There is a proven cycle of city-hype and the formula goes something like this: The marginalized and the poor artists take over a shitty and economically flawed neighborhood, transform it into a “creative hub”, establish bars, cafés, galleries and bring all their terrifyingly cool looking friends to the party. Then, after a while, the wealthy come to take their piece of the pie and ruin the fun for everyone, including themselves. The cool people move out because can’t afford the quick rise in rent and the formerly shitty-turned-cool region turns into a place of numbness with ridiculously high cost of living.
Berlin or Hypezig
Berlin, shrouded in mystery ever since the Wall fell, has finally lost it’s battle against gentrification and is now an endless construction site. Neighborhoods like Prenzlauer Berg and Mitte are now practically void of any spontaneous cultural spirit and have nothing left of their subcultural demands. So where to go if one was to look for another Berlin like it used to be? Try Leipzig! I heard they’re squandering the Gründerzeitenbauten.
Only an hour drive from Berlin and even in Saxony an underdog, Leipzig was – until now – a long overseen treasure. Yet just like Berlin in its heyday, being forgotten was the necessary hotbed for that innovative spark. A long standing tradition in classical music and fine arts is the ground on which Leipzig is being re-invented on, but having felt no restrictions for so long, young, cosmopolitan tastemakers are going entirely new directions with the city.
Well, not really new. Those responsible for generating cash have pretty much copied the whole marketing concept of Berlin and applied it to Leipzig. The residents are already feeling the pressure. Now that Berlin is apparently over-saturated, they are scared of losing what little they built to the unappreciative masses. While Berlin and Leipzig respectively have fewer things in common than you might think, Berliners and Leipzigers do passionately share a common hate for newcomers.
All cities are victims of the transformation from industrial to post-industrial living environment, and Leipzig (just like Berlin a couple of years ago) seems to be stuck in that transformation, now with extra attention. But Leipzig, unlike Berlin, is not a metropolis or the capital of a country. Treating it as one will distort peoples expectations.
So here’s the good news: Leipzig is a cool city. With the new influx of creative people and the attention of young newcomers, it has the potential to redefine its economic perspectives in the post-industrial service society. It might do so quicker than other cities, and it has the chance to learn from the mistakes Berlin made with gentrification issues and the job market. And besides, Leipzig is totally worth a trip for historical reasons, too, with amazing landmarks as well as museums and cultural happenings.
The bad news is: if you’re visiting Leipzig place to look for the same bullshit that is being put on display everywhere, you might be disappointed. “The new Berghain”, “the new UdK”, “the new Berlin”: you won’t find any of that in Leipzig. The city is way too small to keep up, and hell, it doesn’t want to anyway. That is not to say that Leipzig isn’t great. It’s just great for entirely different reasons.
Leipzig: Touching Contemporary History
Leipzig offers a refreshing and brutally honest perspective on the former GDR. If you can make a detour around the typical kitsch, you’ll be able to glance at uncanny architecture and enjoy culinary virgin territory. But instead of opting for a mediocre Döner, try the Borschtsch, and instead of going for the Club Mate, try the regionally brewed Lipz. Leipzig has indeed a tremendous contemporary art scene, but the classic range of institutions is even more impressive. The museums are extravagant and polished! The hinterlands of Leipzig are amazing as well; lakes, nature, little canals and lush green parks are perfect for sports, bike tours and picnics. Naturally, there are cool bars, original people and artists, and a very vivid “underground” scene with a sense for community. It’s easier to find this community because it doesn’t have to compete with others, but that doesn’t mean that it’s any better, worse or different than typical artists-communities in other urban environments.
Leipzig is a fantastic city. I had never been to Saxony before and I loved the mentality of the people, the food and the fact that Berliners who “came to invade Leipzig” are being judged by Leipzig residents. They deserve the irony.