When you think of classical music, Germany comes close to the top of most lists, followed closely, by Austria or Italy. But it's hard to beat Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, and when it comes to tourism, you can find sites related to famous composers dotted all over the map of the Federal Republic of Germany. Moreover, Leipzig is the capital of Bach, good news for those who consider him Nummer Eins.
If you can manage a trip this summer, you'll find one of Germany's most extensive programs taking place here from June 29 through September 7, when the MDR Music Summer is held throughout the state of Saxony, which includes both Leipzig and Dresden. The BBC Philharmonic plays in Weimar and the Alban Berg Quartet in Dresden, two of dozens of programs in this series.
Famous though the Three B's have been in this nation's history and culture, musicians were important to the recent past in eastern Germany, too. From January through November of 1989, the citizens of Dresden were in the forefront of the peaceful revolution against the Communist regime governing the former DDR (East Germany). Mass demonstrations in the streets and quiet prayer protests in churches were given the protection of pastors in the city (notably the spiritual leader of St. Nicholas), as well as support from academic, religious and cultural figures, including the Leipzig Philharmonic director, Kurt Masur, later to serve the New York Philharmonic so ably for many years. Finally, on October 3, 1990, Germany was reunited as one country, effectively ending the Cold War.
Bach is the king of Leipzig's musical life, and there is a festival dedicated to his works every year in May, for about ten days. As Cantor of St. Thomas Church, he had to run the famous Boys Choir school, teach the kids how to sing and conduct the orchestra, serve the city as its music director overall and play the organ for every service. It's a wonder he found the time to compose. (I met the present, and 36th, Cantor, Georg Christoph Biller, who looked suitably harassed by all the work, just before he conducted one of the free concerts given every Saturday afternoon in St. Thomas.) The choir, with a maximum of 90 boys, has sung in New York City, Tokyo, Washington, D.C. and others of the world's leading cities.
Bach wrote the St. Matthew Passion, the Christmas Oratorio, the Art of the Fugue and the Mass in B Minor, among other works, while serving here from 1723 until his death in 1750 (he's also buried here). It's compelling to recall that he was the city council's third choice for the job, two others having turned down the offer! As part of his heritage, this year, from June 25 to July 6, the 13th International Bach Competition will be held, with young musicians from all over the world competing on organ and harpsichord for the title of Bach Prize Winner.
Bach, Beer, Jazz & Glorious Food
Each Monday evening in July and August, there are concerts at the Bach Monument, and you can enjoy both food and culture during the Classic Open festival from August 1 to 11 (the market square becomes a huge street restaurant), as well as during the Beer Exchange (900 kinds of beer from 70 countries!) from July 5 to 7, held at the Memorial to the Battle of the Nations. In September, there's the Leipzig Jazz Festival (September 22-29), for those perhaps tired of All Bach, All the Time. Finally, late in the year, the Festival of Contemporary European Theatre is held here, from November 12 to 17.
Composers Who Weren't Bach
Felix Mendelssohn's works are celebrated in a festival annually, this year from October 31 to November 3. You can visit the house in which he lived (1835 until his death in 1847) at 12 Goldschmidstrasse, which is open daily, with concerts every Sunday at 11. (This is the only house still existing where the composer ever lived, by the way.) Look for the very good watercolors he painted, since there's little of him left in the house. (The furniture and the piano were not his.) Berlioz, Schumann and Wagner were among his houseguests.
Another musical target should be the Schumann Haus, dedicated to the lives of Robert and Clara Schumann, who lived at 18 Inselstrasse from 1840-1844 as newlyweds. Phone 393-9620, Web site www.schumann-verein.de.
Finally, consider the Museum of Musical Instruments, with 5,000 pieces, including the world's oldest intact pianoforte. The exhibition has moved to an interim building (as the Grassi Museum complex is being restored at the moment). You can find the collection at it's present address, Thomaskirchhof 20, next to St. Thomas Church and the Bach Museum. The phone number is 212 0180.
Cold War's Relics
On the subject of the Cold War, students of that period may enjoy the Stasi Museum, with displays showing how the Stasi (secret police) of the former German Democratic Republic spied on the people. Unfortunately, though there is a good booklet in English, the displays are labeled only in German. The location is 24 Dittrichring; phone 961-2443, Web site www.runde-ecke-leipzig.de. The same lack of English labels is true at the Leipzig Forum of Contemporary History, in the heart of downtown at 6 Grimmaische Strasse; phone 91650, Web site www.hdg.de. It is dedicated to the entire history of the old Communist regime, with free admission. Closed Mondays.
Right in the heart of the city is the Ibis hotel, with room rates from 53€ to 66€ ($50 to $62), except for festivals, when it is 80€ ($75). The 126 rooms are small but immaculate, and there is a bar as well as a nearby restaurant. Garage costs 8€ ($7.50) daily. 69 Bruhl, phone 21860.
One of the snazzier places to stay here is CCL Victor's Residenz-Hotel, across the street from the gigantic main railway station (Hauptbahnhof), and decorated like a chic boutique. There are 101 rooms, doubles going from 120€ to 180€ ($113 to $169). Facilities include restaurant, pub and cocktail bar, as well as a garage. Opened in March 2001. 13 Georgiring, phone 68660, fax 686-6899, e-mail email@example.com, Web site http://www.victors.de/nav/hle_eng.html.
You must dine at the Auerbachs Keller, open since 1525 and looking it, with an ambience so thick you could cut it up and take it home in a doggy bag. The decor here centers around Germany's most famous poet, Goethe, and his incredible work, Dr. Faustus. I enjoyed the onion soup at 3.90€ ($3.75), the salmon gratin with noodles, shrimp and broccoli at 15.80€ ($14.85) and a mug of beer at 3.20€ ($3). But you can get traditional dishes such as sauerbraten, too. Ask to be seated in the Cask Cellar, the smallest and oldest room, but if you can't, take a look at it, anyhow. Centerpiece of the wine cellar is the overhead Walpurgisnacht lamp, showing Faust and the devil riding out of this cellar to the Harz Mountains. In the city center's Madelerpassage, 2-4 Grimmaische Strasse, phone 216100.
If you love railroads and/or old buildings, head for the Bayerischer Bahnhof Restaurant, in one of Germany's oldest rail stations. Make a choice of several former waiting rooms, noisy or quiet, and big helpings of marinated sauerbraten, with potato dumplings and red cabbage, for 8.64€ ($8) or a delicious schweizer kaseschnitzel (saddle of pork baked with cheese and ham) for 9.59€ ($9). They brew their own boutique (Gose) beer as well. Bayerischer Platz, phone 124-5760, Web site http://bayerischer-bahnhof.de.
For a light lunch, try Zum Arabischen Coffee Baum, a combined restaurant, cafe and museum since 1720. Dozens of types of coffee, with prices ranging from 2.30€ ($2) for a cappuccino, upward to 5.40€ ($5). This is said to be the oldest cafe restaurant in all of Europe. Location in center of town at 4 Kleine Fleishergasse, phone 961-0060.
The area code for Leipzig is 341. To reach Germany from the USA, dial 011, then the country code of 49, then the area code and numbers mentioned in the article.
The rate of exchange at time of writing is one Euro = $.94.
For more information, contact the Leipzig Tourist Service at www.leipzig.de, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, phone 710-4260, fax 710-4271. If you are in Leipzig, they can be found at 1 Richard-Wagner-Strasse. There are tours related to Bach and other musical aspects--just ask at the visitor's center.