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Leipzig (/ˈlaɪpsɪɡ/, also /-(t)sɪx/, German: [ˈlaɪptsɪç] (listen); Upper Saxon: Leibz’sch) is the most populous city in the German state of Saxony. With a population of 605,407 inhabitants as of 2021 (1.1 million residents in the larger urban zone), it is Germany’s eighth most populous city as well as the second most populous city in the area of former East Germany after (East) Berlin. Together with Halle (Saale), the largest city of the neighbouring state of Saxony-Anhalt, the city forms the polycentric conurbation of Leipzig-Halle. Between the two cities (in Schkeuditz) lies Leipzig/Halle Airport.
Leipzig is located about 160 kilometres (99 mi) southwest of Berlin in the Leipzig Bay, which constitutes the southernmost part of the North German Plain, at the confluence of the White Elster River (progression: Saale→ Elbe→ North Sea) and two of its tributaries: the Pleiße and the Parthe. The name of the city as well as the names of many of its boroughs are of Slavic origin.
Leipzig has been a trade city since at least the time of the Holy Roman Empire. The city sits at the intersection of the Via Regia and the Via Imperii, two important medieval trade routes. Leipzig was once one of the major European centres of learning and culture in fields such as music and publishing. After the Second World War and during the period of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) Leipzig remained a major urban centre in East Germany, but its cultural and economic importance declined. Events in Leipzig in 1989 played a significant role in precipitating the fall of communism in Central and Eastern Europe, mainly through demonstrations starting from St. Nicholas Church. The immediate effects of the reunification of Germany included the collapse of the local economy, which had come to depend on highly polluting heavy industry, severe unemployment, and urban blight. Starting around 2000, however, the decline was first arrested and then reversed and, since then, Leipzig has seen significant changes with the restoration of major historical buildings, the demolition of derelict properties of little historical value, and the development of new industries and a modern transport infrastructure.
Leipzig today is an economic centre, is rated as the most livable city in Germany by the GfK marketing research institution, and has the second-best future prospects of all cities in Germany according to the Hamburg Institute of International Economics (HWWI) and Berenberg Bank. The city is one of two seats of the German National Library, as well as the seat of the German Federal Administrative Court. Leipzig Zoo is one of the most modern zoos in Europe and ranks first in Germany and second in Europe. Since the opening of the Leipzig City Tunnel in 2013, Leipzig forms the centrepiece of the S-Bahn Mitteldeutschland public transit system. Leipzig is currently listed as a “Sufficiency” level global city by the Globalization and World Cities Research Network, Germany’s “Boomtown” and was the 2019 European City of the Year.
Leipzig has long been a major centre for music, both classical as well as modern “dark alternative music” or darkwave genres. The Oper Leipzig is one of the most prominent opera houses in Germany. Leipzig is also home to the University of Music and Theatre “Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy”. The Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, established in 1743, is one of the oldest symphony orchestras in the world. Johann Sebastian Bach is one among many major composers who lived and worked in Leipzig and, during a stay in the city, Friedrich Schiller wrote his poem “Ode to Joy“.
The name Leipzig is derived from the Slavic word Lipsk, which means “settlement where the linden trees (British English: lime trees; U.S. English: basswood trees) stand”. An older spelling of the name in English is Leipsic. The Latin name Lipsia was also used. The name is cognate with Lipetsk (Липецк) in Russia and Liepāja in Latvia.Old Town Hall
Since 1989 Leipzig has been informally dubbed “Hero City” (Heldenstadt), in recognition of the role that the Monday demonstrations there played in the fall of the East German regime – the name alludes to the honorary title awarded in the former Soviet Union to certain cities that played a key role in the victory of the Allies during the Second World War. The common usage of this nickname for Leipzig up until the present is reflected, for example, in the name of a blog for local arts and culture, Heldenstadt.de.
More recently, the city has sometimes been nicknamed the “Boomtown of eastern Germany”, “Hypezig” or “The better Berlin” and is celebrated by the media as a hip urban centre for its vital lifestyle and for its creative scene with many startups.
Leipzig was first documented in 1015 in the chronicles of Bishop Thietmar of Merseburg as urbs Libzi (Chronikon VII, 25) and endowed with city and market privileges in 1165 by Otto the Rich. Leipzig Trade Fair, started in the Middle Ages, has become an event of international importance and is the oldest surviving trade fair in the world.
There are records of commercial fishing operations on the river Pleiße that, most likely, refer to Leipzig dating back to 1305, when the Margrave Dietrich the Younger granted the fishing rights to the church and convent of St Thomas.
There were a number of monasteries in and around the city, including a Franciscan monastery after which the Barfußgäßchen (Barefoot Alley) is named and a monastery of Irish monks (Jacobskirche, destroyed in 1544) near the present day Ranstädter Steinweg (the old Via Regia).
The University of Leipzig was founded in 1409 and Leipzig developed into an important centre of German law and of the publishing industry in Germany, resulting, in the 19th and 20th centuries, with the Reichsgericht (Imperial Court of Justice) and the German National Library being located here.
During the Thirty Years’ War, two battles took place in Breitenfeld, about 8 kilometres (5.0 miles) outside Leipzig city walls. The first Battle of Breitenfeld took place in 1631 and the second in 1642. Both battles resulted in victories for the Swedish-led side.
On 24 December 1701, an oil-fueled street lighting system was introduced. The city employed light guards who had to follow a specific schedule to ensure the punctual lighting of the 700 lanterns.
The Leipzig region was the arena of the 1813 Battle of Leipzig between Napoleonic France and an allied coalition of Prussia, Russia, Austria and Sweden. It was the largest battle in Europe before the First World War and the coalition victory ended Napoleon‘s presence in Germany and would ultimately lead to his first exile on Elba. The Monument to the Battle of the Nations celebrating the centenary of this event was completed in 1913. In addition to stimulating German nationalism, the war had a major impact in mobilizing a civic spirit in numerous volunteer activities. Many volunteer militias and civic associations were formed, and collaborated with churches and the press to support local and state militias, patriotic wartime mobilization, humanitarian relief and postwar commemorative practices and rituals.
When it was made a terminus of the first German long-distance railway to Dresden (the capital of Saxony) in 1839, Leipzig became a hub of Central European railway traffic, with Leipzig Hauptbahnhof the largest terminal station by area in Europe. The railway station has two grand entrance halls, the eastern one for the Royal Saxon State Railways and the western one for the Prussian state railways.
In the 19th century, Leipzig was a centre of the German and Saxon liberal movements. The first German labor party, the General German Workers’ Association (Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein, ADAV) was founded in Leipzig on 23 May 1863 by Ferdinand Lassalle; about 600 workers from across Germany travelled to the foundation on the new railway. Leipzig expanded rapidly to more than 700,000 inhabitants. Huge Gründerzeit areas were built, which mostly survived both war and post-war demolition.Augustusplatz with Leipzig Opera House, c. 1900
With the opening of a fifth production hall in 1907, the Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei became the largest cotton mill company on the continent, housing over 240,000 spindles. Daily production surpassed 5 million kilograms of yarn.
During the 1930s and 1940s, music was prominent throughout Leipzig. Many students attended Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy College of Music and Theatre (then named Landeskonservatorium.) However, in 1944, it was closed due to World War II. It re-opened soon after the war ended in 1945.
On 22 May 1930, Carl Friedrich Goerdeler was elected mayor of Leipzig. He was well known as an opponent of the Nazi regime. He resigned in 1937 when, in his absence, his Nazi deputy ordered the destruction of the city’s statue of Felix Mendelssohn. On Kristallnacht in 1938, the 1855 Moorish Revival Leipzig synagogue, one of the city’s most architecturally significant buildings, was deliberately destroyed. Goerdeler was later executed by the Nazis on 2 February 1945.
Several thousand forced labourers were stationed in Leipzig during the Second World War.
Beginning in 1933, many Jewish citizens of Leipzig were members of the Gemeinde, a large Jewish religious community spread throughout Germany, Austria and Switzerland. In October 1935, the Gemeinde helped found the Lehrhaus (English: a house of study) in Leipzig to provide different forms of studies to Jewish students who were prohibited from attending any institutions in Germany. Jewish studies were emphasized and much of the Jewish community of Leipzig became involved.
Like all other cities claimed by the Nazis, Leipzig was subject to aryanisation. Beginning in 1933 and increasing in 1939, Jewish business owners were forced to give up their possessions and stores. This eventually intensified to the point where Nazi officials were strong enough to evict the Jews from their own homes. They also had the power to force many of the Jews living in the city to sell their houses. Many people who sold their homes emigrated elsewhere, outside of Leipzig. Others moved to Judenhäuser, which were smaller houses that acted as ghettos, housing large groups of people.
As with other cities in Europe during the Holocaust, the Jews of Leipzig were greatly affected by the Nuremberg Laws. However, due to the Leipzig Trade Fair and the international attention it garnered, Leipzig was especially cautious about its public image. Despite this, the Leipzig authorities were not afraid to strictly apply and enforce anti-semitic measures. Shortly before Kristallnacht, Polish Jews living in the city were expelled.
On 20 December 1937, after the Nazis took control of the city, they renamed it Reichsmessestadt Leipzig, meaning the “Imperial Trade Fair City Leipzig”. In early 1938, Leipzig saw an increase in Zionism through Jewish citizens. Many of these Zionists attempted to flee before deportations began. On 28 October 1938, Heinrich Himmler ordered the deportation of Polish Jews from Leipzig to Poland.
On 9 November 1938, as part of Kristallnacht, in Gottschedstrasse, synagogues and businesses were set on fire. Only a couple of days later, on 11 November 1938, many Jews in the Leipzig area were deported to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp. As World War II came to an end, much of Leipzig was destroyed. Following the war, the Communist Party of Germany (German: Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands, KPD) provided aid for the reconstruction of the city.Leipzig after bombing in the Second World War
In 1933, a census recorded that over 11,000 Jews were living in Leipzig. In the 1939 census, the number had fallen to roughly 4,500, and by January 1942 only 2,000 remained. In that month, these 2,000 Jews began to be deported. On 13 July 1942, 170 Jews were deported from Leipzig to Auschwitz Concentration Camp. On 19 September 1942, 440 Jews were deported from Leipzig to Theresienstadt Concentration Camp. On 18 June 1943, the remaining 18 Jews still in Leipzig were deported from Leipzig to Auschwitz Concentration Camp. According to records of the two waves of deportations to Auschwitz there were no survivors. According to records of the Theresienstadt deportation, only 53 Jews survived.
Until late 1943, there was little threat of aerial bombings to the city. However, on the morning of 4 December 1943, the British Royal Air Force dropped over 1,000 tons of explosives, resulting in the death of nearly 1,000 civilians. This bombing was the largest up to that time. Due to the close proximity of many of the buildings hit, a firestorm occurred. This prompted firefighters to rush to the city; however, they were unable to control the fires. Unlike the neighbouring city of Dresden, this was a largely conventional bombing with high explosives rather than incendiaries. The resultant pattern of loss was a patchwork, rather than wholesale loss of its centre, but was nevertheless extensive.
The Allied ground advance into Germany reached Leipzig in late April 1945. The U.S. 2nd Infantry Division and U.S. 69th Infantry Division fought their way into the city on 18 April and completed its capture after fierce urban action, in which fighting was often house-to-house and block-to-block, on 19 April 1945. In April 1945 the SS Gruppehfuhrer/Mayor of Leipzig Bruno Erich Alfred Freyberg, his wife and daughter; the Deputy Mayor/Treasurer of Leipzig, Ernest Kurt Lisso, his wife, daughter, and a Volkssturm Major Walter Dönicke committed suicide in Leipzig City Hall.
The United States turned the city over to the Red Army as it pulled back from the line of contact with Soviet forces in July 1945 to the designated occupation zone boundaries. Leipzig became one of the major cities of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany).
In the mid-20th century, the city’s trade fair assumed renewed importance as a point of contact with the Comecon Eastern Europe economic bloc, of which East Germany was a member. At this time, trade fairs were held at a site in the south of the city, near the Monument to the Battle of the Nations.
The planned economy of the German Democratic Republic, however, was not kind to Leipzig. Before the Second World War, Leipzig had developed a mixture of industry, creative business (notably publishing), and services (including legal services). During the period of the German Democratic Republic, services became the concern of the state, concentrated in (East) Berlin; creative business moved to West Germany; and Leipzig was left only with heavy industry. To make bad worse, this industry was extremely polluting, making Leipzig an even less attractive city to live in. Between 1950 and the end of the German Democratic Republic, the population of Leipzig fell from 600,000 to 500,000.
In October 1989, after prayers for peace at St. Nicholas Church, established in 1983 as part of the peace movement, the Monday demonstrations started as the most prominent mass protest against the East German government. The reunification of Germany, however, was at first not good for Leipzig. The centrally planned heavy industry that had become the city’s speciality was, in terms of the advanced economy of reunited Germany, almost completely unviable, and closed. Within only six years, 90% of jobs in industry had vanished. As unemployment rocketed, the population fell dramatically; some 100,000 people left Leipzig in the ten years after reunification, and vacant and derelict housing became an urgent problem.
Starting in 2000, an ambitious (and subsequently much-praised) urban-renewal plan first stopped Leipzig’s decline and then reversed it. The plan focused on saving and improving as much as possible of the city’s urban structure, especially its attractive historic center and various architectural gems, and attracting new industries, partly through infrastructure improvement.
Nowadays, Leipzig is an important economic center in Germany. Since the 2010s, the city has been celebrated by the media as a hip urban center with a very high quality of living. It is often called “The new Berlin”. Leipzig is also Germany’s fastest growing city. Leipzig was the German candidate for the 2012 Summer Olympics, but was unsuccessful. After ten years of construction, the Leipzig City Tunnel opened on 14 December 2013. Leipzig forms the centerpiece of the S-Bahn Mitteldeutschland public transit system, which operates in the four German states of Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia and Brandenburg.