Leipzig, Germany

Classical music has deep roots in Leipzig thanks to its former residents Bach, Mendelssohn and Wagner.

Bach Museum

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) was a German composer and musician of the late Baroque period. The Brandenburg Concertos are among his most recognizable works.

The purpose of the Bach museum was to gather and preserve the sources and documents about the life and works of the Cantor of St. Thomas’s in one place. The museum offers an audio room where visitors can plug in and relax listening to his music. There is a ‘treasure room’ with some of his original manuscripts and you can occasionally hear snippets of organ music as you wander from room to room.

Front and center in the museum is an organ console that Bach himself played in 1743. The only item to have been saved from his home is an ancient iron cash box which due to its complicated padlock with 11 catches, was not able to be unlocked until 2009.

Organ console that Bach played in 1743

In his lifetime Johann Sebastian Bach was respected as an outstanding harpsichordist and organist. He was also considered an expert on organ building. However it wasn’t until the middle of the 19th century that this composers music regained popularity.

We learned that the Bach family produced hundreds of musicians across multiple generations and many were well-known. Both of Johann Sebastian’s brothers were named Johann, as was his father and his father’s twin brother. With the German naming conventions at the time, people rarely used their first name, instead they used their middle name.

Johann Sebastian had 20 children, many of whom became musicians themselves and five of his 11 sons were named Johann. Four of his sons were notable musicians and composers.

-Carl Philip Emanuel Bach, aka CPE, Emanuel or “The Berlin Bach” (1714-1788) was Johann Sebastian’s 5th son. In CPE’s lifetime, his fame and prestige far surpassed his fathers.

-Johann Christian Bach, aka JC, John Bach, or “The London/English Bach” (1735-1782). JC moved to England where he became Queen Charlotte’s music master. JC Bach also met Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart when Mozart was just 8 years old. JC was so impressed with the young Mozart he took him on as a student.

-Johann Christoph Friederich Bach, aka JCF or “The Bückeburg Bach” (1732-1795) was known as a virtuoso keyboard player.

-Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, aka WF (1710-1784), Johann Sebastian’s eldest son, was also an extremely talented musician but he battled alcoholism.

In the square between the church and museum stands this larger than life statue of Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)


Opposite the Bach Museum is the 13th century Saint Thomas Church, where Johann Sebastian Bach served as cantor for 27 years (1723 to 1750.) A cantor sings solo verses and the choir responds. Bach had 54 boys in the choir and their main focus was to perform Bach’s choral works. Johann Sebastian Bach is buried in St. Thomas Church.

With the exception of the 17th century tower, the beautiful architecture of today’s St. Thomas church has changed very little from the 15th century. The tower is 223 feet high (68 m) and imagine, a watchman and his family lived in the tower until 1917.

St. Thomas Church

Famous Leipzig Residents

Felix Mendelssohn whose full name was Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809-1847) was also a German composer, pianist, organist and conductor who worked and died in Leipzig. We found a syriking Mendelssohn statue in a tiny park near the entrance to St. Thomas church. There is also a Mendelssohn-Haus Museum in the city but we were unable to visit.

Richard Wagner (1813-1883), born in Leipzig and baptized at St. Thomas Church, was a composer, theater director and conductor known for his operas and dramatic music. He wrote both the words and texts as well as the music for each of his stage works. He was heavily influenced by Beethoven’s symphonies as well as Mozart’s Requiem.

Max Beckmann (1884-1950) was a painter, sculptor, draftsman, printmaker and writer from Leipzig. His traumatic experiences as a medical orderly in World War I are reflected in the moodiness, realism, distorted figures and often horror in his art.

Beckmann enjoyed great success up until the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, who disliked Modern Art. In 1933, the Nazi government dismissed Bechmann from his teaching position and in 1937 confiscated more than 500 of his works from German museums. Beckmann left Germany shortly after for Amsterdam and in 1947 he moved to the USA.

Beckmann died of a heart attack in 1950 in New York. In that same year he “painted the work Falling Man which is considered both a reflection on mortality and eerily predictive of the jumpers falling from the World Trade Center Towers on September 11, 2001.”

One additional statue we discovered in Leipzig was that of Germany’s favorite poet, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) who is often compared to Shakespeare and Dante. There is a monument that commemorates Goethe’s time in Leipzig while he was studying law at the local university. Goethe is perhaps best known for Faust, Part I written in 1808 and Part II written in 1832. It is about a man who sells his soul to the devil.


On our final day in Leipzig we took the tram quite far out from old town to visit the Battle of the Nations monument.

Much of Northern Europe was controlled by Napoleonic France between 1794 and 1815. The Monument to the Battle of the Nations commemorates the defeat of Napoleon’s French army in the 1813 Battle of Leipzig, also referred to as the Battle of the Nations.

Battle of the Nations monument

The coalition army included soldiers from Russia, Prussia, Austria, Sweden and Germany. But Germans fought on both sides, some were allied with France and Napoleon’s troops had conscripted other Germans that lived along the Rhine. The monument stands where the bloodiest fighting took place and where Napoleon ordered the retreat of his army.

In the 4-day battle, an unprecedented 110,000 men lost their lives, with many more dying in the following days.

The second interesting fact is that 4 of the 5 Johann Sebastian Bach performances (including the premiere) of the St John Passion were performed in this church as well as many of his cantatas.

The battle temporarily ended Napoleon’s rule. Napoleon was exiled to the Italian Island of Elba in May 1814. He briefly returned to power the following year before suffering his ultimate defeat at the Battle of Waterloo.

The structure, 260 feet long (80 m) x 230 feet wide (70 m) x 299 feet high (91 m), was completed in 1913 to mark the 100th anniversary of the battle.

Interior of Battle of the Nations monument

Zeitgeschichtliches Forum

The permanent exhibition at the Forum of Contemporary History is subtitled: “Our history – Dictatorship and Democracy after 1945.” Following WWII, Germany was split into East and West Germany. Leipzig was in the former East German side that was controlled by Russia (from 1922-1991 Russia was the USSR). The soviets quickly established a Communist dictatorship in East Germany and asserted their claim to power in all areas of East German’s lives. The new government, the SED, suppressed many resistances, crushed the 1953 uprising and in 1961 built the Berlin Wall to halt the steady stream of East Germans from fleeing to the West.

The museum has 2000 objects, photographs and documents, primarily of the oppression by the USSR and the struggle to survive by the residents. The exhibit also focuses on the transformation, successes and challenges of German reunification after 1990.

“This painting by Harald Metzkes dates from 1956, the year when hopes that Communist dictatorships can be liberalized are disappointed. At the time the painter is a ‘master student’ at the Academy of Fine Arts in East Berlin.”

The Dead Dove, 1956 by Harald Metzkes

Grassi Museum of Applied Arts

Grassi Museum was founded in 1874 and moved to its present location in 1926. We loved the fantastic art deco entrance.

Grassi Museum of Applied Arts

The museum is composed of arts and craft objects collected from the last millennium and it ranks among the world’s leading museums of applied arts.

Originally the museum collected materials covering European and Asian applied art but the collection has expanded to include exotic and precious objects from nearly every region of the Earth – approximately 230,000 unique exhibits to date.

A nautilus goblet from the 1600’s

We had a train to catch so unfortunately didn’t have time to make it through the entire museum; we missed the Museum of Musical Instruments entirely. We did see an abundance of ceramics, porcelain, glass, textiles, gold and silverware, jewelry, sculptures, furniture and utensils. Despite being rushed, this was our favorite museum in Leipzig.

17th and 18th century lidded beakers

Nikolaikirche Leipzig

We learned three interesting facts about Leipzig’s St. Nicholas Church, one of the largest churches in Saxony.

The first was that it sports three distinct and competing architectural styles. Construction began in the Romanesque style in 1165, then during the 16th century, the church hall was converted into a Gothic style and finally a Baroque tower was added in the 18th century. The differing styles do not really harmonize well.

The second interesting fact is that 4 of the 5 Johann Sebastian Bach performances (including the premiere) of the St John Passion were performed in St. Nicholas church as well as many of Bach’s cantatas.

And the third was the significant role that St. Nicholas Church played in 1989. People would gather in St. Nicholas on Monday evenings. The effective peaceful protests against communist rule became known as the Monday Demonstrations.

Saint Nicholas Church

The pastel colors of the interior of the church reminded us of the glorious interior of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.

Museum der Bildenden Künste

The Museum of Fine Arts, established in 1848, exhibits artworks from the Late Middle Ages to Modernity. Large donations of art were made by prominent collectors over the next 90 years. However in 1937 the Nazis confiscated nearly 400 paintings and prints because they were considered ‘degenerate art.’ Degenerate art styles as defined by the Nazis were these types: Bauhaus, Cubism, Dada, Expressionism, Fauvism, Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, New Objectivity and Surrealism.

Today the museum lists 3,500 paintings, 1,000 sculptures and 60,000 graphic sheets and we saw hundreds of excellent works of art. This painting by Fritz von Uhde (1848-1911) caught our attention. The children all have the sweetest faces.

“Let the children come to me”, 1884 by Fritz von Uhde

Sculpture “Untimely Contemporaries”

There is an unusual sculpture depicting five naked figures balancing on a beam that has been erected across the middle of a pedestrian passageway. The “untimely contemporaries” seem to be a teacher, doctor, lawyer, urban planner and artist. Each figure has one gilded feature.

This bronze sculpture was created by Bernd Göbel between 1986 and 1989, when East Germany still existed. The artist gave the sculpture to the city of Leipzig after the fall of the Wall in 1990.

The meaning of the sculpture can be found in the 14 quotes at the base of the pillar:

“Thoughtlessness kills others. Stanislaw Jerzy Leç”

“Every hope is actually a good deed. Johann Wolfgang Goethe”

“Whoever wins victory over himself also wins his reward. Bertolt Brecht”

“I thank you God that I am not like them. Luke Chapter 18”

“Think of many things to do. Thomas Müntzer”

“Better the ally with whom one does not become friends than the friend with whom one is not an ally. Volker Braun”

“In order to gain insight into the smallest part, an overview of the whole is necessary. Johann Wolfgang Goethe”

“Of course you can sacrifice a life for a principle – but only your own. Rolf Hochhuth”

“We can always reach the light of the intellect/ but nobody can give us the fullness of the heart. Johann Wolfgang Goethe”

“Should it be another person / or another world / maybe only other gods / or none. Bertolt Brecht”

“The need for work is an indispensable criterion of human dignity. Tschingis Aitmatov”

“Life belongs to the living and those who live must be prepared for change. Johann Wolfgang Goethe”

“There is no more valuable advice, recommendations and warnings than those that come straight from the people. Michail Gorbachev”

“Many little men make a nation. Stefan Heym”

The “untimely contemporaries” statue by Bernd Göbel

The Federal Republic of Germany is made up of 16 states. Leipzig (pronounced lipe-tish in German) is in the state of Saxony. The current population is roughly 605,000. Our stay was a short two days and we felt we could have doubled or tripled that length of time to better explore this interesting city.

Prost from these Leipzigers,

Ted + Julia

View the Bach-Museum photo album here

View the Forum of Contemporary History photo album here

View the Grassi Museum of Applied Arts photo album here

View the Monument to the Battle of the Nations photo album here

View the Museum of Fine Arts photo album here

View the St. Nicholas Church photo album here

View the St. Thomas Church photo album here

View the Rest of Leipzig photo album here

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