So, 8 days ago now, I moved to Leipzig, a city southeast of Berlin. The city was fully in the GDR (East Germany), and saw the famous Monday Protests of the late 80s that saw tens of thousands of protesters stand up against the issues of the dictatorship and the fortified borders that forced people to stay within the country. The political diversity that bloomed in Leipzig and contributed to the collapse of the Wall and the SED dictatorship is the main reason I chose Leipzig as a place to stay, even though it's only for two weeks. I took a cheap bus line (Flixbus) from Berlin to Leipzig for 8 euros. Entering Saxony, things went from warm and sunny to cloudy, cold and snowing. Dropped off at the Leipzig Hauptbahnhof, I decided to try walking the 15 minutes to my new apartment. Luckily I'd used Google street view to see how to walk from the station to my apartment, so I didn't get lost at all. It was still a tough walk, what with the snow and wind in my face the whole way there. But I got there fine, huffing and puffing. I was glad my new apartment was on the ground floor! The new room's pretty good. Not as big as the suite-like room in Berlin, but very clean. And I solved the no-curtains problem by closing bath towels in the windows. The neighborhood quite different from the one in Berlin. Thankfully, I could get a map no problem (just had to ask a lady at an info booth at the train station) and there are several of the same chain grocery store just a five minute walk from me (I shop at REWE!) so the main stuff is great.
Quite unsettling that I should still be able to clearly see the after-effects of this lunacy in my neighborhood, with the odd window spider-webbed with cracks and other windows having obviously been freshly replaced. But hey, I'd honestly rather see "Nazis gegen raus" on my street than something like a Swastika or accompanying xenophobic slogans. Anyway.
The area of Leipzig I live in has a lot of transformative marks around it. Though it is mostly middle-class apartment flats, there are abandoned buildings on virtually every street. And not just abandoned buildings, buildings that are crumbling. They're either being remodeled, torn down or literally falling apart. Some of them have fallen-in roofs, others have mesh wrapped around their upper floors to prevent chunks of the buildings from falling and hitting pedestrians. Placed beside clean, well-kept apartment buildings, it's quite the contrast.
Speaking of contrast, it was actually quite the shock coming from Berlin to Leipzig. Leipzig has one seventh of the population of Berlin and it's got all the stamps of a much smaller city. In just over an hour I walked from the northeast section of the city to the southern end. No buses needed! No S-Bahn passes at all. Haven't needed public transportation once! I can take in the entire city on foot and commute to points of interest much faster than in Berlin since much of those areas are strung together in concentration. The tall buildings stick out glaringly here, since most buildings are between two and five stories tall. I can literally count the skyscrapers I've seen here on one hand. I even briefly wondered if I was right to come here, until I saw the medieval section of the city, featuring the Nikolai church that formed the epicenter of the peaceful Leipzig protests. People writing at the time said that it was an utter miracle that so much change was achieved with nobody becoming violent on the opposing side. On the biggest Monday protest, when nearly 100,000 protesters showed up, not one person was injured. The area that the protesters marched around is known as the "Ring Road," which surrounds an area of Leipzig where cars aren't allowed, and where all the buildings are hundreds of years old (though many had to be reconstructed after being bombed in WWII).
The Street of the 18th of October fittingly comes to an end near the massive Monument to the Battle of Nations (also called the Volkschlactdenkmal in German), which stands taller than the statue of Liberty as a reminder of the titanic struggle against Napoleon in the 1810s. Given the fact that so many countries on multiple continents were involved in one way or another with this war, the Napoleonic wars are sometimes considered a "pre" world war of sorts, and definitely influenced modern warfare massively. The memorial made me think of the way that memorials have changed in general. This was before war memorials questioned the folly of war or the massive losses. War memorials once stood for prideful victories, heroism, nationalism, and all that stuff. It's a far cry from the reflective and depressive memorials to the first or second World War, being stuffed as this memorial is with gigantic statues of he-men and iron-clad warriors. The Soviets would carry this gung-ho aesthetic into their own memorials, so it's fitting that they chose not to destroy this one after defeating Germany in WWII. It certainly has some similarity to the massive memorial to Soviet war dead that I saw in Treptower Park, Berlin. It's interesting that the section of modern-looking GDR Plattenbauen is bookended by two "old" sections. Contrasts everywhere.
I'll end with some sketches. I did these of the Nikolaikirche, both front and back, and am working on a larger piece based on the sketches right now. I have more work than this, but I'll wait until the next post to put them up since it's late and I haven't documented anything else yet. Almost every time I sketch here I get some decent compliments from passers-by and even managed to hold conversations with people in jittery German a couple of times, interjecting English words here and there to help bridge the language gap for me. I find that, when I confess that I only speak a little German, the best outcome is to have the person say that they can't speak much English, if any. That way I can actually practice my German with them, with a precedent that I will probably make lots of mistakes. Again, this has only happened twice, but it still helps out my confidence. I find I can read German better than speak it. Speaking/hearing German is kind of like climbing a wall--the recognizable terms and words are like footholds, and the more there are and the closer together they come, the better I can "climb the wall" and interact in German. Going too long without footholds in the words will leave me unable to continue climbing the wall and I have to throw up my hands and admit I don't understand. It's always nice when people speak slow, simple German to me. Anyway, with luck the next blog post of mine won't take forever to get made. I'm only here another six days! Then it's off to Dresden. I'll try my best to get another post up before leaving Leipzig. I can't believe this trip is more than half done! I already have a ton of sketches/photos to work from once I get back home!