Leipzig is, in a word, cool—but not so cool as to be pretentious. With its world-renowned links to Bach, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Martin Luther, Goethe, Schiller, and the fantastic Neue-Leipziger-Schule art movement, Leipzig is one of the great German cultural centers. It has impressive art-nouveau architecture, an incredibly clean city center, meandering narrow streets, and the temptations of coffee and cake on every corner.
In Faust, Goethe describes Leipzig as "a little Paris"; in reality it's more reminiscent of Vienna, while remaining a distinctly energetic Saxon town.
Leipzig's musical past includes Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750), who was organist and choir director at Leipzig's Thomaskirche, and the 19th-century composer Richard Wagner, who was born in the city in 1813. Today's Leipzig continues the cultural focus with extraordinary offerings of music, theater, and opera, not to mention fantastic nightlife.
Wartime bombs destroyed much of Leipzig's city center, but reconstruction efforts have uncovered one of Europe's most vibrant cities. Leipzig's art-nouveau flair is best discovered by exploring the countless alleys, covered courtyards, and passageways. Some unattractive buildings from the postwar period remain, but only reinforce Leipzig's position on the line between modernity and antiquity.
With a population of about 535,000, Leipzig is the third-largest city in eastern Germany (after Berlin and Dresden) and has long been a center of printing and bookselling. Astride major trade routes, it was an important market town in the Middle Ages, and it continues to be a trading center, thanks to the Leipziger Messe (trade and fair shows) throughout the year that bring together buyers from East and West.
Unfortunately, Leipzig has a tendency to underwhelm first-time visitors. If you take Leipzig slow and have some cake, its subtle, hidden charms may surprise you.