Leipzig Hauptbanhof and “Bach im Leipziger Banhof” (the annual Bach Festival)
Leipzig itself, is an attractive place. It has been ranked as the most liveable and the most attractive city in Germany. It has a very high quality of living. It is also noted as a centre for shopping and food. The city is a thousand years old. It has a 15th Century university that is the students favourite, and since the 1490s, the city has been famous for its trade fairs. The older city centre dating from the 16th century attracts many visitors and is charming to walk through.
City reconstruction began after wartime damage as part of East Germany. After reunification it continued. The collapse of many of the city’s traditional businesses and activities led to economic decline. The population shrank, but has now stabilised at about half a million. Since then, the city’s fortunes have revived and now Leipzig is seen as something of a magnet city, attracting jobs and investment.
Today Leipzig is a growing, thriving and ambitious city of just over half a million people, noted for its lively arts scene. It is also a major transport hub, integrating air, train, tram and bus. This is interesting for a Scot, who is frequently exhorted to use public transport more and the car less. Leipzig station has 120,000 users per day, about the same as both of Glasgow’s stations combined, but twice that of Edinburgh, although the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh are roughly the same size as Leipzig. The huge city tram network is 92 miles long. This is where Leipzig stands out.
It also has a very well developed cycle network which adds to its popularity. If we are serious about growing a greener economy and increasing prosperity in Scotland, we need the attitude and commitment shown in places like Leipzig.
Among its former famous inhabitants are the philosophers Karl Wittgenstein and Gottfried Leibnitz, together with the painter Max Beckmann, the poet and philosopher Goethe and Mendelssohn, the composer. Then of course there’s Bach. JS Bach worked in Leipzig between 1723 and 1750.
Leipzig has an annual “Bachfest Leipzig” music festival. This celebrates the work of one of the world’s greatest composers and perhaps the city’s best known inhabitant. I’m sure its also very good for tourism.
Leipzig Hauptbahnhof is one of the world’s largest railway stations. It has 19 platforms and a spectacular facade which is 298 metres long.
It is also a much changed place with a complicated history. It was begun in 1909 and finished in1915, but during WW2 bombing, the concourse roof collapsed and the western entrance hall was destroyed. Full restoration took until in 1965. Following German reunification, the station was modernised and a shopping mall and two basement levels were added.
So the big stone arches which support the roof now cover a multi-level concourse.
The modified station building was inaugurated in 1997, then two underground railway platforms were added in 2013 and a billion Euros has recently been spent on the Leipzig city tunnel.
This will integrate into the larger new rapid transit network, Berlin–Leipzig–Nuremberg–Munich, a very ambitious infrastructure project. Link here
Today however, on the outside, the facade is once again grand, stately and rather beautiful.
A diversion-The cake
The interior is just an amazing space to explore.
As you can see, we did and we eventually found the cake shop- all it takes is a little persistence!
Our verdict? Well yeah- OK, it’s not Mendls “Courtesan au chocolat” but it was very, very seriously good none the less.
To me this whole redevelopment is a successful hi-tec intervention which matched the scale of this grand old building.
Throughout our visit we had the feeling that this was a renovation which has “been properly done”. The ambition of the design and quality of the work speaks for itself. It was also sensitive to the feel and history of the building and the wishes of Leipzigers.
The Music- Bach im Banhof
On the left of the picture below, you can see the performance area, with the concourse above. Anyone passing by can see the players and hear the music.
Right in the heart of all these new works, down in the multi level concourse, in June 2016, was the “Bach im Leipziger Bahnhof” music programme. The station’s own programme of free events as its contribution to the city’s annual Bach festival.
Perhaps you might think it strange that a railway station would be home to a concert programme, but “Bach im Bahnhof” perfectly complemented the railway station. A well organised and free daily music programme of took place quite matter-of-factly in the very heart of one of the busiest railway stations in Germany. 120,000 users pass through each day, roughly the same as Glasgow’s two railway stations combined, (yes! imagine if you had this railway station in Glasgow). It offered travellers a brush with culture during the hustle of a journey, and so culture had a chance to engage with daily life. The programme was also good enough to attract visitors to the station.
On the day I visited, beginners classes in violin and cello were showing everyone what they could do. For the kids it was a great showcase in a huge venue.
Learning violin isn’t easy, and these kids were great! I would guess that they were only about seven or eight years old, yet they held it together really well.
Why does that matter? Because acquiring that level of skill at such an early age is empowering. Having the opportunity to successfully perform in public, in a place like that will, I’m sure, will be remembered long after the event.
Also, learning good things about what we can do as we grow up, helps us to become confident adults. Its just such a social good.
Something you notice when you’re abroad is that Europeans have a seriousness about music, about its importance and value. Casual event performances (for example the bands at a summertime Bavarian open air fête day with fireworks in the evening) often have a much higher technical skill than you can casually find here, and the range of instruments is usually broader as well.
We toured in and around Leipzig. It was a revelation to see how much infrastructure investment is flowing into German transportation links. With its airport, three motorways surrounding the city-borders and several high-speed railway links to all major cities in Germany, Leipzig is an easy-access city. The billion Euro rail tunnel is only a fragment of a much wider scheme to upgrade the Central German Regional Railway Network, and improve connectivity in Central Europe. (ERDF) is underpinning the EU Central Europe programme. Scottish infrastructure spending, so long choked off by the UK government, is just beginning to transform Scotland and some of this is contingent on ERDF funding. The Scottish Government currently has 6 billion Pounds worth of infrastructure being constructed in Scotland today. That includes our new local hospital in Dumfries (£200million), the Queensferry Crossing (£1.4billion) the Shieldhall tunnel in Glasgow (£250million), the M9 upgrade(£450million).
The Scottish Government also has future infrastructure plans which would depend in part on getting ERDF funding.
This is the sort of investment which Brexit will put at risk.
In Leipzig as in Scotland, If your government really cares about your country’s future, it shows. Actions speak louder than words.