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My art attack in Leipzig: East German city ideal for history buffs and lovers of fine food

The Augustusplatz square
The Augustusplatz square
John Toner

By John Toner

Sitting at a glass-fronted rooftop bar overlooking the bustling modernity of a thriving east German city, it was difficult to imagine the hardships people faced before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Contemporary Leipzig mixes modernism with old world Germanic charm as trams criss-cross the city in the shadow of sleek glass buildings sitting alongside Soviet and medieval architecture.

As I sipped a delightful craft gin and tonic in the glorious spring sunshine at the Motel One Leipzig-Post hotel, the sense of a new, confident and bright eastern part of Germany was inescapable.

After a brief two-hour flight from Belfast to Berlin, I had the pleasure of riding the Deutsche Bahn from Berlin Schönefeld to Leipzig Hauptbahnhof.

The legendary efficiency and comfort of German infrastructure certainly rang true as I glided between the two cities in a spacious and quiet double-decker train through the beautiful Saxony countryside.

On arrival in Leipzig, I marvelled at the lovely roof in the main train station, its vast arching glass roof bares more than a passing resemblance to the famous one at London Paddington.

After checking in at the very chic Motel One, I and the other members of the Press who had been invited to the city were treated to a gin tasting at the Cloud One Bar on the hotel’s eighth floor.

Leipzig
Leipzig

The panoramic views of the city take in the old and the new of Leipzig, including Leipzig University’s stunning glass façade and the more traditional style of buildings like the Leipzig Opera House.

The setting provided the perfect spot to go on a journey through gin which is enjoying a renaissance in Germany, much like it is across the rest of the world.

We then popped next door to Felix, a contemporary fine dining restaurant which boasts an incredible menu and dining space.

The cuisine on offer included hand-made breads, Norway lobster with lemon sauce and sweet potatoes followed by an incredible Iberico pork chop dish with braised onions in a port wine sauce. All washed down with an amazing reisling from the renowned Lergenmüller estate in the Rhineland.

Our trip couldn’t be all fine wine and fancy food, however, and the following day we took a guided walking tour through Leipzig city centre.

The leisurely, sun-drenched stroll took us through the impressive history of Saxony’s most populated city including the world-famous St Thomas Church and boys choir, once under the tutelage of Johann Sebastian Bach in the 18th century.

The city is also home to the Auerbachs Keller, the wine cellar which inspired Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s seminal play Faust.

Escaping the spring sun we took a tour of the Forum of Contemporary History, an engaging and interactive museum which explores opposition and resistance during the East German years.

The fascinating exhibition space contains hundreds of relics from a country which was being left behind by its western neighbours, including the original boardroom table where the East German Politburo would hold their meetings.

Leipzig’s Museum of Fine Art hosted a major Yoko Ono retrospective during John’s visit
Leipzig’s Museum of Fine Art hosted a major Yoko Ono retrospective during John’s visit

The facility also ponders the future of Germany and western Europe in the context of reunification and in the face of Brexit.

After a spot of lunch at the highest restaurant in central Germany, Plate Of Art at the Panorama Tower, we made our way to the Leipzig Museum of Fine Art which was hosting an exhibition of works by Yoko Ono.

Her PEACE is POWER collection covered over 2,000 square metres and three floors of exhibition space, making it the most extensive retrospective of the Japanese-American artist’s work in Germany to date.

From concept screenplays, huge sculptures and a room full of living lemon trees set in coffins, the project explored a number themes and concepts around conflict with Northern Ireland featuring in a map room of war-torn regions.

Having bathed in culture all day, it was time to let our hair down as the sun set in eastern Germany and our small gaggle of journalists made our way across the city to the Tapetenwerk (wallpaper factory).

The repurposed factory has been transformed into a fizzing hub of art, craft and design with a quarterly Tapetenwerkfest seeing creatives come together in the open air space to showcase their work and party with German beers and pop-up food stalls.

Leipzig
Leipzig

Having partied the night partially away we made our way back to the Motel One to get some rest for the following day of activities.

The interior of my room was finished and furnished to the highest standards. The room matches the hotel in its style of clean modern lines and arty, contemporary décor which echoes with the postal history of the building.

The room was compact in size but with easily enough space for a single traveller or a couple for a short break or a business trip.

After sleeping soundly and enjoying a delicious continental breakfast surrounded by those stunning panoramic views in the hotel’s bar and dining space, we were taken on another tour of the city, this time on two wheels as we cycled through the rapidly regenerating western district.

Formerly home to huge factories, particularly from the once booming cotton industry, the area is now overflowing with art and culture as creatives take over the disused industrial spaces.

One such space is the Spinnerei galleries. Once the largest cotton mill in continental Europe, the vast space is now home to exhibition halls, galleries and art studios attracting artists from across the world to showcase their work.

Leipzig
Leipzig

Leipzig is bursting with art and our final museum stop took in the Kunstkraftwerk immersive art gallery, an old power plant which has been converted into an experimental factory for art, design and illusions that transported us from sunny German suburbia to a dark and mysterious thinkspace.

After two days of art, culture and history we had a farewell dinner at the Weinstock restaurant back in Leipzig city centre in Marktplatz.

Hosts Gritt and Herbert Englert boast a fresh, seasonal menu of very high quality traditional and contemporary cuisine which was a top-class and fitting way to toast the end of our trip.

For art enthusiasts, history buffs or beer lovers, Leipzig represents an inexpensive and nearby part of western Europe which has a huge amount to offer curious travellers.

As eastern Germany emerges from the long shadows of its Soviet past, the city of Leipzig is symbolic of its courage, complexity and character which are well worth taking the time to visit.

Travel factfile

  • Ryanair flights are available from Belfast to Berlin for as little as £38 return, departing on Sundays and returning on Thursdays, www.ryanair.com
  • Motel One Leipzig-Post hotel has rooms from €89 per night. A four stay in October for two adults between Sunday and Thursday costs just €360.

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