Last week, I spent three days in Leipzig, Germany. My university has a long-standing relationship with the University of Leipzig, and I was sent by our Office of Education Abroad to learn more about the program that currently exists and to see if we can find ways to interest more of my college’s students to participate.

This is the first trip I’ve ever taken where other people made most of the arrangements, paid most of the bills, and just generally showed me around. It was great! I arrived on Sunday evening, having flown on Saturday from Columbus to Detroit and then to Paris, where I had a long layover on Sunday. From Paris, I flew to Leipzig. The university arranged for a driver to pick me up at the airport (fancy!); he took me to one of the university guesthouses, where I stayed in a studio apartment. Here’s what the guesthouse looked like from the outside:

I think my apartment was the one right above where person on the right is standing.

The inside of the apartment was really cool. The student who met me at the apartment to give me a key said that it was typical east German. He didn’t exactly explain what that meant, but I took it to be kind of utilitarian. Here’s what the inside looked like:

The apartment was across the street from the back of Nikolaikirche, which became the center of peaceful demonstrations against the communist East German government in 1989. These demonstrations initiated what eventually became the reunification of Germany less than a year later. Here’s a view of the front of the church:

The inside of the church is beautiful and rather unique. The columns, in particular, are interesting for their interesting shape — the tops look like palms. Here’s a picture I took; it’s not very good but it gets the point across:

To commemorate the church’s role in the peaceful revolution, a monument was built outside. It resembles the columns inside:

A couple of other features to commemorate the revolution are also in this square. There is a fountain, which was empty while I was there because it was winter, that is shaped to allow the water to spill over the side, representing the way in which one person led to another person which led to hundreds of thousands standing up for freedom. It’s a beautiful thought; I wish I had been able to see the fountain filled with water:

And finally, there are little lights in the courtyard that come on one-by-one after sunset to represent the growing number of people who demonstrated for freedom. Here’s what they look like unlit:

And here’s what they look like lit up:

I spent most of my time meeting with various faculty and administrators from the university, so I didn’t have a lot of time to see the sights. But I’ll try to sum up some of the things I saw and did in Leipzig.

I also visited Thomaskirche, which is where Johann Sebastian Bach is buried:

I also saw the Old City Hall building:

And the New City Hall Building:

I also got a tour of the main university library:

This building has an interesting history. I was bombed during World War II and left empty and decaying during the communist regime. In fact, trees started growing inside it. After the reunification, the university decided to renovate the building, which is now beautiful inside. It’s a great space for students to work.

The architectural history of Leipzig is fascinating. There are buildings from the Medieval period through the nineteenth century, ones from the Nazi era, ones from the communist period, and ones from post-unification. They all stand next to one another. As my guide related, these buildings often cause heated debates as people have to decide which parts of Germany’s history they should preserve and how much should be demolished.

My guide and I took a tram outside of the city center to meet with a professor of neuroscience. The science building was also surrounded by this mixed history. On one side and across the street, stood these stadiums:

The outdoor stadium in the foreground was built by the Nazis. The indoor stadium in the background is a modern building. I was really struck by how difficult it must be to see such reminders of the Nazi past on a daily basis. There’s no getting away from them it seems.

On the other side of the building, the university displays a huge bronze that had once hung on the side of building built by the communists:

The figures on the bronze all represent different communist iconography. When the university tore the building down in order to build a new, modern one, it had to decide what to do with this bronze. Should it be destroyed? If not, where should it be placed? Ultimately, the university decided that it was an important work of art and should be preserved. I couldn’t help but think that putting it behind the science building, however, was also a way to hide it where few would ever see it.

The one museum I visited in Leipzig was the Stasi Museum, which relates the history and goings-on of the Stasi, the German secret police under the communist regime. Here’s the Stasi coat of arms:

The museum is housed in the old Stasi offices. When the revolution started, people showed up at the Stasi headquarters and laid candles on the steps leading up to the main hallway. You can see a picture of the candles in this picture:

The final highlight of my visit to Leipzig was going with my former student for drinks at Cafe Apart, one of the gay bars in town:

We were there at odd times, Monday night and late Tuesday afternoon, so there were never a lot of people there. But it was a nice space and really near to the guesthouse. If I had been in town longer (and during nicer weather), it would have been fun to hang out here more and see what gay Leipzig nightlife is like.

I really enjoyed visiting Leipzig and would love the opportunity to go again. While I was there I kept thinking I should go back to Germany for my 40th birthday this summer, but I doubt that I will. The lure of London is too great, I think. But I do hope to get back there someday. Maybe next time I’ll be going with a group of study abroad students!