Travel: Eastern promise

While offering many historical attractions, Kate Rothwell discovers that there is more to Leipzig than meets the eyeLeipzig is a city of change. Home to the peaceful revolution that marked the beginning of the end of the German Democratic Republic, it became one of former Eastern Germany’s biggest boom towns after the fall of the Berlin Wall, but its economic success has done anything but tainted its charm.A 600-year-old university is just one of the many factors that draw a huge number of students to the city, many no doubt encouraged by Saxony’s free third-level education. The low cost of living is another enticement, but cheap rent and groceries are not the only reasons that students are prepared to travel a great distance in order to study here.A vibrant and varied nightlife caters to the diverse tastes of the youthful population, who can choose between ever reliable student clubs and decidedly cooler alternative venues, as well as once-off events outdoors or even in disused buildings. And for a quieter evening’s entertainment, there is of course a wide selection of late night bars and cosy pubs scattered throughout the city.Yet while the Leipzig nightlife is impressive, the city’s cultural offerings are its prize attraction. In a city where Goethe, Schiller and Nietzsche studied and Bach composed, it would be foolish to expect anything less. A renowned opera house adorns the city’s main square, ‘Augustusplatz’, which was also the scene for the famed peaceful protests in 1989.The Nicholas Church is another revolutionary landmark, as it is where anti-GDR protesters gathered before taking to the streets. Its stunning neoclassical interior is worth a look before visiting the nearby St Thomas Church to hear its world-famous boys’ choir perform. Exhibitions in the Grassi Museum and Museum of Fine Arts are goldmines for the artistically appreciative, while those intrigued by the city’s unique, inspiring and at times disconcerting past can indulge their curiosity at the Contemporary Historical Museum.The ‘Museum in the Round Corner’ makes for a more chilling historical outing, as the building in which its exhibition about the secret police is displayed was once an administrative centre for the repressive state security force.Back outdoors, popular summer activities include barbequing in one of the city’s numerous parks, or spending hours at the surprisingly beautiful man-made lakes that are just a short bus or bike journey from the centre. During the winter, a fairytale Christmas market takes over the streets. The colder months are as good a time as any to visit the 91 meter-tall ‘Monument to the Battle of the Nations’, which seems even more astounding when covered in a blanket of snow.Leipzig is not a typical tourist destination, but part of the appeal of this laid-back gem of a city is that it lies under the radar.