Thursday, 12 June 2014

Leipzig: City of contrasts

For those of you that do not know by now, I have moved from the lovely town of Mannheim to the city of Leipzig. Notice how I deliberately make a distinction between town and city? well that is because there are fundamental differences between Mannheim and Leipzig. One such difference is the sheer size in square kilometers. Mannheim spots an area of about 144.9 sq KM compared to of 296.7 sq KM Leipzig. Another noticeable difference is the population size of Leipzig being more than half a million whereas the population of Mannheim is about three tenths of a million: that is a difference of about 200 thousand people.

This post is however not about the differences between Leipzig and Mannheim. It is about Leipzig the city of many contrasts. Leipzig is home to one of the most famous battle grounds of the late Napoleon war; which is known as the "Battle of Nations". It was also one of the hardest hit cities in world war II with the total distraction of the cities infrastructure and populace. After the war ended in the late 1940's the allied forces slit Germany into two parts West and East; Leipzig fell into the Eastern part. It made a name for itself as a place for industry and arts. However the devastation in the wake of the post war clean-up meant that there were many abandoned buildings in the country side and many people fled for safety and most notoriously the Jewish families that lived within the vicinity of Leipzig.

After the fall of the #Berlin wall in the early 90's, there was a de-flux of people moving to the former western part of Germany. I once saw a picture of a woman holding a cucumber and the caption was "Heidi und ihre erste banane" which translates to "Heidi and her first banana" but she was holding a cucumber, but due to the fact that the east was so cut off from the rest of the world people did not know what they didn't have i.e. the difference between a banana and a cucumber.

That is but a brief synopsis of the history of Leipzig. What continues to intrigue me is the contrast in architecture. In my opinion you can tell a lot about the real state of affairs in a place by looking at the architectural state of the buildings. This is mainly due to the fact that each building is built in its own time and surrounded by some mitigating circumstances unique to it. You will often find some baroque style buildings with rococo style architecture in Leipzig. But that is not what is most fascinating about the contrasts in Leipzig. To best explain these contrasts I need to tell a story of one fine Sunday (Well, it was fine since the weather was God awful and I was in a bit of a slump and felt like I wanted to drop all else and just go home), but anyhow this is how it went. On a Sunday a few months back I was feeling rather homesick after almost 2 years away from family and Namibian culture, I spent the entire day indoors watching documentaries about world cultures and similarities. Okay, fine this is a common occurrence, that I sit at home and watch independent documentaries about subjects that interest me at that point in time. back to the that specific Sunday, I was home the entire day and decided the pity party was over, but the only way I would get over this slump was to get some fresh air, but guess what; there were some Columbus clouds looming and I felt even worse since I couldn't go far.

Me being me I decided I was going to take a safest route I knew possible, (follow the tram line that way if it does start to rain there would be definite shelter at a tram stop :D ). As I walked down this really long street I can to notice out my pure homesickness how I was likening trees to those from home, and i eventually ended up looking at the buildings. Needless to say I discovered so much about Leipzig on this one day. It felt like the further away I got from the city center the more dilapidated buildings one could find in a consecutive row and then surprisingly a very neat looking block of apartments a midst the rundown buildings from post world war two periods. As if that was not interesting enough, I came to the end of this road after about an hour of aimlessly walking around. So I took a really small exit street that had a sign stating that it leads to one of the more exciting excursion spots in Leipzig; the Cospudener Lake. On my way there I passed by many little gardens, all decked out with pretty flowers and fruit trees, well mostly cherry trees anyway. A 20 minute walk later I was in a rather fancy looking neighborhood, with its gated community feel. This was a place with so many Villas you wouldn't believe and down the road about a 5 - 10 minute drive were buildings that have seen better days, and most probably also people that are on the lower side of the economic scale. From this experience my view of Germany and Germans in general has changed. I think we all have our prejudices and assumptions about a people. But clearly there isn't much difference between most African countries I have been to and Germany after all in the sense that the poor are really poor and the rich are really rich. Mind you I saw some pretty high walls and you know what they say about high walls around houses.

In the images below you can see the architectural differences that one can find in the Zschochersche Stra├če in the Plagwitz neighborhood an up and coming hip place to live, it dawns some of the fastest growing software start-ups and other SMEs, Spreadshirt is located here for instance. The old warehouses make a good working place for open office setups and high ceilings.

Architectural differences

Throwback days

Lonely bench along the river

The rails to ...

There any many different contrasts in Leipzig, those in the architecture, the way people perceive life, and of course the all European re-occurring adage: Finding oneself. But these are topics for another blog post.


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