As the wheels touched the runway of Leipzig/Halle Airport in Saxony, eastern most state of Germany, I could sense the cold weather outside from within the aircraft. My face, however, was gleaming like a spring blossom. I was ecstatic to finally be in Germany.
Leipzig was first of my three destinations in Saxony. On assignment for Outlook Traveller, I travelled to document the Christmas markets of Leipzig, Dresden and Seiffen. My fascination and love for the country only grew as I travelled across for a week.
What I did
Participated in a Free Walking Tour
By the time I arrived at my B&B from the airport, it was almost time for my walking tour. I had signed up for a Free Walking Tour which was about 2.5 hours long and helped me get my bearings right in the city. We were a humungous group of 44 people.
In October 1989, Leipzig led the way for a peaceful protest which eventually led to the Fall of the Berlin Wall and laid the foundation of the German Reunification.
The walking tour begun at the very confusing Augustusplatz, in front of the Gewandhaus (concert hall). After a brief introduction to the city’s history, we walked a few steps away into the University of Leipzig (second university in Germany), but not before witnessing the tallest building, MDR or City Hochhaus, and Paulinum (an architectural wonder a part of the University and former university church, Paulinerkirche), on either sides.
The trail took us onto Martin Luther Ring towards Federal Administrative Court, New Town Hall and then to Thomaskirche (St. Thomas Church) and Bach Monument in front of it. After a short break, we continued our walk towards the Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall) and vibrant Christmas market at the Altmarkt (Old Market) Square. We struggled to keep ourselves warm by the time the walk concluded at Nikolaikirche (St. Nicholas Church).
Wandered around the Christmas markets
In the heart of Altmarkt and in full vigour, rested the traditional Leipziger Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market). There were multiple entry points to the central market and it was surrounded by tall tables and more shops. Scheduled programs added to the Christmas vibe within this market square. (There were programs at different venues of the city too including churches.) I soaked in the fervent feel and listened to choirs sing, children perform on stage and adults cheer with their mugs of glüwine (hot wine).
The shops in the market sold seasonal products (home decor and ornaments, food, clothes)—everything pertaining to Christmas. I walked around in wonder.
I preferred the market on Grimmaische Straße. It was perhaps lesser crowded and vendors had some time to interact.
On my first night in Leipzig, I decided to wrap it up early and walked ambitiously to my B&B. In a matter of minutes, I was distracted by the 38-metre high Ferris wheel standing at Augustusplatz. This landmark helped me orient myself in the city. I successfully ignore the market around Augustusplatz that evening but gave into the charms of Südtiroler Dorf.
Replicating a South Tyrolean valley, this was a small wooden shed with a handful of beverage stalls, a low-lying stage with huge speakers for performances, and was encircled by wooden huts (to shelter from the snow). This is where I got introduced to local German schnapps. I paid €2 for a liqueur and walked towards the music. Here I spent another two hours lip-syncing random German songs, dancing and waltzing with strangers and making my first favourite memory in Germany. That snowy night set the tone for my remaining days in the country.
Walked the Trading Route
Leipzig has been a part of the medieval trading route and is the home to one of the oldest trade fairs in the world.
I decided to explore the trading route within the city on foot. It started at Mädler Passage, towards Speck’s Hof (oldest shopping arcade) and Hansa Haus (historic commercial building), which connected me to the (warm) corridor of Städtisches Kaufhaus (Municipal Department store) in Neumarket. I walked on the empty streets of Gewandgaßchen to reach the 110-metre long Messehofpassage and finally concluded at the very modern passage of Petersbogen.
The multi-storied Museum of Fine Arts has permanent collections of artists like Lucas Cranach and Caspar David Friedrich. I went straight up to the third floor to see the Romantics and 19th century artists. Walking downward I stopped at the second floor to immerse myself in the stunning works of Friedrich and Flemish artists.
Visited the Bach Museum
I am not a fan of Johann Sebastian Bach but a visit to Leipzig wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Bach Museum. The museum has a permanent exhibition on Bach’s life, work including manuscripts and photographs, and instruments. My favourite is the Treasure Room where original prints of his music and other valuable work has been displayed.
What I ate
My trip to Germany focussed on two comestibles: hot chocolate and dark beer. They were an every day necessity.
I sourced hot chocolate from the many stalls at the Christmas markets. Sometimes I tried white hot chocolate. Sometimes with rum or raspberry punch. Mostly it was dark hot chocolate. A cup usually cost me €2.50 though customers have to pay double (i.e. €5) as a deposit for the cup. Once I returned the cup, I got the balance.
My first lunch was at the second oldest restaurant, Auerbachs Keller. Divided into two sections— Grosser Keller (big cellar) and Historische Weinstuben (historic wine bars), I tried the Saxon special, braised salmon fillet with vegetables and red wine onions. The accompanying drinks were their house brewed pilsner and dark beer.
The following day I took the train to Bayerischer Bahnhof to explore Gasthaus & Gosebrauerei. It is the home to the Original Leipziger Gose—yellow bitter beer. The quiet white facade blended in with the chill of the day. Once I walked in, I spent about three hours in the cosy wooden decor.
My meal begun with peppered beef goulash and concluded with a baked curd cheese Saxon dessert. I tried a number of beers here. First was their in-house Stoker dark beer, followed by Original Leipziger Gose and then their cloudy wheat beer, Operator. I also tried their digestif, Echter Leipziger Allasch, taking another step into the expansive world of German schnapps. My favourite was the dark, velvet, thinly laced Stoker.
For a quick bite, I picked up a traditional pretzel and coffee from the nearest Lukas Bäcker, a cafe chain available throughout Leipzig.
Where I stayed
My reservations were last minute and my levels of desperation were quite high. I booked an apartment through AirBnB, a very short walk away from Wilhelm Leuschner Platz. I got a room to myself and shared the bathroom and kitchen with the occupants. Most of my waking hours were spent outdoors exploring the city. And when I did return to my B&B, I was warmly greeted by Miron (one of the hosts). It was hassle-free, clean and very accessible. I only wish the entrance to the building was not spooky at night, when the moody sensor light decided not to work!
What I bought
An afternoon before I left, I visited the Tourist Information Centre on Katharinenstraße. I shopped three varieties of Leipzig schnapps (two of which are produced by Gosebrauerei) and a magnet. All for €8.30.
From the Christmas market, I bought cookie cutters and a small votive candle.
How I travelled
Leipzig was my first destination in Germany and hence I flew in directly to the city. From Leipzig/Halle airport, I bought a train ticket to Wilhelm Leuschner Platz (€4.60) and thereafter availed the Leipzig Card for all local transport. The Card gives unlimited travel on public transport (tram, S-Bahn, RE and RB trains and buses), within Leipzig city (Zone 110). Visitors with the Card also get a reduction at most museums and some shops and restaurants. I had the 3-day Leipzig Card and highly recommend it to all travellers. It can be easily purchased here.
Good to know
-My outward train journey to Dresden cost me €16. If you’re travelling around much by train, it makes sense to buy a suitable card from Deutsche Bahn.
-Tourist Information Centres hand-out a free paper maps and help with suggestions and information. Look up their hours in their official website here.
-Multiple spots in the city centre have free Wi-Fi.
-I bought a local SIM from O2 on Grimmaische Straße at a rather affordable €9.90.
-A couple of residents told me that locals tend to be racists. During my stay in the state, I did not face any such situation. On the contrary, I met people throughout Saxony who went out of their way to help me. They made my trip to Saxony was magical.
Which is your favourite solo destination in Europe?