Leipzig is the classic girl next door, but with a twist.
Clean and efficient German trains deposit visitors and locals at the clean and efficient train station. The center of town has impressive churches and some of the oldest restaurants in the continent. You can see the evolution from Romanesque to Gothic to Baroque and beyond in every stone of every building. Bach and Mendelssohn made their homes here, and are revered with monuments and museums. The University campus is so grand you feel compelled to study, or at least crack a book.
But head away just a bit from the city center and things start to change quickly. The twist. Bikes everywhere. Graffiti. Dreadlocks. Piercings. Bare feet. Friends congregating on street corners and parks alike. The neighborhoods of Leipzig are graced with a vibrancy compelled by a creative, alternative, youthful population. They eat Vietnamese and American hot dogs as much as Schnitzel and Bratwurst. Why be confined to a sidewalk cafe when you get drink in the park or on the canal and play music, let your dog swim and be merry? There’s an air of friendliness and cheer. There are bikes anywhere, because who needs cars? Not Leipzig.
An important feature of these environs is the Spinnerai complex, and part of it, Halle 14. Spinnerai is an old cotton mill that in the last 25 years has been converted to a hub of artistic activity. Private galleries set up shop in converted galleries. Countless artists have residencies there, able to bounce ideas off of new and inspiring colleagues from around the world. Halle 14 is one of those contemporary art institutions that does so much you can’t help but be awed. They offer residencies for up and coming artists. They have a huge exhibition space, with thoughtful exhibitions such as Does Humor Belong in Art?. They have a library of over one million art history publications. They have extensive pedagogic programs for children. They offer workshops and lectures for those of us who have left our childlike nature behind.
All of this benefits from the massive complex of the used-to-be factory. What Budapest lacked in physical space for art, Spinnerai excels. My friend’s studio was giant, with ceilings high enough and spaces wide enough for an abundance of creativity. You can see movies projected on an old wall. You can explore. You can collaborate, You can create.
But its not just these outer areas the push the limits. The museum of fine arts (museum der bildenden künste in German) was destroyed during the war, so it was rebuilt in a stunning realization of modern architecture, a huge cube that is a 3-D labyrinth of gallery spaces, open spaces for large installations, and room to breathe. The type of museum similar to the British Museum or the Louvre, not being in a palace makes a statement. Great art from the past shouldn’t remain in the past, rather it is a bridge to now.
Trams and bikes are the way to get around. Somehow, they work together in a peaceful system, even though conceptually the two are intrusive. There’s no problem with the vast number of bicycles and pedestrians. Last night I saw two bikes gently bump as they went for the same gap. In America, a definite fight. Here, a chuckle and the moment passes.
We finished off our time nicely last night. A day long street festival in our arty, hip neighborhood highlighted the creative community. Bands played all day. People hula-hooped. Naked babies danced in the street, while adults enjoyed each other’s company, beer and street food aplenty. I met a couple of people from France, and was overjoyed to re-immerse myself in French for a few hours. We had a great discussion on the power of places like this, where expression is inspired, relationships strong, and the push to explore creative boundaries is alive. Without a doubt, all of Leipzig has flourished since the wall fell. And good it has, because every girl next door needs a twist.
We head out to Berlin now. I’m stoked to see how this sort of community and artistic edge in a much bigger urban environment. I’m stoked for everything about Berlin actually.