Although historical Leipzig is often characterised as a trade fair and trading city today, Leipzig’s role as an industrial metropolis was no less important. Although Leipzig was not one of the origins of Saxon industrialisation, in a similar way to southern Saxony, the textile industry played a pioneering role. The spinning mill in Leipzig on Pfaffendorfer Strasse, for example, began operations in 1830. Almost at the same time, the first publishing and printing houses were built in what was later to become the Graphische Viertel east of the city centre. Industrialisation really gained momentum with the development of the late 1830s. This period saw not only the construction of an efficient sewage system, the first municipal gasworks and the inauguration of the first railway lines, but also the legal upgrading of the suburbs. As a result, numerous new districts were built around the city centre, which housed not only residential buildings but also various factories.
In the middle of the 19th century, the surrounding villages close to the city were increasingly involved in this development. Reudnitz, Gohlis and Lindenau multiplied their population in the following decades and quickly surpassed the old Leipzig city area in terms of industrial density. But this process was most visible in Plagwitz. From 1856 onwards, Karl-Heine developed the small village behind the swamp into a factory location with an unparalleled infrastructure, and with 112 industrial chimneys per square kilometre it was considered the most dense industrial area in the world in the 1920s.
Das Druckmaschinenwerk Swiderski in Leipzig Plagwitz
Das Industrieensemble Gießerstrasse in Leipzig Plagwitz, links heutiger Sitz der Firma Spreadshirt
Machine construction played a prominent role, although this was not only true for Plagwitz, but for the entire city. Above all, the printing, agricultural and heavy machine construction developed strongly, a branch which was extremely diverse at that time. Remarkably, this also applied to Leipzigs entire industry, which was astonishingly dominant in various areas. At times, eighty percent of all printed sheet music worldwide came from Leipzig. The manufacturers of self-playing musical instruments came up with similar figures, although instrument making was also extremely important in other areas. At times, up to twenty piano factories existed simultaneously in the city, including heavyweights like Blüthner, Hupfeld, Schimmel and Feurig. The metal finishing, food, tobacco and chemical industries were represented in great variety as well. That the textile industry was also strongly represented is still illustrated today by the huge building complexes of the Buntgarnwerke or the Alte Spinnerei. In the early 20th century, for example, more than half of the jobs in Leipzig were in the manufacturing industry, which employed around 170,000 people in 1928.
The former Buntgarnwerke in Leipzig-Plagwitz
Das Karl Krause Werk, Polygraph Leipzig in Leipzig Anger-Crottendorf
As the Nazis misused the existing structures for armaments, this figure rose further and Leipzig remained an extremely important industrial city even during the GDR era. Most of the old production facilities were still in use after 1945 under socialist conditions and some industries were still of considerable importance at the time. However, the lack of investment and innovation had an increasingly negative effect. Strangely enough, the demise of the GDR, which had only existed for forty years, also put an end to most of the much longer history of East German industry. Of course, not everything could have been preserved, but the total loss of the old economic heavy weights could have been somewhat prevented by a more competent economic policy.
Die Pittler-Werke in Leipzig-Wahren
Die ehemalige Aromafabrik in Leipzig Gohlis, heute ein Seniorenheim