A cityscape walk in Leipzig, Germany
We have created an interactive map for this walk which you see at the top. The blue line marks our tour, the red markers show places we explain, the light green markers show places from our alternative ideas and the start and end point are marked in yellow and blue.
About this walk
You are in Leipzig and you have about three hours time at your hands? Maybe you are here on a visit, you have a break on a conference or you are just waiting for your next train at the main station… Well that is enough time to explore Leipzigs city centre and see more than just the town hall, the marketplace and Maedlerpassage. We call our little walk a cityscape walk and that is waht we want you to experience. The city centre with its diversity in architecture and in its entirety instead of single sights. You have other plans for your three hours, find our alternative ideas at the end.
The three hours walk
We start at the main station of Leipzig, the biggest head station in europe in area, exactly at the west portal of the station (see info text). The main station can easily be reached via train or tram (almost any tram crosses the station). We are situated at the northeastern side of the inner city circle (the “Ring”, which means circle), which surrounds the compact centre of Leipzig. Before we cross the Ring and the central tram station we see the former Hotel Astoria on our right side next to the main station. This was the most prominent hotel of the city until the mid 1990s, it stands empty since 1997 and high investment needs render its future questionable.
The main station (Hauptbahnhof) of Leipzig developed as a sovereign project of Prussia and Saxony and replaced three former stations on the site. Therefore it is separated in two symmetrical halfs, the west hall is part of the former prussian side and the east hall of the saxon side. Since it was renovated in the 1990s the station also houses a three storey shopping promenade. In 2013 the new underground City-Tunnel connects it directly to southern railway lines as well.
Straight on from the station, crossing the Willy-Brandt-Square we enter the Nikolaistrasse and are flanked by the first historical buildings right away. After a few metres we reach the Brühl (Bruehl) of Leipzig and immediately face the grand architecture of the former fur trader buildings. Until the 1930s the Brühl was called “world street of furs” and whoever resided here was without much doubt wealthy. Unfortunately there was not much left of the old Brühl architecture after an air strike in 1943. We enter the Brühl to the right and see a wall completely painted with figures on the right side. These are the typical characters used by Leipzig based painter Michael Fischer-Art, here in a collage about the reunification of germany.
Hoefe am Bruehl
After crossing the Reichsstrasse a recently built complex starts on the right side – the Höfe am Brühl, a modern shopping complex which, after a widely discussed architectural competition, restores the old street layout of the Brühl and tries to immitate a diverse facade front of smaller separate buildings. Before passing the magnificent Katharinenstrasse on the left we already see the Leipzig Bildermuseum (Museum of Fine Arts Leipzig) a modern structure finnished in 2004. It houses one of the most significant civic art collections of germany with focuses on dutch painters, artists of the GDR and the new Leipzig School, including Neo Rauch. Directly at the corner of the Katharinenstrasse we pass the most eminent existing example of Leipzig Baroque Architecture, the Romanushaus built in 1704.
Before we reach the end of the Brühl there is a plate on the Höfe am Brühl, marking the site of the birthplace of Richard Wagner who was born in a former house here in 1813. Finally an eye-catching curved building clad in metallic plates ends the Brühl and the Höfe am Brühl. This is the so called Blechbüchse (plate can) which kept its facade when the Höfe am Brühl were built. Originally this was an impressive department store building in Gründerzeit Style, which got this aluminium facade during GDR times after war damages.
The square in front of us is the newly designed Richard-Wagner-Square on the northwest corner of the Leipzig Ring. Outside the Ring we see amongst other buildings the Natural History Museum (currently quite old-fashioned). the former Ringmessehaus and the evangelic reformed church.
This panorama of the Troendlinring shows the evangelic reformed church, the Hotel Fürstenhof and the former Ringmessehaus (with graffiti, currently in restoration).
Hainstrasse and Kretschmanns Hof
The Hainstrasse leads south from the Blechbüchse towards the market square. It is the smallest of the three major shopping streets ending at the market. After a few metres we pass a large, splendidly restored building on the left, the former Hotel de Pologne, which is famous for its three laboriously restored baroque halls. Next to it we find the entrance to the Jägerhofpassage on the right and the entrance to Kretschmanns Hof on the left. A “Hof” is german for courtyard and Leipzig is well known for its system of connected passages and courts throughout the city centre. The Jägerhofpassage features three courts and houses Leipzigs central arthouse cinema, the Passage Kinos, which is also the centre of the international Leipzig documentary movie festival. This time however we cross the Kretschmanns Hof on our left side. And don’t get irritated you can really cross it, at the end of the first court you take a lefthand corner and enter the second court, which is well worth seeing, and takes you directly to the Katharinenstrasse.
Now we directly face the already mentioned Bildermuseum, a gigantic glas/concrete cube standing in the middle of a block of buildings on the corners, not all of which are finnished yet. In front of it on the right side you will find Leipzigs tourist information. In our back we have the historical Katharinenstrasse we mentioned before as well. Only this west side has survibed WWII and remains an evidence for the historical grandeur of Leipzigs city centre. We follow Katharinenstrasse southwards to finally reach the marketplace.
On our left side the old town hall stretches along the market square. The building from 1557 is an outstanding example of Renaissance architecture in germany and bears europes longest building inscription. On the north side of the market you find historical buildings, including the reconstructed Alte Waage (the Old Scale) on the northeast corner. In this building in trade fair times goods were weighed and cleared through customs. Between 1924 and 2005 the worlds only underground trade fair building was situated beneath the marketplace. Meanwhile it has been replaced by the City-Tunnel station Leipzig Markt. However, at the southern entrance you will still find the original Art Deco stairways towards the old underground hall.
At the northeast side of the market we can choose one of the passages westwards, either the passage through the Koenig-Albert-House or Barthels Hof. The first leads through two small stylish courts with a combination of Art Deco and Jugendstil (Art Nouveau). Barthels Hof is a baroque court passage and the oldest remaining passageway in Leipzig. Inside the court you will find the Renaissance oriel that adorned the market side of the building until 1870. Both passages lead us into the middle of the Barfussgässchen. The view back towards the market square now is hidden by Leipzigs most prominent pub area, the Barfußgäßchen. In front of us a small square is laid out with impressive Gründerzeit architecture. Almost a bit reluctant, we find one of europes oldest coffee houses to our right – the “Zum Arabischen Coffe Baum”, which today houses a museum and, of course, a restaurant.
Only a few metres on we reach the Dittrichring, the west side of the Leipzig Ring. Originally the Ring developed as a promenade ring when the old town fortifications were demolished. Therefore we still find a line of parks along the Ring today. Straight on the Dittrichring would lead us towards the so called “Runde Ecke” (the round corner), the former Stasi building (GDR secret service) in Leipzig which today houses a museum on the Stasi history. Instead we take a left corner and follow the Dittrichring in southern direction. This way we pass a block of prestigious Gründerzeit buildings well worth seeing, all in exposed positions on the Ring and all completely renovated after 1990.
Around the next corner we find the Thomaskirchhof and the Thomaskirche (St. Thomas Church). We walk around the church on its east side and pass, amongst others, the flamboyantly gold decorated corner building at Klostergasse in which the Commerzbank is residing. On the southern court of the Thomaskirche we find the Bach monument. Johann Sebastian Bach spend his most creative period being the St. Thomas cantor in Leipzig and took care of the famous Thomanerchor as well. The Bosehaus, at Thomanerkirchhof 16, today houses the Bach-Museum as well as the Bach-Archive.
Now we take the Burgstrasse further south and soon arrive at Leipzigs’ Burgplatz (castle square) including Leipzigs longest persisting construction hole on the left and the Neue Rathaus (new town hall) on the right side. The Neue Rathaus was built 1899-1905 in historicism style and together with the Stadthaus next to it it is one of the largest town halls worldwide. The tower of the Rathaus (115m) is the highest in germany and it is basically the old tower of the Pleissenburg castle which marked the southwest corner of the city for centuries. Now we could shortcut our walk by taking the Markgrafenstrasse further southeast or we can take the extra walk around the Neue Rathaus. For the latter we walk below the building bridge between the Rathaus and the Stadthaus (which is called the Beamtenlaufbahn, a wordplay maybe translated as “officials career way”) and are rewarded by the view of the front portal facades at the southwest corner and the southern entrance portal. Last but not least we can marvel at the adjacent Bundesverwaltungsgericht building (federal administrative court) from the southeast corner of the Ring. Here we also find a reopened part of the Pleissmühlgraben, which belongs to the river Pleisse, which itself gave its name to the old Pleissenburg.
Following the Martin-Luther-Ring eastwards we reach the beginning of the Petersstrasse, which ends at the marketplace again. At its start we find the third new City-Tunnel station called Wilhelm-Leuschner-Platz, whose striking design was awarded the architecture prize of the city. Above ground a small cuboid made of glass bricks serves as entrance. The Petersstrasse is the second large shopping street towards the marketplace and the most diverse in architecture. On the left we soon pass the modern Petersbogen-Passage, massively disrupting the historical architecture, on the right we pass the partly historic, partly modern Karstadt complex. Further on the right we will see former trade fair buildings towards the market, including the Messehofpassage, on the left we see a number of highly individual historic merchant buildings. We enter the marketplace on its soutwest corner again and turn right into Grimmaische Strasse, the last big shopping street.
This is the southside front of the Grimmaische Strasse beginning at the marketplace. We see, starting on the right, the newly redeveloped Messehaus am Markt, the Koenigshaus including the Koenigshauspassage, the front of the Maedlerpassage and another four facades, including the former Zentralmessepalast, that house the contemporary history forum Leipzig.
Maedlerpassage / Naschmarkt
Opposite the Maedlerpassage we find the Naschmarkt on the backside of the old town hall which features the Goethe statue and the baroque Alte Boerse (old stock exchange) which was active until 1886. As we enter the Maedlerpassage we see the entrance to the underground Auerbachs Keller restaurant, which was famed by Goethes “Faust”. The Maedlerpassage connects the Grimmiasche Strasse with the Neumarkt and is linked with another two passages we already passed on the outside, the Messehofpassage and the Koenigshauspassage. It was built for the suitcase manufacturer Anton Maedler in 1813 and is without any doubt the most impressively designed shopping passage in Leipzig.
Arriving on the Neumarkt (which is more a street than a marketplace) we immediately see the Staedtische Kaufhaus (municipal department store) right of the modern Galeria Kaufhof building in front of us. Errected by 1901 it was the first modern trade fair building in town and a pioneer building in the development towards then modern sample trade fairs. On this site the original Gewandhaus was standing before. We can cross the Staedtische Kaufhaus (which in reality is not a department store) via its inner courts or walk around it on the Kupfergasse.
Now we stand in front of the central campus of Leipzig University. We enter the complex via a gap between two modern buildings and reach the inner court. In case this is closed (e.g. on sundays) we can walk around the complex on its south side and pass the historic Moritzbastei. It is the last remaining part of the city fortifications (1551-54) and today houses europes largest students club. On the inner university court we can marvel at the expressive shape of the new main building, the Neue Augusteum, and the historic Schinkel-Gate. Here the university has had an eventfull building history with four major reconstructions since 1830. The modern complex developed from 2004 after deconstructing the old GDR campus of the then called Karl-Marx-University. If access is open we can go through the Schinkel-Gate and cross the main building towards Augustusplatz. Alternatively we can follow the inner court and reach Augustusplatz passing the Paulinum. The Paulinum was the most controversial part of the modern complex, it is the successor of the old St. Pauli university church that was blown up in 1968 by the GDR and the modern Paulinum cites the old church with its shape.
The panorama starts with the university buildings and the City High-Rise on the left. Then we have the Königsbau, the Kroch High-Rise with a clock tower inspired by a venetian ideal and more buildings occupied by Leipzig University (incl. the rectorate at the right end).
The Augustusplatz holds the title of the largest central municipal square in germany and features a fascinating ensemble of contemporary architecture history. The most obvious case is the City-Highrise (1972) on the southwest corner. Originally it was part of the university and its shape resembles an open book when viewed from a distance. This resulted in nicknames like “Weisheitszahn” (wisdom tooth) or “Uni-Riese” (university giant). On the south side we see the new Gewandhaus (1981) with the largest ceiling painting (visible from the square) of europe by Sighard Gille. On the east side we see for example the Europa-Haus high-rise (1929) and the currently redeveloped Hauptpost (main post office). On its northside the square is completed by the Leipzig Opera (1960), which is a singular case in architecture, being the sole new opera building of GDR times. On the west side we find the remaining older buildings north of the university campus, including the first high-rise of Leipzig, the Kroch-High-Rise (1928).
We enter the Grimmaische Strasse next to the university again and are greeted by a sculpture right at its narrowest point. Here at the seemingly most inappropriate place the “Unzeitgemäßen Zeitgenossen” (uncontemporary contemporaries) by Bernd Goebel are standing diagonally of the walking direction and inspire a moment of backpedalling. Once we move on we will pass both historic and modern merchants buildings up to the Reichsstrasse on the right. We turn right in front of a monumental block of a building, which is (what else?) a former trade fair palace. The Handelshof (1909) was the second large sample fair building and takes up a whole block of former buildings.
A panorama of the Riquet-House, Speck’s Hof and the Reichshof in the Reichsstrasse.
Riquet-House / Speck’s Hof
Turning around from the Handelshof we can concentrate on the attractive architecture on the eastside of Reichsstrasse. Here we see from right to left the Reichshof, Speck’s Hof and the Riquet-House. The latter is especially flamboyant in decoration, featuring for example two large elephant heads at the entrance, and was built for the chocolate manufacturer and colonial trader Riquet & Co. Speck’s Hof (1909-1929) can be considered the second passage building of Leipzig one has to see, next to the Maedlerpassage. So we choose one of its entrances, for example from Schuhmachergaesschen, and stroll through the passageways and fascinatingly designed courts towards the exit on Nikolaistrasse.
We exit directly in front of the Nikolaikirche (St. Nicholas Church). It was the starting point of the monday demonstrations which started the peaceful revolution 1989. If you have time to spare, take a look inside. The interior is quite surprising with its unexpected interior design. Alternatively one could explore the Nikolaikirchhof on the north side of the church, there a peace column has been errected which cites the church interior. Additionally we can see the Geschwister-Scholl-House on the east side and along the north side the Predigerhaus (preacher house) and the old Nikolai School. Now we follow Nikolaistrasse in northern direction towards the main station. Again we are surrounded by splendid commercial building architecture, the closer we get to the Bruehl again. Before turning right on the Bruehl we can choose to use Steibs Hof on the right side to use its passage to the Bruehl.
On the Bruehl we turn right soon to turn left again into the modern Ritterpassage and reach the main station again crossing the park promenade and the Ring. We end our tour in front of the east hall of the main station. Here two more buildings are worth mentioning. Eastwards across the ring we see the art nouveau facade of Victor’s Hotel and next to it the Wintergarten High-Rise (1972). The latter was the highest residential building of the GDR and bears a rotating double-M on top, the emblem of the Leipziger Messe (Leipzig trade fair).
That’s it for our three hours walk!
You have three hours at hand but you want something else than a city centre tour? Here is our idea list for alternative activities if you’re in central Leipzig…
#An excursion inside the museum of fine arts (the Bildermuseum) showing special exhibitions as well as having a permanent exhibition with main works of dutch painters, Leipzig artist Max Klinger and an overview on the New Leipzig School.
#Leipzig offers the best shopping experience in East Germany (bar Berlin). Being easily reachable and having a very compact city centre makes for a diverse shopping selection. The classic shopping streets are Grimmaische Strasse, Petersstrasse and Hainstrasse. Quite new is the Hoefe am Bruehl centre, highlights are the shopping-passages especially Maedlerpassage and Speck’s Hof, discoveries can be made in smaller passages and side streets like the Nikolaistrasse or around Neumarkt. One can end the shopping trip directly in the train station and its promenades.
# From 11 to 24 the Passage Kinos, Leipzigs’ central arthouse cinema, will surely show at least one interesting movie. Also an option for rainy weather, it can be found in the Jaegerhofpassage on Hainstrasse.
# Leipzig is grand at taking a walk in the park. West of the new town hall you can enter the Johannapark to get further towards the bigger Clara-Zetkin-Park and the Auenwald. You will find picturesque bridges, the shores of the Elster, Cafés or pavilions for relaxing. Next to the Johannapark the gallery for contemporary art is situated. If you are just after a place to read a book, you will find a small park at the swan lake right between main station and opera.
# East of the Augustusplatz at the next crossroads you will find the Grassi-Museum. It is a stretched out Art Deco complex with the old Johannis cemetery in its backyard which can be used for a relaxing stroll as well. The museum actually houses three museums all of which would take about two hours to visit: Ethnography Museum, Musical Instruments Museum, and Applied Arts Museum.
# You’ll find the best view of Leipzig from the City High-Rise on Augustusplatz. Take the elevator to the top and then get up on the terrace (ca. 3€) for an impressive view directly above the centre. The Panorama-Restaurant offers a culinary distraction and the view in another direction not viewable from the terrace. The classic Leipzig view is that from the monument for the battle of nations (tram line 15 towards Meusdorf), but that of course is from a distance.
# A bit further from the centre, tram lines 9, 10 and 11 will take you to Richard-Lehmann-Strasse and a small further stroll gets you to the Panometer, where Yadegar Asisi has shown mind blowing giant panorama exhibitions with changing topics for years now (e.g. Mount Everest, Rome, Amazonas).
# All about Johann Sebastian Bach can be found out after a visit to the St. Thomas Church, when adding the Bach-Museum nearby. Another great venture into music history is the Felix-Mendelssohn Bartholdy house.
# You are here on friday (6pm) or saturday (3pm)? You could visit St. Thomas Church to hear the Thomanerchor at one of the regular motets. As there is no advance sale it usually works out to just be there early.
# You heard about the fantastic Leipzig Zoo? Consider more than three hours…
More inspirations for a Leipzig visit from the world of blogs…
HikeBikeTravel – 5 things you probably didn’t know about Leipzig
Anuradha Goyal Travels – Leipzig, celebrating music
New York mag – Leipzig instead of Berlin
Bridgekeeping Traveller – Outrageous: Monument to the battle of nations
LL World Tour – Eat the world in Leipzig
Leipzig TimeLapse by Kyriakos Louca
Still not satisfied with our tour, here is a number of books for more detailed knowledge about Leipzig…
You get the big or small appetites during our walk?
Being in the city centre means there are snack opportunities all around. Most restaurants will be found around Barfussgaesschen at the marketplace, alternatively you can choose one in the Nikolaistrasse near the end of our walk. A nice cheaper option is the Moritzbastei with its student targeted prices. The best view is taken during a meal in the Panorama-Restaurant in the City High-Rise or at the gourmet restaurant atop Westin Hotel northwest of the main station.
Did you give our cityscape walk a go? How long did it take for you and what else caught your eye along the way? What else would you declare essential or has something changed? We look forward to your feedback!
(It will be worth it to come back here. We will create a practical e-book of this walk for a mobile excursion through the city…)