LEIPZIG, GERMANY: There’s much to celebrate in 2019 in Leipzig, Germany’s tenth largest city.
Since the days of the Holy Roman Empire, Leipzig has been situated at the intersection of two major medieval trade routes. As an international crossroads, it became one of the most important centers of culture, particularly in the fields of publishing and music.
As the birthplace of Johann Sebastian Bach, Leipzig’s musical legacy stands front an center in a city that undeniably ranks in status with other European nations. What makes 2019 so special, however, is that it honors the heritage of other contributions which only add to the richness of Leipzig’s euphonious endowment.
The Clara Schuman Festival
Beginning in late February, from the 22nd to the 24th, the Clara Schumann Festival honors the 200th anniversary of her birth.
Regarded as one of the most distinguished composers and pianists of her day, Schumann’s concert career spanned more than 60-years. Among her achievements was altering the format and repertoire of piano recitals.
Another innovation was being one of the first pianists to play from memory during recital performances.
Clara Schumann’s prolific body of work included piano concertos, chamber pieces and choral works. She was also the first person to publicly perform any work by Johannes Brahams who was unknown at the time.
Clara married Robert Schumann in 1840, one day before her 21st birthday.
Though 9 years older than his wife, Robert Schumann’s marriage became a legendary business partnership that endeared the couple to Germans throughout their careers.
Clara’s father opposition to the marriage led to a long and acrimonious battle. The couple waited until parental consent was no longer required to wed.
Though Clara’s demeanor was that of being fragile and mild, her decision to marry demonstrated a strong-willed personality that captivated German romantic sensibilities.
Before their marriage, the couple secretly rendezvoused often in small cafes in nearby cities following one of her concerts just to steal a few minutes together.
During their 16 year union, which ended in 1856 when Robert died in an asylum, they had eight children.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the Schumann’s bond were secret messages Robert wrote into his music as a tribute to their devotion.
Not to be overlooked is also Leipzig’s contribution to literature.
Even in the 16th century, the second oldest restaurant in Leipzig, had the reputation as one of Germany’s most important wine bars.
Thanks in large part to Goethe, Auerbach’s Keller’s fame spread throughout the world, as a result of being the first place Mephistopheles takes Faust during their journey.
The Auerbach’s Keller scene in Goethe’s play Faust serves as a literary memorial to his favorite wine bar during his time at Leipzig University.
Goethe’s inspiration came from two 1625 paintings in the establishment; one showing Johann Georg Faust, the well-known magician and astrologer, drinking with students and the other a depiction of Faust riding out of the bar upon a wine barrel. The second painting represented something that could only have occurred with the aid of the Devil.
Today, the restaurant is beneath the Mädlerpassage, built from 1912 to 1914 at Grimmaische Straße 2 in Leipzig’s historical district. It contains five historic dining rooms as well as the Mephisto Bar on the floor above
Not far away, the historic Thomaskirche (Church of St. Thomas) adds to Leipzig’s musical legacy thanks largely to Johann Sebastian Bach who was choirmaster there for 27 years.
Believe it or not, even without Bach the church was instrumental in Leipzig’s fame. It was at the Thomaskirche in May, 1539 that Martin Luther introduced the Protestant Reformation to Leipzig.
In 1789, 250 years later, Mozart played the church organ there, and in centuries that followed both Felix Mendelssohn and Richard Wagner also performed at the church.
The church choir has been in existence since 1254. Today the Thomaschoir features 80 boys singing music particularly dedicated to Bach in weekly performances of motets and cantatas, as well as regular Sunday services.
But there’s more to this story with contemporary roots that date only as far back as 30 years.
Though the Church of St. Thomas was Bach’s primary venue in Leipzig, he was also choirmaster at St. Nicholas Church during the period of 1723 to 1750. Oddly enough, St. Nicholas is nearly a hundred years older than St. Thomas dating to ll65.
St. Nicholas Church
St. Nicholas Church is at the intersection of two important north-south, east-west trade routes. This location is important to Leipzig’s past as well as being critical to the events that reunited Germany in 1989.
Each November during the early 1980s, young people from all over the region would gather at St. Nicholas Church for ten days of prayer for peace.
With large demonstrations all over East Germany protesting the arms race, the gatherings in Leipzig were regarded as nothing more than non-violent prayer vigils. The only places where issues could be openly discussed in Germany were at meetings held in churches, and the Church of St. Nicholas was one of those sites.
Soon a youth group from the church decided to increase the meetings by having prayer services every Monday evening.
Slowly the movement gathered strength. Each day the church is full of flowers and each night it is lit with hundreds of glowing candles.
Blocking St. Nicholas Church to its parishioner
After a while, the government took notice and became concerned. From May of 1989, all access roads to Nicholas Church were blocked by police checkpoints. By October, the militia battered defenseless East Germans in the streets, but they remained passive, refusing to fight back.
Hundreds were taken away in trucks. Many others were locked up in stables, but the people continued to pray.
Thousands of East Germans stood in the square with candles in their hands. To carry a candle outdoors requires two hands. One holds the candle while the other prevents it from going out. Therefore, to keep a candle burning it’s not possible to carry a stick or a club.
When police arrived, they didn’t know what to do. Bewildered, they quickly lost any incentive to fight.
Eventually, the police withdrew. As one officer said,
“We were prepared for everything. Everything, that is, except candlelight.”
Since 1989, Leipzig is known by many as the “City of Heroes.”
From as far back as 1254 to the present, 765 years, Leipzig’s legacy of culture, literature, music and, yes, candlelight endure.
Leipzig is a traveler’s journey through time. Time that is “music to your ears.”
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime
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