At last account our heroes – Whitney, Beth, Heather, and myself – had just had an atrocious dinner at the Juliusspital, a wine bar in Würzburg. Luckily however we managed to salvage the night with a good chat with the aggressive barmaid at the “British” pub down the road (I put “British” in quotes because there was naught a Welsh flag to be seen, the shame of it).
The next day we headed back to Kassel to give up our car (pro tip: make sure you lock the car BEFORE locking the keys in the After Hours deposit box, otherwise you have to clamber in the back seat to manually lock the doors). There Whitney, Beth, and I also bade farewell to Heather, who sadly had to go back to work. The three of us hitched a ride with a funny old East German businessman to our next destination: Leipzig!
Leipzig was an absolute hoot. Historically people know Leipzig perhaps better for Bach, then for the anti-communist demonstrations at the Nikolaikirche and the largely peaceful Monday Demonstrations against the East German government in 1989, shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
We visited the Nikolaikirche, where Bach apparently played. Now automated steam jets help keep the room suitably moist for the preservation of the frescoes and etc, or at least so we figured.
Today however the city is better known for its university and student ghettoes full of enthusiastic young socialists far too young to have experienced “socialism” firsthand in the German Democratic Republic.
South of the city one also finds the Völkerschlachtdenkmal or Monument to the Battle of the Nations (one of the rare occasions where the Germans have found a more succinct title for something than the English). This monument commemorates the defeat of Napoleon at Leipzig in 1813, one of the larger European battles eventually leading to the Emperor’s downfall and expulsion to Elba. The monument itself however was not completed until 1913, at the height of German Imperial nationalism.
Also of note was our hostel roommate: when Whitney, Beth, and I checked in we thought we had the 8 person room to ourselves, that is until we noticed the guy curled up in one bunk in the corner. He appeared to be dozing while a movie played on a laptop placed on the edge of the bed. We decided to leave him alone and tip toed about, then left the room to meet up with Beth’s German colleagues from Southampton University. We were surprised however when we returned later to see he hadn’t moved, and even more surprised and even a bit creeped out when he hardly seemed to move at all that weekend. This lead us to wonder what brought him there. I still figure he was a Kiwi secret agent who had botched a job, and, given that the New Zealand secret service can’t have all that much money, he was forced to lay low at a hostel.
Leipzig overall is a great city, and one I’d definitely recommend visiting. It has a healthy proportion of old to new buildings, and the City’s Woods (the largest urban forest of Europe I believe) and the man-made lakes (former Soviet coal mines) compliment both the pre-war and German Democratic Republic era history. Visit the Stasi Museum for a first-hand glimpse at the Snowden-style surveillance put on the East Germans by their own government, or hike up the Völkerschlachtdenkmal for an unprecedented view of the city.
My highlight of Leipzig however has to have been getting to know the German Club or GerSoc people from Southampton. They were a lot of fun, and Whitney and I definitely felt like members of the group by the end.