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Leipzig: From Books to Bach

Much still needs to be done -- Leipzig has more construction projects underway than anywhere else in Germany except Berlin. But the Saxon city nonetheless holds its own as a major cultural and intellectual center.

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Leipzig's "New Town Hall"

Leipzig has been in the world spotlight lately due to its bid to host the Olympic Games. But the city also hopes the upbeat saying will give it a boost toward achieving its past glory as an illustrious center of trade, publishing and science.

Much still needs to be done -- Leipzig has more construction projects underway than anywhere else in Germany except Berlin. But the Saxon city nonetheless holds its own as a major cultural and intellectual center, and an attractive one, at that.

Looks matter

If first impressions are important, then those arriving by rail will no doubt be impressed by Leipzig. The central station is one of the most beautiful and modern railway terminals in Europe. From the station, it's just a few strides to the historic town center, most of it faithfully restored after large-scale destruction in World War II.

Johann Sebastian Bach

J.S. Bach was cantor in Leipzig's Thomaskirche for many years

Highlights of a stroll in this picturesque district are the old City Hall and its 'newer' counterpart (although 'new' in this case means well over a century old), the market square and the Church of St. Thomas, which dates from the late 15th century. With a population of half a million, Leipzig has all the amenities of a large city without the disorienting sprawl. Shops, banks, theaters, cinemas, restaurants, the university -- all can be reached on foot.

University town

Leipzig University was founded almost 600 years ago, making Leipzig one of Germany's oldest university towns. It is still one of Europe's most highly respected seats of learning, and attracts some 24,000 students to follow a variety of courses. Business and trade-related degrees have long since been added to the science faculty course list -- a fact no doubt related to Leipzig's long-standing tradition as a trading center.

Capitalizing on its geographical position as a gateway between East the West, Leipzig has hosted key international trade fairs for more than 800 years, making it a gathering point for people from all over Europe. In 1497 its two annual markets, at Easter and at Michaelmas, were promoted to the rank of "imperial fair."

Today, Leipzig's trade fairs are held in the Neue Messe, or New Fairground. Perhaps the most prominent event held there is the annual Book Fair, which sees some 2,000 publishing companies from around the world presenting their wares.

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Montagsdemonstration Leipzig

The Monday demonstrations in Leipzig contributed to the fall of communism

Printing and media have always been important to Leipzig. The world's first daily newspaper was printed here 350 years ago, and the world's first media research center was established at the University of Leipzig even before World War I. The "Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk," Germany's third largest public broadcasting station, is also based in Leipzig, and, despite years behind the iron curtain, the city remains home to a number of major German publishers.

There are many who say that the heart of the East German resistance movement lay in Leipzig. The regular prayer services and demonstrations that took place every Monday at the Nikolaikirche in the autumn of 1989 had a knock-on effect, inspiring similar peaceful protests in the capital Berlin. These eventually led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in November of that year, and the subsequent downfall of the East German Communist regime.

Bach, Mendelssohn & co.

Leipzig residents have a special fondness for the Church of St. Thomas, where theologian and reformer Martin Luther held sermons -- just 50 kilometers from the town of Wittenberg, where he nailed his 95 theses protesting the papal bull to the church door in 1517. The act eventually led to the founding of the protestant church.

Leipzig - Auerbachs Keller

The basement pub Auerbach's Keller was made famous in Goethe's "Faust"

Over 100 years later, the church achieved great fame yet again, as the place where a certain cantor called Johann Sebastian Bach worked, from 1723 until his death. The church has housed Bach's tomb since 1950. The city's Gewandhaus concerts, which are still held to this day, were made famous by Felix Mendelssohn, who died here in 1847.

As for the city's claims to literary fame, the young Goethe studied there in 1765, and Gottsched, Gellert, and Schiller -- to name but a few -- made Leipzig a literary center in the 18th century.

Leipzig top five attractions:

Church of St. Thomas: this church, dating from the late 15th century, has housed Bach's tomb since 1950.

The Gewandhaus Concert Hall: home of the famous Leipzig Orchestra. Opened in 1981 to replace an earlier structure. The pipe organ is magnificent.

Auerbach's Keller: Goethe's favorite hangout when he was a university student. He loved the inn so much that he used it as a setting for a scene from Faust.

Bachfest Leipzig: music festival held annually on Ascension Day (40 days after Easter)

Mendelssohn Haus: the last place Felix Mendelssohn lived, and where he died in 1847. The museum shows houses some of his furniture, as well as his writings and documentation on his life. Mendelssohn was not only a composer, musician and choirmaster, but also a painter and cultural politician.

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