Hello, again, Blogonauts!
On my way to Berlin on Tuesday, a strategic detour allowed me to visit the city of Leipzig. (As before, you can view some of my photos via the "Photos" tab above.)
No matter where you explore in Germany, layers upon layers of long and influential history emerge.
To musicians, Leipzig is best known as the city where Johann Sebastian Bach spent most of his storied career. He was the cantor and choir master at St. Thomas Church, ran the local school for choirboys, and wrote much of his vast musical corpus for performance here. The parish has, in fits and starts, preserved that legacy.
When I visited Thomaskirche, a brilliant rehearsal for soloists and orchestra was underway in anticipation of an upcoming performance of the St. John Passion. (I wish I could have stayed to hear it.) Alone and venerated at the rear of the church was Bach's grave, strewn with nearly-fresh-but-still-disappointingly-droopy flowers. Still..IT'S BACH'S GRAVE!
Curiously, most tour books and narrators raise doubt regarding whether genuine Bach bones are buried beneath.
Bach's popularity has ebbed and flowed over the generations, and after several years, townspeople actually forgot where they had a laid their old Kappelmeister. When interest peaked again, they set about trying to locate his remains, and with a few clues, they believe they found his grave and that of his wife. Still, doubt remains. But adoration loves a symbol, so we set aside the questions to marvel that this was his church, that was his organ, and this was his neighborhood. Awe ensues.
Eighty-five years after J.S. Bach died, Felix Mendelssohn also made Leipzig his home. He led the (still renowned) Gewandhaus Orchestra, and championed Bach's music, even among those who may have longed to hear something more contemporary. Mendelssohn's untimely death at age 38 left us with too few of his own compositions to enjoy.
Skipping ahead, Leipzig also suffered from Allied bombing during the war, and the post-war reconstruction shows the same mix of communist conformity and historic restoration as Dresden. Leipzig, however, lacks Dresden's opulent excesses. Instead, it is simply charming.
After the war, Leipzig, too, landed in East Germany. Idolization of Soviet-style communism and oppression of political dissent left the population on edge. Today in the center of Leipzig there is an engaging museum of contemporary history that contrasts daily life in East and West Germany. One display area emphasizes the ways neighbors and family members often turned into informants for the Stasi, the state enforcers of conformity.
Leipzig played a significant role in bringing down the communist regime. For months prior to the opening of the Berlin wall, prayer meetings in support of peace between the two Germanies gathered weekly at Leipzig's St. Nicholas Church. The leaders began hosting marches with the strict instructions to participants: "Keine Gewalt" (No Violence).
Mikhail Gorbachev visited and suggested that more openness was possible. Thousands began joining in the marches, regardless of faith, and they resisted Stasi infiltrators' attempts to stir up trouble. The local authorities found it impossible to fire on peaceful protesters. Stories of these gatherings led to uprisings around the country and put pressure on Berlin's GDR government. With amazing speed and seeming surprise to all involved, the borders opened and German reunification began.
It would have been easy to spend longer in Leipzig, but devoting 6-7 hours was really worthwhile.
On Wednesday, I leave Germany with eager anticipation of Spanish cuisine and having Toby show me around his new stomping ground.
Blog to you later!