This June, we had the fabulous opportunity to visit Leipzig and celebrate 25 years of Sister City Partnership with Houston. We spent our time delving into the past and present of this German town and immersing ourselves in the sights and sounds of its culture. Before heading the Leipzig, I knew that a stop at St. Thomaskirche (where Johann Sebastian Bach built his career) was a must, but we quickly discovered that Leipzig is packed with musical destinations!
Here are our top 10 favorite musical destinations to visit in Leipzig, Germany that will suit any type of itinerary.
Immerse Yourself in the Music
Visit the historic neo-classical home of Robert and Clara Schumann, composers and performers who moved into the house in 1840. Join a public guided tour (Sundays at 3pm) or attend a concert (most Saturdays at 6pm) to experience the house as they might have. We attended a concert that featured works from both Robert and Clara Schumann. Performed by a pianist and mezzo-soprano, the music came to life as we listened to classical pieces interspersed with commentary about the history and meaning behind the works—including the history of the building, the ups and downs of the couple’s relationship, and the famous guests they entertained. The soprano even read us excerpts from their joint-marriage diary to bring to life their passion for music and each other.
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy is another famous musician that graced Leipzig with his talents. We visited his home—mansion really—and attend a Sunday concert in the upstairs salon. The Sunday concert tradition dates to the mid-1830s when his sister Fanny hosted all sorts of orchestras and choirs to perform for intellectuals, musicians and even royalty. Revived in 1997, the Sunday concerts are intimate affairs and cost 12€.
Learn the History
It’s hard to not say Leipzig and Bach in the same sentence. This German city is where famous musician Johann Sebastian Bach composed 40 cantatas in 40 weeks. Stop by the Bach-Museum to see original manuscripts and listen to organ and piano recordings literally echo through the hallways of the creak wood floor museum. You can be in the room with an organ that Bach himself worked on and learn about Bach’s family tree — he had TWENTY kids (only half lived to adulthood). Plus, if Baroque instruments have any interest to you, you can learn their history, hear from over a dozen and even play a clavichord.
Then walk across the street and visit St. Thomas Church, where Bach is buried, and catch a performance from the boys choir (Bach was music director for 27 years) on Friday night or Saturday afternoon. Richard Wagner and Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy also frequented this church. Be sure to check out the rainbow stained-glass window on the second floor that represents peace and was donated by Houston!
Engage in the search for the perfect sound at the extensive Museum of Musical Instruments, which houses over 5000+ instruments. The collection primarily focuses on European music and the impact on social life. We had a blast listening to the music boxes (playing Bach of course), seeing decadent af piano decorations, and even sneaking a peek at instruments made of human skulls (yep…). After reading Color: A Natural History of the Palette, I was particularly enthused to see the unique and mysteriously orange color of the Stravinsky violin in the flesh!
In case you don’t get your music fix while in town, be sure to sneak a peek at where you’re walking. You might notice the silver metal swirls in the ground which indicate stops in the Leipzig Music Trail—you might be walking on history! They’ll lead you to some musical spots on this list, as well as many others (23 in total). Nowhere else in the world can you find the historical sites where so many famous composers and musicians lived and worked in such close proximity! One cool landmark we saw was the iconic University Church St. Pauli. It’s bleached white Rotterdam design contrasts with the old salvaged Church pieces from when the original church was destroyed in 1968 #communists. Church also has an organ from the days of Bach.
Listen Like the Locals
A total local hangout spot, this bridge in the middle of Clara Zetkin Park attracts performers of all levels and fame. Stop by in the evening to see anyone from a street performer to a well-known band playing music on Saxony Bridge in the outdoor space of the Schleussig neighborhood.
If I had a Euro for every time someone asked me if I was going to Klassik Airleben, I’d be able to fly to and from Germany for next year’s concert. People were raaaaaving about it all week, and the open air concert in Rosental Park did not disappoint. This annual performance by the Gewandhausorchester (aka the Leipzig Orchestra) occurs the last weekend of June each year and attracts over 30K people each night! This year, the orchestra broke tradition a little bit from their classical roots and played film hits by George Gershwin and John Williams. Think: Star Wars, ET, Jurassic Park and… HARRY POTTER. Safe to say… WE LOVED IT. We packed a picnic, grabbed a blanket, and joined the thousands of locals for the outdoor concert.
Fun fact: The annual Texas Music Festival that takes place in Houston every summer has a concerto competition. The winner gets to solo in Leipzig with the Gewandhaus.
Experience the Arts
Founded in 1693, the Leipzig Opera is the third-oldest civic musical theatre in Europe. We got a super cool behind the scenes look and saw the dressing rooms, went backstage, through the loading docs and even into the costume closet! At any given time, the opera house has pieces for 6,000 costumes for the shows that year. Having been to a German opera house before (in Hamburg, which is slightly older), I highly recommend the experience. Tickets for operas and ballets range between 10-80€ depending on premiere night or student pricing. When you go, pay attention to the chandeliers. In the basement they’re small buds, and as you go up the floors the expand into blooming dandelions!
The Schuaspiel is a nifty little theatre just outside the city center of Leipzig. We saw TOOT!, a performance by the Leipzig Ballet, and fell in love. Usually the ballet performs at the opera house, but the excuse to visit another theatre was such a treat.
Fun fact: During the 25 Years of Sister City Partnership celebration in October 2018, the Leipzig dancers will perform a dance choreographed by the Houston producers AND Opening Night will feature a dance from Houston principle dancers. #SisterCityLove
Leipzig isn’t all classical music and formal performances! This hip-hop inspired variety show had us on the edge of our seats (and crying with laugher) as performers did crazy stunts with bikes, poles, basketballs, and yo-yos. This may be the one opportunity in your life to see a German man with corn rows breakdance.