inflections of a real maestro!
Hone your conducting skills on the Effektorium in The Mendelssohn House!
Truly amazing and soooo much fun!
One thing’s for certain, the average person will never reach the musical heights of one of Japan’s finest pianists, Madoka Ito, whose genius can often be spotted in Leipzig and beyond.
Fine food is never far away, including cosy Restaurant Weinstock with its fine wines and subtle classical background music.
Just minutes from many of the city’s leading attractions it is located in the heart of Market Square where it serves both seasonal Saxon and international dishes.
There is the Panorama Tower Restaurant & Bar at Augustusplatz 9, the highest restaurant in central Germany where you can enjoy breathtaking views of the entire city whilst enjoying some young, cheeky cuisine!
There is the Restaurant Barthel Hof, one of the oldest and most traditional inns in Leipzig and where you can sample regional specialities such as Saxon potato soup and the Leipziger Lerche, a local pastry.
Or perhaps, just a coffee in Café Rique, the city’s oldest coffee house dating back to 1745?
Either way, hungry is not a word that you will hear too much in Leipzig where the beer flows and quality, well-presented food abounds.
The Museum at the Old Town Hall or a few hours in the Museum of Fine Arts offer an alternative to the city’s ‘music’ offering but, rest assured, you will rarely escape the strains of Mendelssohn, Bach or Wagner whose music pervades every eatery, nook and cranny within Leipzig: this city is proud of what it has become and is not afraid to share the compositions that were born there!
Next year it is the turn of former Soviet composer Shostakovich who had a long association with Leipzig.
In 2025 the city will play host to the Shostakovich Festival from May 15 – to June 1st.
It not only promises some of the finest compositions you will ever hear, but gives casual visitors another chance to hear something really special.
I was fortunate enough to have a preview in the magnificent Gewandhaus Concert Hall whose orchestra can be found playing regularly there as well as at the opera house and St Thomas’ Church
In the UK classical music is so often associated with the class system, packaged as music for the elite or the so-called 'educated'.
However, the wonderful aspect of Leipzig, Germany's fastest growing city with 30,000 students, is that everyone, young and the old, embraces classical music and there is no sense that it belongs to any one person or a specific part of the society.
The Gewandhaus Concert Hall, Leipzig.
It is a place where you can enjoy and learn more about something that you may already be an expert in but, if you’re not, that will not preclude you from visiting this wonderful city which stands poised to begin a overture that will melt your heart!
Out: Manchester Airport to Frankfurt – www.ryanair.com
Train Frankfurt to Leipzig
Home: Leipzig to Manchester Airport (via Frankfurt) - www.lufthansa.com
Where We Stayed
Marriott Hotel. Three minute walk from the railway station - www.marriott.com
In Leipzg the LEIPZIG CARD is highly recommended. It allows unlimited travel on public transport, special offers for restaurants, guided tours, cultural events etc. It can
be purchased online on the LeipzigMOVE app as can all your travel options: bus, train, tram, bike…..
Did You Know?
....that Leipzig was voted the 4th most liveable city in Europe. You can find the survey here