If you’ve been to Europe, you know that Sundays are not the best days to play tourist. In most cities, 99% of stores and restaurants are closed on Sunday, and Leipzig is no exception. Luckily, we had several sources of activity available to us despite the Sunday effect: (1) personal sights courtesy of the infinitely-patient Hubert; (2) the Leipzig train station (Hauptbahnhof); and (3) the Stasi museum.
We drove first along Berlinerstrasse to see the Jewish Cemetery where Jon’s great-grandfather is buried. Hubert pointed out notable community members during our walk through the graveyard – a woman who was a women’s suffrage leader, a famous rabbi and so on. There were updated gravestones erected on family plots to honor those who’d died in the Holocaust, and there was a plaque commemorating the fact that the graveyard was at some point the only place Jewish children were allowed to play (because they were otherwise banned from public parks).
After paying respects, we headed back into the center of town to find where Jon’s grandma grew up. Based on the address and description Grandma Gina had given us (i.e., it was across from the municipal liebhouse where Jews had all their belongings confiscated), we determined that the building she lived in no longer exists, and where it once stood, there is now a parking lot.
It started to rain, and we went to see the building where the Jews like Grandma Gina had found protection on Kristallnacht. The building sits across the street from what is now the US consulate, and it’s no longer the Polish consulate. Rather, it’s a city-owned guesthouse, whatever that means. There’s a small plaque in front to remember the Polish Consul General who decided to give safe haven to Jews on Kristallnacht. It’s amazing to me how much this city remembers.
Because we’d read so much about the Voelkerschlachtdenkmal, we figured we ought to see it despite Hubert’s warning that it’s no great shakes. The V is a monument commemorating The Battle of Nations, a victory of several allied countries over Napoleon in 1813. Hubert was, of course, absolutely right. The thing is a hulking, brooding hunk of stone that, frankly, looks pretty damn scary and ugly. Considering the Prussians decided to build this thing 100 years after the battle it commemorates, the monument is more about Prussia’s own aggressive ambitions at the time than it is about commemorating anything.
Leipzig’s train station, the Haupbahnhof, is the largest in Europe and houses 140 shops, half of which are open on Sunday. Other than dropping by the post office and pharmacy, though, there wasn’t much we found super exciting in the shopping mall. The clothing stores and houseware stores were closed, so really, what else is there to see?
The Stasi museum, which illustrates the banal, but fierce control exercised by the East German secret police, was pretty interesting despite our having to follow along on a photocopied brochure in English (.50 euros well spent) in order to understand anything on display. The museum is in the building on Dittrichring where the Stasi had their Leipzig HQ, and everything from the drab beige linoleum floors to the musty smell of a 1970s office creeps me out. I thought the disguise kits for Stasi agents and the tools used by the Stasi for opening and reading mail sent to/from Capitalist countries were the most interesting.
Bagels at Bagel Brothers (Nikolaistrasse, 42) were tasty. Chewy, moist interiors and slightly crunchy, shiny exteriors. The store was bright and clean (it’s likely a chain, though we didn’t see any other locations in the city), and we laughed about how it marketed the bagels as “new york style with a schmear.” We’ve always thought of bagels as originating in Eastern Europe, but it seems that the way to sell them as “authentic” now is to make them come from New York. Bagel sandwiches were named after JFK, Doris Day, and someone named Dick McDay.
Telegraph Café & Restaurant (Dittrichring, 18-20) was the perfect way to relax and warm up after our hour at the Stasi Museum down the block. Cozy banquettes, newspapers from around the world (no Sunday NYT, alas) and wi-fi access, combined with low prices for pots of loose-leaf tea – how could you not drop by, really?
As if we weren’t grateful enough that it was open on a Sunday night, the generically-named Restaurant Sushi Bar (Klostergasse, 18, around the corner from Barfussgasschen) served up a 19-euro all-you-can-eat sushi menu today. We sat on these high stools at an oval-shaped counter, and cheesy little wooden boats floated around the counter “carrying” various sushi. It’s the pre-cursor to conveyor-belt sushi? We ate our weight’s worth in shrimp tempura sushi and then called it a night. After all, we have a 4 am wake-up call tomorrow in order to catch our 6 am flight back to London.
I just finished reading an excellent book called Mountains Beyond Mountains, about Dr. Paul Farmer who, among his many other accomplishments, transformed the way the medical establishment thinks about treating drug-resistant TB in poor countries. According to the book, Dr. Farmer always asks his medical students to take him through a “dismount” – a lessons-learned, summary-style debrief at the end of every case. So here’s my dismount on Leizpig:
It’s a historically-rich, beautiful city that’s struggling to find its place in a post-unification Germany that favors institutions and industry centers in the former West Germany. As cities in western Europe go, it’s an affordable place to visit, and there’s enough variety and quality of food and cultural activities left in Leipzig to make it worth a visit.