A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: ToonSarah

Exploring Lucca, mostly in the rain

Lucca day two

View Birthday trip to Italy on ToonSarah's travel map.

A wet day on Via Guinigi

The forecast for today had not been good, and unfortunately it was right. We woke to dull skies that were soon to become drizzly ones, with occasional spells of heavier rain. Oh well, at least it was much warmer than at home, and we had come prepared with umbrellas.

In the Piazza San Michele

We started the day with a small but leisurely breakfast at a café in the Piazza San Michele in Foro, not far from our apartment - cornetto (the Italian version of a croissant), fresh orange juice and coffee. Then we walked south past the Piazza XX Settembre with its statue of a winged angel dedicated to those who died in defence of Italy.

In Piazza XX Settembre, and San Girolamo from the Piazza del Giglio

After taking a few photos here we carried on towards the Piazza del Giglio, the square of the lily. It surprised us a little that the square isn’t named for Garibaldi, like so many in Italy, as a statue of him dominates the piazza. Instead it takes its name from the theatre on its south side which in turn was named for the Duchess of Lucca at the time of its foundation, Maria Luisa – her family coat of arms was adorned with three golden lilies.

Statue of Garibaldi in the Piazza del Giglio

Cattedrale di San Martino

Just beyond this square to the east is the Chiesa e Battistero dei SS Giovanni e Reparata, formerly Lucca’s cathedral, but we left that for later and made our way instead to the present day cathedral just beyond. It was Sunday so we went to mass and afterwards lingered to explore (on a Sunday mass-goers are, it seems, spared the 3€ entry fee).

The cathedral is dedicated to St Martin and parts of it date back to the 11th century when it was founded here by the then Bishop, Anselm (who late became Pope Alexander II) – namely the impressive campanile and the apse.

Lucca cathedral and campanile

Cattedrale di San Martino, Lucca

The façade is especially interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, the columns really are all different here, and according to legend there is an explanation for their differences. The story goes that the city held a contest for the best column design. Artists came from far and wide bringing their sample column, but the inhabitants of Lucca decided to take them all, without paying the artists and used them all in the construction of the cathedral!

The labyrinth

Another interesting feature can be found by looking carefully at the right pier of the portico, where you can see this labyrinth or maze. Its history is uncertain but it is believed to date from the 12th or 13th centuries. A Latin inscription beside it refers to the ancient Greek legend about Theseus:


[‘This is the labyrinth built by Dedalus of Crete; all who entered therein were lost, save Theseus, thanks to Ariadne's thread’]

It is possible that this small carving may pre-date the famous Chartres maze, yet it follows (pre-empts?) the Chartres pattern that became a standard for mazes.

The large carving above the right-hand door depicts St Martin giving half his cloak to a beggar. The story goes that he had a dream that night that Jesus was wearing his cloak and the next morning woke to find the missing half had been restored. As with the Madonna outside San Michele in Foro, this statue is a copy – we will find the original (dating from 1233) inside the cathedral.

Statue of St Martin on the outside (on the left) and inside (on the right), Cattedrale di San Martino

The smaller carvings above the doors are by Nicola Pisano, the famous Pisa sculptor partly responsible for the Baptistery there. They depict other scenes from the life of St Martin, and also the months of the year and the tasks that had to be completed in each.

Carvings by Pisano on the façade

Carving details

Detail of the façade

Inside the cathedral

Inside there is plenty to be seen in addition to that original statue of St Martin and the beggar. The most famous by far is the city’s most precious relic, the Volto Santo di Lucca or Holy Face of Lucca. This cedar-wood crucifix and image of Jesus is housed in a small shrine or tempietto, the work of Matteo Civitali (who carved San Michele’s Madonna and many other works in the city’s churches).

The Volto Santo

It is said by legend to have been carved by Nicodemus, who according to St. John’s Gospel helped in preparing Christ’s body for burial. The legend explains that the hand of God took over from Nicodemus and carved the face. The crucifix was carried on a crewless ship to Luni, a Tuscan port, and thence to Lucca on a driverless cart. It was placed in the church of San Frediano, on the north side of the city, but the next morning had disappeared. A search led to its discovery in the garden of San Martino, which was interpreted as a hint from God, so the crucifix was given a permanent home here.

The Volto Santo

This is however just a legend, as the crucifix has been dated to the 13th century, but it is nevertheless a very precious object and the focus of worship in the city. Once a year its arrival here is celebrated in a torch-lit procession, the Luminaria di Santa Croce, following the route from San Frediano to San Martino; in the past the crucifix itself was paraded in a bejewelled robe, but is now considered too delicate so only the robe is carried while the Volto Santo remains in the cathedral.

There are lots of other legends about the Volto Santo. Our guidebook recounts the tale of the silver slipper. A poor minstrel came to Lucca and wanted to offer something precious to the relic, but had nothing. So he gave the only gift he had and played beautifully on his lute. Jesus rewarded him by dropping a silver slipper for him to pick up, which he did, but the authorities arrested him for theft, not believing his story, and condemned him to death. The minstrel prayed desperately for help and Jesus sent an angel who interceded for him and corroborated his story, with the result that his life was spared. The guidebook also mentions that the Volto Santo appears in the Divine Comedy. Apparently Dante was famous for populating his stories with people he didn’t like. One of these was Martin Bottario from Lucca, who Dante thought had once over-charged him. Bottario appears in the book in the fifth pit of hell, where sinners are immersed in boiling pitch and tortured by devils. The devils tell him there is no point in praying to the Volto Santo of Lucca because he is already in eternal damnation.

It is pretty difficult to get photos of the relic behind the ornate grille of the tempietto, but I tried!

Nearby is another work by Civitali, a statue of St Sebastian. Another famous artwork in the cathedral is the Last Supper by Tintoretto, a pupil of Titian, painted between 1592-94.

St Sebastian by Civitali, and The Last Supper by Tintoretto

There is also a ‘Madonna Enthroned with Saints’, by Bartolomeo della Porta (known as Fra Bartolomeo), dating from 1509, which depicts St John the Baptist and St Stephen. And another Madonna, with time with Saints Peter, Clement, Paul and Sebastian, by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1479).

‘Madonna Enthroned with Saints’, Fra Bartolomeo, and detail of Ghirlandaio's Madonna

The painted ceiling is stunning, as are many of the stained-glass windows. A saint in one of them appears to me to be holding the city of Lucca.

Ceiling of the Cattedrale di San Martino

Details of ceiling and stained glass

More stained glass

Tucked away in a chapel to the right of the altar is the cathedral’s most famous monument, the marble sarcophagus of Ilaria de Carretto. She was the second wife of Paolo Guinigi, Lord of Lucca from 1400-1430. They married in 1403 when she was 24 years old, but sadly she died in childbirth just two years later. The ornate memorial (her actual tomb is thought to be in the Guinigi family chapel in the cloister of San Francesco) is tribute as much to Guinigi’s desire to show off his status as it is to any affection he felt for her. It was carved by the Sienese artist Jacopo della Quercia and show her lying in the robes of a noblewoman, her little dog at her feet.


The tomb of Ilaria de Carretto, and statue of St Martin

I was also taken by a small marble carving of St Martin on the opposite side of the cathedral. At first I took it to be quite modern, and was surprised by the sign which dates it to the second decade of the 14th century.

Chiesa e Battistero dei SS Giovanni e Reparata

Leaving the cathedral we returned to the church we had passed earlier. As I mentioned above, this was once Lucca’s cathedral but is now deconsecrated and serves as part museum, part concert venue - performances of works by Puccini, Lucca’s most famous son, are staged here every evening. Perhaps because it is no longer a functioning church there is a small fee to pay for entry (the cathedral was the only other place of worship where we found that a ticket was needed).

In the Chiesa e Battistero dei SS Giovanni e Reparata

A church was first built here in the 5th century on an area of Roman settlement, and although the main structure that we see today is 12th century (and the façade from the 16th), the columns that support its impressive roof are nevertheless Roman in origin.

In the Chiesa e Battistero dei SS Giovanni e Reparata

Compared with the cathedral and San Michele there are relatively few works of art of any significance here – the main draw is the access it offers to the Roman and medieval remains beneath.

You descend an iron staircase in the north transept to the archaeological dig below, which exposes five levels of history going back to Roman times. If very interested you can hire an audio guide, but the most significant finds (such as medieval and Roman paving) are labelled, which was enough information for us. There is nothing here really impressive or extensive however – the one large and colourful section of Roman mosaic discovered on this site was removed and is now on display in the museum in the Villa Guinigi.

The archaeological dig

Roman pavement (1st century AD), and later mosaic

Early Christian mosaic from the 4th or 5th century

Caffe del Duomo

Perhaps because of the drizzle, and the challenge of juggling umbrella and camera, I didn’t take any photos of the façade of this church.

By now it was lunch time so we stopped for a drink and sandwich at the nearby Caffe del Duomo where the service was friendly, the food just what we were looking for, and the freshly squeezed orange refreshing.

Lunch at the Caffe del Duomo

Like us, you are probably in need of a break now, so I’ll continue with the rest of our day’s explorations on a subsequent entry.

Posted by ToonSarah 01:54 Archived in Italy Tagged buildings rain architecture history ruins statue church italy cathedral romans street_photography Comments (11)

Birthday trip to Italy

Lucca day one

View Birthday trip to Italy on ToonSarah's travel map.

View of Lucca from the Torre delle Ore

In the past few years we have developed the rather nice custom of spending our wedding anniversary in Italy, but this year we went to Germany for a change. So when Chris asked where I wanted to go for a birthday break, it had to be Italy. And with several friends having recommended Lucca, that’s where we went.

Our short break in Lucca started the evening before, when we took the train to Gatwick to stay overnight in the airport’s Hilton Hotel. With an early flight it made for a more relaxing start - no need to get up at the crack of dawn and no worries about whether there could be problems with the tube or trains. We had a pleasant meal and beer in the bar and an early night in our comfortable room.


I would like to be able to say that the alarm woke us at 6.30, but the truth is that I had already been awake for some time, as often happens when I know that it is important that I get up promptly!

By seven we were out of the hotel and walking across to the terminal, just a few minutes away. Security was really busy but eventually we were through, and with time to grab a quick coffee and muffin before our gate was called.

We were flying to Pisa with EasyJet and had paid the extra for speedy boarding, allowing us the luxury of two cabin bags! We boarded on time, but the plane was then held at the gate for a while, eventually taking off about 15 minutes late.

We flew out over the south coast, the Isle of Wight to our right. The weather was cold but clear, perfect for taking a few photos as we climbed.

Taking off from Gatwick

Over southern England


The flight went smoothly and the pilot announced that we would be landing at midday, just five minutes late. But as we approached the coast near Pisa the plane banked and turned back out to sea, and we were kept waiting to land for some time, finally getting on the ground nearly half an hour late. But we weren’t in a hurry, and the brief but great views of the city as we came in brought back happy memories of a visit here some years ago.

Pisa from the air

Arriving over Pisa

Pisa from the air

With no bags to collect we were soon on our way to the shuttle that takes you to the central station. I was surprised to notice that this ran on a cable, like a horizontal cable car! At Pisa Centrale there was just enough time to buy our tickets for the journey to Lucca, and a cold drink from a vending machine, before boarding the train. The ride took about half an hour and I enjoyed looking out at the Italian countryside, as I always do, despite the rather dull weather.

Arriving in Lucca we followed the path from the station to the city wall opposite. The path dog-legged through one of the eleven massive bastions (in Italian, a baluardo) that punctuate the wall, climbed some not very steep steps (although with bigger bags this would not be a recommended route!) and led down the other side, emerging near the duomo.

City wall and bastion

We had to pick up the keys to our studio apartment in Via Santa Croce from a B&B in a different street just around the corner, Via del Gallo, which we found after getting slightly lost in the old city’s maze of streets. We had told the owner that we would arrive some time after two; it was 2.15 and the door was locked, with a sign to say she would be back soon, so we stood and waited. After ten minutes however I called the owner and she sent someone to welcome us, at last, and bring us to the apartment. Called ‘Only One Suite’ (I have no idea why, as there are two studios here!), our room was a good size, decorated in a quirky but appealing style, and just what we needed for a few days stay.


Our studio room in Via Santa Croce


We decided to leave unpacking until later, so left our bags and headed out again in search of our first gelato of the trip. The skies might be grey, but it was much warmer than at home and anyway, in Italy I have a personal rule that I must eat gelato every day!

Our route took us past and around the large church of San Michele in Foro, exploring which we left until later. I did however pause to take a photo of a carving on the rear of the apse which caught my eye. I could swear this depicts a lion eating a crocodile and I can’t think of any biblical story or saint to which this could relate. Maybe the stone mason simply liked lions – or disliked crocodiles!

Detail of carving on San Michele in Foro

A few other things caught my eye too – the ornate carvings on an old pharmacy on the corner of the Piazza San Michele, a bizarre plastic chicken suspended from the awning of a nearby café, a pretty pot of cyclamens on the stone steps of an old house.

Façade of an old pharmacy

Lucca details

I had read a recommendation for a particular gelateria, Gelateria De' Coltelli in Via S. Paolino, and it was worth hunting out. A review displayed inside claimed they serve the best gelato in Italy, which may be a rather exaggerated claim (and who has eaten at every gelateria in the country anyway?!) but it was certainly excellent. The flavours are all natural and we liked all that we sampled - ginger, pistachio and pear for me, chocolate, strawberry and pink grapefruit for Chris. This is really a take-away place, but we perched on a couple of stools at a small counter inside to enjoy our ices.


In the Gelateria De' Coltelli

Gelateria De' Coltelli

San Michele in Foro

After the gelati we returned to the church we had passed earlier and went in to explore - with good timing, as a few drops of rain were falling. San Michele in Foro is sometimes mistaken for Lucca’s cathedral, it is so large and imposing. As the name suggests, it stands on the site of the former Roman Forum. There has been a church here since 795, but this building was commissioned by Pope Alexander II in 1070.

San Michele in Foro

The limestone façade is a series of elaborate tiers reaching high above the church. Seen from behind it is in a weird way a little reminiscent of a Wild West town with its false-fronted buildings, as it reaches way above the height of the main part of the church. This is not a deliberate design decision but a result of running out of money having spent so much on this façade – not enough was left for the rest of the building!

Look carefully at the façade – every column is more or less different. It is the work primarily of Guidetto da Como, a 13th century architect from Lombardy, with some sculptures attributed to Diotisalvi. The latter was the original architect of the Baptistery in Pisa, which was later completed by Nicola and Giovanni Pisano.

The statue at the top is about four metres high and is of the Archangel Michael defeating the dragon. According to legend the Archangel wears an emerald ring, which sparkles when it catches the sunlight. No one has ever found the emerald, although some claim to have seen the green sparkle! certainly though there was to be no sparkle in today's dull weather.

Above the main door

Carving detail - is this a mermaid with two tails?

We went inside – there was no charge to enter and no signs restricting photography, although as always I avoided using flash (not only does it spoil the atmosphere for others visiting a church, whether as sightseers or worshippers, but I also believe it makes for less effective images).

Inside San Michele

The interior is not as ornate as the façade but has plenty worth seeing. The most notable artwork is this 1483 painting by Filippino Lippi depicting the saints Roch, Sebastian, Jerome and Helena. Saint Roch famously survived the plague and is always shown with a nasty sore – he is on the left here lifting his robe to show it off!


Painting by Filippino Lippi

Near the entrance, on your right as you go in, is a statue of the Madonna which looks very like the one on the exterior of the church. This one inside is apparently the original, brought inside to protect it and a replica put outside – although the one outside now looks just as worn as the one inside to me. It was sculpted in 1480 by Lucca’s second most famous son (after Puccini), Matteo Civitali, to celebrate the end of the 1476 plague. We were to see more of Civitali’s work over the next few days. He was born here in Lucca and became a leading figure in the early Renaissance.

Civitali Madonna -
replica outside on the left, and original inside on the right

A comprehensive description of the church on a notice inside (in both Italian and English) was helpful in pointing us towards some of the other major artworks. It told me that the painted cross above the altar dates from the 12th century, and the fresco of the Enthroned Madonna and Child (below) is part of the fresco decorations that once covered the church walls – it was painted in the mid 14th century but modified at the beginning of the 15th when the elaborate throne was added.

Fresco, and bell pull

In the large square outside is a statue of Francesco Burlamacchi, a 16th century politician from Lucca who is credited with having first conceived of a federation of Italian states. He was elected gonfalonier of the Republic of Lucca in 1533, the highest office of the state, and had ambitions to break the domination of the Medici in Tuscany . The intention was that Lucchese troops would attack the Duchy of Tuscany at the same time as anti-Medeci rebellions erupted in Florence, Pisa and elsewhere. But Duke Cosimo got wind of the plot, and then the emperor Charles V intervened in the dispute and asked that Burlamacchi be handed over to him to be executed for treason, having disturbed the peace among the Italian states. He was beheaded in Milan at dawn on 14 February 1547.

Statue of Francesco Burlamacchi

After visiting San Michele we walked back the short distance to the apartment to unpack and settle in properly.


In the evening we returned to the Piazza San Michele to have an apertivo in one of the bars on the square. The rain had come to nothing in the end, and it was just warm enough to sit outside and watch the passing passagiata.

For dinner we went to a restaurant very near our apartment which I seen recommended in several places, All'Olivo in the tiny Piazza San Quirico. We didn’t have a reservation but although the restaurant was full inside there was room on the terrace which was covered and heated with braziers. The meal that followed was really excellent, although it has to be said that the service was a bit patchy - too brisk at first and then really slow to bring desserts (we’d asked for a break of ten minutes, we got 30!)

To start with we were brought some nice bread and a small amuse bouche of a warm chunky tomato sauce with mozzarella and crusty bread. It was perhaps a bit of duplication that Chris had ordered the buffalo mozzarella starter but he enjoyed both nevertheless, while my starter of baby squid with white beans was delicious.

Squid and beans starter

We both ate primi piata for our main course - little ravioli with ragu Bolgnese for Chris, and gnocchi with a tomato sauce and small pieces of sausage for me. After the aforementioned break we were ready for dessert - Chris chose the ice cream with strawberries and Grand Marnier, which he pronounced very good, while I really enjoyed my citrus fruit semifreddo with orange sauce - so tasty!

Desserts at All'Olivo


We had a short stroll through a few of the back streets to let our large meals settle a bit, before walking back past San Michele to the apartment. We’d had a great start to our few days here in Lucca.

Posted by ToonSarah 02:19 Archived in Italy Tagged food restaurant hotel church flight italy details ice_cream street_photography Comments (15)

Anniversary in Leipzig

Leipzig days four and five

View An anniversary trip to Germany on ToonSarah's travel map.

Thomaskirche in sunshine

Our last full day in Leipzig, and also our wedding anniversary - 37 years and counting! So our day started with the exchange of cards before the usual excellent Fregehaus breakfast.

It was bright and sunny as we left the hotel, the air fresh but the promise of another hot day to come. We started off across the Marktplatz where for the first time I spotted a plaque set into the cobbles. It describes Leipzig’s important location on the intersection of two trade routes – the Via Regia (the most important link between eastern and western Europe) and the north-south Via Imperii. The market was established here at the point where the two routes cross.

Plaque on the ground in Markt

We passed the Thomaskirche, stopping for photos as the light was so good (even though we already had some from several previous occasions). We realised that someone had given Bach a flower to hold (we hadn't spotted it on previous visits!), so that meant more photos were necessary!

Bach with a flower

Neues Rathaus

For the first time we then walked beyond the church, along Burgstrasse in the direction of the Neues Rathaus, as its tower had appeared so striking in the views from the City Hochhaus yesterday, passing some interesting old buildings along the way, and some newer ones – some so new they were still under construction!

In Burgstrasse
Old water pump (one of several we spotted in Leipzig) and statue on a Bierhof

Wedding car at the Neues Rathaus

This ‘New Town Hall’ was built at the start of the 20th century to replace the old one in Markt, to cater to the needs of a growing city. One of the first things we saw as we arrived was the entrance on the west side reserved for wedding parties, with a portal decorated with little cherubs and a wedding car, an old Lada, just drawing up. I didn’t get a photo of the bride and groom (an older couple) but I did capture the beautiful flowers on their car - very apt on our own anniversary.

Little cherub above the entrance for wedding parties

The Neues Rathaus was designed by the architect and city building director, Hugo Licht, who also designed the Runde Ecke and the Priests’ House at the Nicholaikirche, both of which we had seen on our first full day in Leipzig. It was built on the site of the Pleissenburg, a 13th century castle which had in the past been used as a barracks, an administrative centre and an art academy. A condition of the award of the site for the new town hall was that the old Pleissenburg tower be incorporated into its design. Thus Leipzig’s Neues Rathaus has the tallest city hall tower in Germany, at nearly 115 metres.

The Neues Rathaus

I unearthed two very different interesting facts about this building. One, that it appeared as a backdrop in Alfred Hitchcock’s film ‘Torn Curtain’. And two, less pleasantly, that it became notorious as the site of numerous mass suicides during the last days of the Third Reich.

The architectural details here really appealed to me – lots of stone carvings which seem to have been heavily influenced by earlier medieval designs (perhaps from the lost Pleissenburg?) On the city’s website I found the following:

‘The facade is adorned with a variety of sculptural details - sculptures and reliefs thematically related to the city and its inhabitants. In addition to the lion as a heraldic animal, which is rich in variety, you will find here the city goddess Lipsia and allegorical figures for book printing, justice, science, music and crafts as well as countless animal and mythical creatures.’



Carving details

We were fascinated by the fountain, sadly without water, on the east side near the Rathaus Keller. The sign on its rear side said only that it was to commemorate the unveiling of the new town hall in October 1905, making no mention of the subject matter. My initial guess was that this was the Pied Piper of Hamelin, but on closer inspection I could find no rats among the various animals depicted, nor could I guess at a connection between that city and Leipzig.

Rathausbrunnen, and its column

Rathausbrunnen details

Later research shed only a little more light on this Rathausbrunnen. Many of the figures on the lower circle, which (when the fountain is functioning) spout water, are taken from fairy tales. The upper group was described as ‘consisting of a flute player with two boys playing at his feet’, which it clearly does. My source, the Leipzig Lexicon, goes on to say that because of this, the fountain is sometimes called the Rattenfängerbrunnen or ‘Pied Piper fountain’ after the fairy tale ‘The Pied Piper of Hameln’ – so I was not so far wide of the mark!


Leaving the Neues Rathaus we took a tram to Connewitz, an inner city suburb to the south of the old town which I had read was a good place to find street art and which also had a pleasant café. We started our visit in the latter, the Café Südbrause, where I had a lovely yoghurt shake with cranberries and blackcurrants, and Chris an apple juice, sitting in the pleasantly shady garden.

At the Café Südbrause, Connewitz

We then strolled round some of the nearby streets, coming across some street art but not a huge amount. But the architecture was also interesting - I liked this old school building, for instance.

Former school, and old apartment block, Connewitz




Street art in Connewitz

As in many other places where a previously rather neglected area has recently been ‘discovered’ by young professionals, artists and the middle classes, those who have lived in Connewitz for many years are not necessarily pleased about what the Germans call Gentrifizierung – gentrification.

Protest against gentrification in Connewitz

Völkerschlachtdenkmal - Monument to the Battle of the Nations

From Connewitz we took a bus to the Völkerschlachtdenkmal, a huge and rather bombastic monument to the fallen of the Battle of Leipzig (also known as the Battle of the Nations) in October 1813. This battle resulted in one of Napoleon’s final defeats, against a coalition of armies from Russia, Prussia, Austria and Sweden. Around 600,000 soldiers from more than twenty countries took part in the battle and 100,000 of these were killed or wounded. Furthermore a typhus epidemic broke out in Leipzig, killing 10% of the city’s population. Napoleon’s defeat saw him retreating to France, and when the Allies invaded the following year he was forced to abdicate and was exiled to Elba in May 1814.

Monument to the Battle of the Nations

The monument was built to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the battle. There had been talk of a memorial to the battle as early as 1814, just one year after it was fought, but for years it was just that, talk. A foundation stone was eventually laid in 1863, to mark the fiftieth anniversary, but still no monument was built. Eventually, in 1894, things started to happen. An association was formed, donations sought, and in 1898 construction finally began, to a design by Bruno Schmitz. The resulting monument stands 91 metres high and is one of the tallest monuments in Europe. It was inaugurated on 18 October 1913 in the presence of emperor Wilhelm II.

On the front of the monument is a huge figure of the archangel Michael, portrayed as a god of war. Other carvings are similarly war-like – an eagle in flight, a charging horse.

The Archangel Michael


Carving details

You enter beneath the feet of the archangel and start your visit with a look at the massive foundations which support this structure.

The foundations
[They are illuminated in this deep blue light - it's not a fault in my camera!]

It is usually possible to access the lower of the two outside viewing platforms by a series of lifts, but notices warned us that at the moment the lower lift wasn’t working so after viewing the foundations we had to climbed about 90 stairs to the crypt – a small challenge to my still bruised ribs but manageable.

The Crypt

Stained glass in the crypt

The Crypt is decorated with eight large statues representing fallen soldiers, either side of which stand the Totenwächter (Guardians of the Dead).

Guardians of the Dead

Small side rooms here display various artefacts, including Napoleon’s desk.

Napoleon's desk, and more stained glass

On the upper storey, known as the Ruhmeshalle or Hall of Fame, are four 9.5-metre statues symbolising the idealised German qualities of faith, fertility, bravery and sacrifice.

Looking up at the Hall of Fame - Sacrifice (I think), and Fertility

Looking up at the dome

The lift, which from this point on was operational, bypasses the Hall of Fame to whisk you to an inner viewing gallery from where you can look down on the Crypt and on those figures. The lift then took us further still to an outer gallery with great views towards the city and of the surrounding countryside. You can, if you prefer, climb stairs all the way to this point rather than use the lift – more about those stairs later!

Panoramic view from the Monument to the Battle of the Nations

View towards town

Towards the cemetery

After we had walked completely around the gallery Chris decided to go on up to the very top, but as that involves a long climb on steep and narrow stairs I decided that my ribs would be better served by passing on that. While I waited for him I circumnavigated the gallery a second time, looking not out and down but up, at the immense stone figures looming above me, the Wächterfiguren (Watching Figures, i.e. guards).


The Wächterfiguren

Meanwhile Chris was up above me also taking photos so that I could see what I had missed out on. The view was of course much the same, albeit from somewhat higher up, but he found it interesting to see the small cupola which tops the monument. He has given permission for me to share these photos here.

Cupola on the top - by Chris

View from the top - by Chris

Inside the dome, just below the very top - by Chris

When Chris returned we took the lift back down to the Crypt level, from where I felt able to tackle what looked like a short climb to the Hall of Fame, to get closer to the huge statues there. We started up the spiral staircase (one way only - another flight leads down) at the foot of which we had seen a sign with a cross-section of the monument showing the Hall of Fame as the next level. But in thinking that this meant that these stairs would take us there we were mistaken. The stairs went on and on, my ribs started to feel sorer, retreat (because of the one-way system) was impossible. Eventually we arrived at the top - only to find ourselves, unsurprisingly given the length of the climb, back up at the inner gallery, looking down on the very figures we had hoped to reach!

So we gave up, took the lift back down, and started towards the stairs back down to foundation level. Near the start of these we spotted an exit door to a lower outside platform, went to investigate, and there we saw what had previously not been at all obvious – the steps to the Hall of Fame went up the outside of the monument! So we got our close-up look at those massive statues after all!

In the Hall of Fame

Chris's hand on a toe of one of the statues in the Hall of Fame - to show the scale!

After all these exertions we decided to skip the museum, which we knew mainly focuses on the story of the battle - a story I could read later online, and which Chris, having little interest in history, was happy to know little about.

The sun had moved round during our visit, so on leaving we were able to get some better shots of the entirety of the monument. Its shape reminded us forcibly of the temples of Tikal, so much so that we speculated whether these had been an influence for the architect, although I have read that the main influences were Egyptian and Assyrian, especially the pyramids of the former.

The monument in sunlight

We caught a tram back to Augustplatz, which took us past the Russische Gedächtniskirche - the Russian Memorial Church. This was built in 1913 to commemorate the approximately 130,000 Russians who fought against Napoleon in the Battle of the Nations in 1813. I snatched a quick photo as we passed.

Our tram arriving, and the Russische Gedächtniskirche

On the tram

When we got off the tram we walked through to Markt, where we stopped for Kaffee und Kuchen, that wonderful German institution, at one of the cafés around the square - Chris got his favourite plum cake, Pflaumenkuchen, and I had an excellent concoction of chocolate sponge, cream and apricots.

Pflaumenkuchen, and chocolate sponge with apricots

Town Hall museum

Our final stop of the day was a short visit to the museum in the Town Hall, mainly because it would give us an opportunity to see inside a building whose external glories were hidden from us. We expected to have to pay, but the lady in the shop said it was ‘free today’ (she was unable or unwilling to explain why but I have since learned that there is free admission on the first Wednesday of every month – normally it costs 6€).

Town Hall detail

I was pleased to be told that photography is allowed here as long as no flash is used. The exhibits are on two floors. On the first they cover the period from medieval times until the Battle of Leipzig. At the heart of this floor is the large banqueting hall, with impressive stone fireplaces and portraits of all the city’s rulers around the wall. In the centre is an interesting and very detailed model of medieval Leipzig, in which we were able to pick out the roof of our hotel, the 16th century Fregehaus.

Banqueting hall and fireplace

Model of medieval Leipzig
[I have labelled some of the places of interest, and our hotel!

Also displayed in this room is a hand-written copy of the Sachsenspiegel, the 13th-century law-book and custumal of the Holy Roman Empire, one of the earliest texts in German. Although this isn’t one of the four surviving illuminated copies of this (these are in Heidelberg, Oldenburg, Dresden, and Wolfenbüttel) it is still pretty awesome to look at a book this old!


Side rooms display religious statues and altar pieces from various churches, including the Johanniskirche, St John’s Church, which was destroyed by an air raid in December 1943, and where Bach was originally buried. It was following this air raid that his bones were moved to the Thomaskirche, as I described in a previous entry: Some of Leipzig’s famous sons

Altar piece from c. 1500
[The central part depicts the Virgin Mary, with St Nicholas and St Barbara -
a sign explains that this would only have been opened on feast days

Romanesque church door, c 1200
A sign explains that the iron mountings symbolise heaven (tree of life) and hell (hellhound, devil and fire)

There are also Roman artefacts and some interesting objects and texts from the period of Martin Luther, when Leipzig was an important centre for publishing. Luther is known to have visited the town seven times.

Published sermon of Martin Luther

Somewhat weary (I with my aching arm and ribs, Chris with a distinct lack of interest in history!), we decided not to bother with the second floor, which covers more recent periods, but instead headed back to the hotel to rest and freshen up before our anniversary evening out.

Weinstock Leipzig

Having read consistently good reviews of this restaurant we had reserved a table when passing yesterday for this evening’s anniversary dinner. Before going to the restaurant we stopped off at Bellini’s, the bar where we had enjoyed our first beer on arriving in Leipzig a few days ago, for pre-dinner drinks. I had a pink gin with fresh strawberries and Chris a vodka tonic.

Pre-dinner anniversary drinks at Bellini's

We then walked across to the restaurant on the north side of the Marktplatz and were shown to a table just inside, with a view of the square.

In the Weinstock Leipzig

The menu here is what I guess you would describe as ‘modern German’, with some influences from elsewhere in Europe. We both enjoyed everything we ate - the complementary potato Schnitzel amuse-bouche; my salmon tartare with pumpernickel bread and scrambled egg to start, and Chris’s Parmesan soup; his Butterschnitzel with potato salad, my perch on a bed of spinach with lobster sauce; and the warm chocolate fondant with cherries which we both chose as dessert. I drank a very good dry Riesling and Chris a red wine from the Palatinate region, and we finished the meal with our newly discovered favourite, a Radeberg Bitter each.

My dinner at the Weinstock

We then had a little stroll around the market square before heading back to the hotel - tired, very full, and very satisfied with our last evening in Leipzig.

Postscript - homeward bound

Building in Markt

We made the most of our last Fregehaus breakfast the next morning, enjoying as always the selection of cheeses and meats with the excellent selection of rolls, and today with the addition of juicy fresh figs to accompany some sharp goats cheese.

We had an hour or so to kill before leaving and Chris wanted to buy a slice of his favourite plum cake to take home. We thought the market might be in operation (I had read that these take place on Tuesdays and Thursdays) but the Marktplatz was empty, so we walked past the Nicholaikirche one final time to a shop we had previously spotted near the Augustplatz, Lukas. We bought a couple of slices to go, and retraced our steps, taking a few last photos as we went.

We checked out of the hotel and caught the S-bahn from Markt to the airport, arriving in plenty of time for our flight. The plane (a Bombadier) was so small that our larger cabin bags were taken from us as we boarded to be put in the hold, to be returned to us on landing.

Bombadier at Leipzig-Halle Airport


Taking off from Leipzig-Halle Airport


Above Frankfurt

The short hop to Frankfurt went smoothly, and there we had time to grab something to eat - Frankfurters (appropriately!) with potato salad, my favourite German ‘fast food’. I also spotted a shop with an amusing sign - Jesus seems to have branched out from his traditional role and is now selling watches to make ends meet!

Shop at Frankfurt Airport

The in-bound flight was a little late landing, so we had a delay of about 15 minutes before boarding and were similarly late in taking off. Surprisingly for a short economy flight these days, we were served complementary food (not that we were really hungry) and drink. I accepted a cheese sandwich and enjoyed a beer with it. I amused myself during the flight with taking photos of some impressive cloud formations.



Clouds over Germany

Flying in over London City Airport

Soon we were landing at Heathrow and, with no bags to collect and no queues at the e-passport gates, were quickly on our way home by Tube. Another, short, holiday was over.

Posted by ToonSarah 07:01 Archived in Germany Tagged churches food architecture restaurant monument history flight city museum street_art street_photography war_and_peace Comments (14)

Different perspectives on the city

Leipzig day three

View An anniversary trip to Germany on ToonSarah's travel map.

Market day

Buildings in Markt

On Tuesdays there is a farmers’ market in the Marktplatz, so after another leisurely breakfast we strolled along to check out the stalls. All the produce looked very fresh and delicious, but photo ops were relatively sparse.


A sausage stall

Market day

Pasta stall, and honey stall


One plus point was that the buildings around the square were beautifully lit by the morning sun.

Buildings in Markt

Die Unzeitgemäßen Zeitgenossen

We walked along Grimmaische Strasse, stopping to take a few photos as we went. Some of our subjects duplicated yesterday’s efforts, as today the sun was out and everything looked brighter and better defined.


Details of buildings on and around Grimmaische Strasse

We managed, for instance, to get much better photos of the monument we had previously taken as being to the 1989 Monday Demonstrations. We were wrong! This is known as Die Unzeitgemäßen Zeitgenossen, the Untimely (or Outmoded) Contemporaries, and dates from just before that period, having been created by Bernd Göbel in the period from 1986 to 1989.



Die Unzeitgemäßen Zeitgenossen

The figures depicted are a pedagogue, a diagnostician, a rationalist, a city sculptor, and an art theorist. Some comments online do suggest though that this is a commentary on the GDR period, including one which said that Göbel gave the sculpture to Leipzig in 1990 as a gift to symbolize ‘the people that have plagued your city’. On the other hand, another description I found read that ‘the Socialist sculpture represents five of the working class of East Germany at the time’. I guess it’s all in the eye of the beholder!


City-Hochhaus and Paulinum


We had decided that this better weather made the Observation Platform of the City-Hochhaus an attractive proposition. This is a 36-storey building, the tallest in Leipzig (by some way, I would imagine), and was built between 1968 and 1972. The architect, Hermann Henselmann, intended it to look like an open book but I confess that was lost on me when I saw it – and on locals too, it seems, as their nickname for it is Weisheitszahn, wisdom tooth! It used to belong to the university but is now owned by Merrill Lynch, its offices rented out to private companies.

We took the lift to the 29th floor, paid the required 3€ and climbed some steps to the outside viewing platform. This is quite small but offers almost 360 degree views over the city and beyond. Signs on the parapets helped us to pick out many landmarks - the zoo, the Hauptbahnhof (Central Station), Nicholaikirche and Thomaskirche, new and old town halls, the Völkerschlachtdenkmal, football stadium (Red Bull Arena) and more.

View towards the southwest from the City-Hochhaus

Neues Rathaus and Thomaskirche from the City-Hochhaus

Our hotel from the City-Hochhaus
[It's the yellow building with the steep roof and dormer windows]

Völkerschlachtdenkmal in the mist
[and Russische Gedächtniskirche visible in the foreground

There is a small café up here but that was closed, although we could use its seating to take a break while admiring the view.


Our tram

Back at ground level we headed for the tram stops in the centre of Augustplatz. Checking the maps by the stops and information on the ticket machines we were able to plan a route to Eisenbahnstrasse. Chris had read in the Lufthansa magazine, on our way here, that this was an interesting up-and-coming area and we were keen to see something of Leipzig beyond the old town. So we took the tram (number 4] and then a bus to Herman Liebmann - Eisenbahnstrasse where we started to look around.

Not our tram!
Check out that slogan! Do you think the company puzzle over why so few English speakers are tempted to take their tours?

But the ice cream parlour recommended in the article, Molekühl, had closed down, and the streets were lined with the sort of businesses you see all over London, so not really any sort of novelty for us - a kebab shop, a couple of food shops, a couple more selling cheap clothes.

There was relatively little street art too, compared with what I had expected, although we unearthed a few photogenic spots.





On and around Eisenbahnstrasse

The Baumvollspinerei

We decided not to hang around to explore further afield, and instead got a tram to the Hauptbahnhof where we changed to the S-barn bound for Plagwitz. It was a pleasant ride past lots of summer cottages with their allotment-style gardens and old industrial buildings - some crumbling, others restored and re-purposed.

View from the train on the way to the Baumvollspinerei

Once we alighted at Plagwitz it was a short walk to our well-signposted destination, the Baumvollspinerei.

Sign to the Baumvollspinerei

Graffiti on the way to the Baumvollspinerei

This is an old cotton mill that has been taken over by small artist studios, galleries etc. Its website explains:

‘More than 125 years ago, Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei Aktiengesellschaft bought a plot of around 10 hectares on the western outskirts of Leipzig. By 1907, it had become the biggest cotton-spinning mill in continental Europe. This fascinating factory town, including workers’ homes, allotment gardens as well as the factory kindergarten, has survived intact to this day.’

It seems this was a model factory of its day, with its own fire brigade, public baths, a kindergarten, allotments, medical care for the workers and social activities such as a choir and music group. But working conditions were tough: ‘In 1887, 318 workers, working a maximum 77-hour week, processed a total of 6,200 bales of cotton into over 1 million kilos of thread. Only twenty years later, 20,000 bales of cotton were processed into 5 million kilos of thread by 1,600 workers working a ten-hour day.’

Baumvollspinerei chimneys

The mill was still operational at the time of Reunification in 1989. Again, from the website:

‘In 1989, there were still about 1,650 people working in the Spinnerei. Production continued throughout the first years after the Wall fell and Germany was reunified. Production of thread came to an end in the beginning of 1993, causing the business to be liquidated and workers laid off. In August 1993, the Spinnerei was sold to a West German buyer by the Treuhand (the trust responsible for the GDR’s formerly nationally-owned companies). Until 2000, the business produced cord for car tires; when production finally ceased, it employed about 40 people. From the early 1990s onwards, a completely new phase in the use of the site began … The empty rooms were used for alternative projects – a summer academy was opened, the first few artists set up studios, and architecture firms, workshops and exhibition rooms gradually moved in ... Clotho, goddess of fate, had spun a new thread of life for the place that was once the largest spinning works in mainland Europe, and whose history, after 125 years, has apparently not yet come to an end.’

As we arrived at the complex we spotted a shady Biergarten to one side - a welcome sight, as it was by now quite some time since breakfast. It was also a hot day, and sightseeing is thirsty work, so I was happy to see home-made ginger lemonade on the menu, which proved to be as delicious and refreshing as I hoped it would be.

After our break we went into the mill complex. It was interesting to wander round the old buildings which, despite (or perhaps because of) their occupation by artists, still had an air of disuse and decay which was rather photogenic. I was struck by the number of old clocks - presumably as a mill time-keeping had been important. Less so nowadays however - each was showing a different time!

Old clocks at the Baumvollspinerei

At the Baumvollspinerei

Stairwell in one of the buildings

Disappointingly however, none of the galleries was open to visitors - a couple were rehanging, others only open in the second half of the week (Wednesday or Thursday through to Sunday). And the people we saw here, some of whom at least I assumed were artists or craftspeople, seemed to be spending their time sitting around chatting to each other rather than creating art and welcoming visitors to their studios, as we had expected.

Relaxing at the Baumvollspinerei

So after an hour or so taking photos we headed back to the city centre, this time by tram (number 14).

The Red Bull Arena (football stadium) from the tram

By the tram stop in Leipzig -
the Evangelical Reformed Church, reflection and clock

By now we were hungry (it was mid afternoon) so we stopped off at the Milchbar Pinguin, almost opposite our hotel, where I had an ice cream sundae with caramel sauce and Chris a coffee with Apfelstrudel. Both hit the spot!

We wandered around some back streets and skirted the market (which was still going on, although some stall holders were packing up) and headed back to the hotel to relax a while.

The Johann S

Beer at the Coffe Baum

I had read good reviews of this restaurant next to the Thomaskirche so we decided to give it a try. On the way there we stopped off at the Coffe Baum for a beer and enjoyed people-watching and listening to the sound of the fountain.

It was a mild evening so like everyone else at the restaurant we decided to sit outside. I loved my salmon starter, as did Chris his carpaccio, but while he also really enjoyed his Wiener Schnitzel, my Klopse (meatballs) in a caper sauce were disappointing - the meatballs themselves far too salty and the white sauce rather heavy and thin on the promised capers. Still, the potatoes were very good and the Schwarzbier I drank also good.

The Johann S at night, and my Klopse

After dinner we strolled back past the church, taking a few photos as we went, and across Markt back to the hotel.

Thomaskirche at night

Posted by ToonSarah 07:13 Archived in Germany Tagged art food architecture restaurant history views city sculpture street_art Comments (4)

Some of Leipzig’s famous sons

Leipzig, day two, continued

View An anniversary trip to Germany on ToonSarah's travel map.


In the Augustusplatz, Leipzig

Leaving the NIcholaikirche we walked along what seems to be the old town’s main shopping street, Grimmaische Strasse, to the Augustusplatz. Here we found plenty to keep our cameras occupied! Firstly, as we arrived at the end of Grimmaische Strasse there was an interesting monument to the demonstrations of 1989, although we found it hard to get decent photos of this.

The Augustusplatz is the largest square in Leipzig, and one of the largest in Europe. It was also once considered one of the most beautiful, but most of the buildings surrounding it were destroyed in WW2 and it is now something of a hotchpotch, albeit with some attractive buildings and features. It has seen many name changes over the years. It started life in 1785 as the Platz vor dem Grimmaischen Thor but was renamed Augustusplatz in 1839 after Frederick Augustus, the first king of Saxony. In 1928 the city government renamed it Karl-Marx-Platz, although this name proved unpopular and was largely ignored. In 1933 the Nazis renamed it Augustusplatz, then in 1953 it became Karl-Marx-Platz again, and finally in 1990 (on the day of German reunification) it again returned to Augustusplatz.

The 1960s-built opera house on the north side of the square was, like the Town Hall, undergoing some restoration work, but giant ducks installed in the fountain pool in front of it celebrated 325 years of opera in Leipzig.


In front of the Opera House

Some of the benches around the square caught my eye, each marking the distance to another city (Leipzig’s twins, I concluded – and rightly so, it would seem from this list: https://english.leipzig.de/services-and-administration/international/twin-cities/)

Bench in the Augustusplatz

Dedication on the tree

The trees around the square are sponsored, most in memory of a loved family member, as you see in many places (including our own local park in Ealing).

One though stood out - it had been sponsored by fans of Michael Jackson, presumably after his death in 2009, and was marked with candles, flowers and cards to mark what would have been his 60th birthday on 29 August this year.

Tributes to Michael Jackson

On the south side of Augustusplatz is an impressive fountain, the Mendebrunnen, dating from 1886 – a rare remnant from the square’s past.

The Mendebrunnen





Mendebrunnen details

And on the west side we couldn’t fail to notice what looked like a very striking modern church. I was surprised to see this, as I hadn’t read in my planning research of a modern church in the city. When we went to investigate all became clear. This is one of the main buildings of the university, the Paulinum, and stands on the site of the former university church, dedicated to St Paul, the Paulinerkircher.

The Paulinum, and a model of the Paulinerkirche

This formerly Dominican monastery church was blown up under orders from the GDR government, dynamited to make way for the redevelopment of the university, eventually carried out between 1973 and 1978. Protestors against the blasting operation were arrested. However enough warning was given for a number of artefacts to be saved - ancient tombstones, statues of saints, fragments of stained glass and frescoes from the cloister. These are all now displayed inside this university building and anyone can go in to view them, as we did.

Tombstone rescued from the Paulinerkirche

Tombstone rescued from the Paulinerkirche
A rather sad sign explains that this is the tombstone of the five children of Tobias Möbius, three daughters and two sons, all of whom died between 1654 and 1660. Four died while still babies; only Maria Elizabeth, seen on the right, lived to the age of just four, although she is depicted here more like a young adult.

Items rescued from the Paulinerkirche


Frescoes rescued from the Paulinerkirche

Emerging on the far side of the building we found ourselves in a peaceful courtyard surrounded by the university’s lecture theatres, seminar rooms etc. A few students sat on benches here, and in one corner stood a statue of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, the German mathematician and philosopher, who was born in Leipzig on 1 July 1646. We also had good views from here of the City-Hochhaus, and resolved to go up to its observation platform later in our visit, if the promised better weather materialised.

Statue of Leibnitz at the Paulinum

On the statue's plinth

Views of the City-Hochhaus from the Paulinum

The Paulinum

We walked back down Grimmaische Strasse, stopping off at the Mädlerpassage, a rather grand shopping arcade from the early 20th century, to take photos and make a reservation for dinner tonight at the historic Auerbachskeller – more about that later!

On Grimmaische Strasse

Entrance to the Mädlerpassage

Mädlerpassage details

In the Mädlerpassage

By now it was mid-afternoon and we were peckish, having had nothing since that rather good breakfast. So we stopped off at the Café Kandler, near the Thomaskirche, for ‘Kaffe und Kuchen’ - raspberry and yoghurt cake for Chris, apple and poppy seed for me - both delicious!

The Café Kandler

Cakes at the Café Kandler


We then visited the church opposite, where no restrictions on photography were in evidence. The church is even more closely associated with Bach than the Nicholaikirche. He was music director here from 1723 until his death in 1750, and his remains (probably) lie in a tomb in the chancel.

There has been a church on this site since the 12th century but the current building dates from 1496. Martin Luther preached here on Pentecost Sunday in 1539. The tower was added in 1537 and rebuilt in 1702. The Baroque interior was remodelled in the Gothic revival style in the late 19th, so the church is not as Bach would have known it and very little remains from the composer’s time here. Other composers also associated with the Thomaskirche include Mozart, who played the organ here in May 1789, and Wagner, who was baptised here in August 1813 and later studied piano here.

The Thomaskirche

Someone was playing the organ, which added atmosphere to our visit, although this is not the organ Bach would have played, as that one was removed during the 1880s renovations.

We did of course see his grave, though were disconcerted to read on a nearby sign that it is by no means certain that it does hold his bones. A nearby sign explains that when Bach died he was buried in the hospital cemetery of St John’s Church in Leipzig. It goes on:

Bach's tomb, Thomaskirche

‘The renaissance of Bach’s works in the 19th century incites public interest in his remains. In 1894, anatomy professor Wilhelm His is commissioned to identify Bach’s remains out of a number of exhumed bones. His final assessment is as follows: “It is highly probable that the bones of an elder man found in an oaken coffin by St John’s Church on 22nd October 1894 are those of Johann Sebastian Bach.” On 16th July 1900, the bones are entombed in a stone sarcophagus in the crypt of St John’s Church.’

The sign goes on to explain when St John’s was destroyed in the bombing of Leipzig in 1943 it was decided to move Bach’s remains to his former workplace:

‘Master mason Malecki is hired to transfer Johann Sebastian Bach’s remains to St Thomas Church. On 28th July 1949 (the anniversary of Bach’s death), he finds the bones in an open casket of zinc in the crypt at the destroyed St John’s Church and decides upon an immediate transfer. He lifts the open casket on to his handcart and pushes it all the way through the city to St Thomas Church. It is said that he handed over Bach’s remains to Superintendent Heinrich Schumann with a succinct “Hello there, Superintendent, I bring Bach.”’

We visited a small exhibition in a side chapel with old bibles, church service books and musical instruments from Bach’s day.

A church book from 1721, in use during Bach's time here

In the main part of the church I admired the stained glass, and was surprised to note that the structure seems slightly kinked, with the choir area not completely aligned with the aisle.

Does it look kinked to you?

Stained glass in the Thomaskirche

I was especially taken by an epitaph on the wall just to the left of Bach’s grave. This is dedicated to Daniel Leicher, a town councillor who died in 1612. The stone carving on the lower part (in my photo right) depicts the Old Testament story of Leicher's namesake Daniel in the lions' den.

Daniel Leicher epitaph

Back outside we took photos of Bach’s statue and of the church itself.

Statue of Bach at the Thomaskirche

Outside details, Thomaskirche

Above the 'Good Shepherd' door

The Bach museum though was closed, being a Monday, and it was spitting with rain, so we decided to head back to the hotel to rest a little before dinner (my recently broken arm was beginning to object to all the photo-taking!)

Detail on the Commerszbank building, opposite the Thomaskirche


At first I wasn’t sure whether to have a meal at the Auerbachskeller, as I felt its fame might make it too touristy, or that the food might be disappointing if they rested on their laurels and relied too much on the story behind the restaurant / wine bar to drive trade.

That story goes way back. There has been a wine bar on this site since the 15th century – the first mention of it is in 1438. By the 16th century it had been incorporated into the Auerbachs Hof, a trade fair building complex, which was erected around 1530 at the bidding of Heinrich Stromer (1482–1542), a city councillor, professor of medicine, and rector of Leipzig University. He was popularly known as Doctor Auerbach after his birthplace, the town of Auerbach. The wine bar which he reopened in the basement of his new complex soon adopted his name – the Auerbachskeller.

But the bar is famous not so much for its age as for one famous drinker here. When Goethe was studying at Leipzig University, from 1765 to 1768, he came here often, calling it his favourite wine bar. Here he saw two paintings – one showing the legendary magician and astrologer Johann Georg Faust drinking with students, and the other showing him riding out of the door astride a wine barrel, something he could only have managed to do with the assistance of the Devil. Goethe would already have been familiar with the Faust story (a Faust puppet show was regular entertainment at local street fairs) but he credited the Auerbachskeller with inspiring him to revive the legend and even featured it in the scene ‘Auerbach’s Cellar in Leipzig’, in which Mephistopheles performs a trick, bringing forth wine from a table in which he has drilled holes.

When the medieval Auerbachs Hof was demolished around the turn of the 20th century, the Mädlerpassage was built in its place (1912-1913), again incorporating the Auerbachskeller, albeit rebuilt and expanded. Two sculptures now mark the entrance – one depicting Mephistopheles and Faust, and the other the Bewitched Students from the drinking scene.

Statue of Mephistoles and Faust in the Mädlerpassage

The Bewitched Students

The restaurant website seems keen that you don’t visit just because of the Goethe connection however, despite those prominent statues:

'Welcome to our historic restaurant at the heart of Leipzig's old city. Just like millions of guests before you. Goethe was here, too! Of course! But Auerbachskeller is not primarily famous because Goethe was here, Goethe was here because of an old saying:

“He who travels to the trade markets
of Leipzig without visiting
Auerbachs Yard must hold his peace.
It proves: He has not seen Leipzig.”’

Or in the original German:

“Wer nach Leipzig zur Messe gereist,
Ohne auf Auerbachs Hof zu gehen,
Der schweige still, denn das beweist:
Er hat Leipzig nicht gesehn.”

But what of our visit? Was I right to be cautious about dining here? Not at all!


In the Auerbachskeller

Faust and Mephistoles

When we arrived at the Auerbachskeller it was buzzing, so we were glad we had made that reservation. We were even more glad after our very good meal of tomato soup with mushrooms (which we both chose to start with), perch in a creamy sauce with grapes and Savoy cabbage (me) and mixed meat strips in dark beer sauce (Chris). Talking of dark beer, the Schwarzbier I had with my meal was excellent, while Chris enjoyed another local pils, the Radeberger. And to finish we just had to have Radeberger Bitter again as a digestif!

Tomato soup, and my perch

Beer at the Auerbachskeller

After our meal we had a little stroll. A very good string trio were playing in the Naschmarkt and had gathered quite a crowd, so we stopped to listen for a bit. We rewarded them with a few Euros after I had shot some video - mainly to capture their playing. I apologise for the picture quality – I was forced to take only my compact camera on this trip, as my broken arm couldn’t cope with the weight of my main one!

We walked over to the Nicholaikirchhof as a friend had told me that some of the cobbles were prettily lit up at night, but they were in darkness (the same friend later found out for me that the lights were off due to maintenance – click here) to see what we should have seen.

So we called it a night and headed back to the hotel through the city streets, very pleased with our first full day in Leipzig.

The Nicholaikirche at night

Posted by ToonSarah 07:53 Archived in Germany Tagged churches history statue restaurants city leipzig street_photography Comments (9)

Faces in stone

Leipzig, day two

View An anniversary trip to Germany on ToonSarah's travel map.

Opposite the Thomaskirche

Around six in the morning the one downside of our otherwise lovely hotel became apparent. This is an old building and a working one, with several businesses sharing the pretty courtyard, so from quite an early hour we heard the regular crack and bang of heavy doors opening and shutting. But never mind, we had at least slept well till then in the comfortable bed.

Breakfast room

Breakfast is charged extra at the Fregehaus but was highly recommended in several reviews, so we had decided to treat ourselves. And it lived up to expectations - a great selection of breads, meats, cheeses and various spreads, plus good coffee, fruit juice, muesli and yoghurts, boiled eggs and extras such as olives and tomatoes. All served in an attractive room next to reception.

The weather was still dull, though an improvement was promised for the afternoon, so we decided on an indoor activity for this first morning. Our first thought had been the Museum der Bildenden Künste (fine art museum) but this is closed on a Monday so instead we opted for the 'Runde Ecke' Memorial Museum, housed in the former headquarters of the Stasi in Leipzig.

On the short walk there we realised for the first time something that was to strike us again repeatedly during our stay in Leipzig - the high level of ornamentation on most of the older buildings in general, and the number of carved figures and faces in particular. Wherever you go here you are overlooked by these faces in stone. They became something of a theme underlying our explorations, and will be a constant thread running through my blog entries too.

On the way to the Runde Ecke

Runde Ecke

Here the Stasi, as the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit (Ministry for State Security) were commonly known, had their Leipzig Headquarters, and the building therefore was a focus for the peaceful protests that precipitated the fall of the GDR, known as the Monday Demonstrations.

Woven rug with Stasi symbol, and painting on display at the Runde Ecke

The Monday Demonstrations were peaceful political protests against the government of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) that started here in Leipzig in September 1989. They took place every Monday evening after the weekly Friedensgebet (prayer for peace) in the Nicholaikirche, at first just in the Nicholaikirchhof, and then as they grew in size, spreading to the nearby Karl Marx Platz (today restored to its original name of Augustusplatz). At that time Leipzig was slightly more open to influences from the west than were other GDR cities, because of its major trade fair, the Leipziger Messe, which allowed businessmen and media from West Germany to enter East Germany. One focus for the protests was the people’s demand to be allowed to travel outside the Soviet block.

By 9 October 1989 the gatherings at the Nicholaikirche which had begun with just a few hundred people had swollen to more than 70,000 (out of Leipzig’s total population of 500,000). The protestors marched right past the Runde Ecke. Although the state had mobilised thousands of soldiers and police forces to intervene, no order to do so was given, and the city authorities, with no instructions from East Berlin and taken aback by the size of the crowd, instead ordered their troops to withdraw.

On 16 October 1989, 120,000 demonstrators turned up, with military units again being kept on stand-by but not intervening. A week later the numbers more than doubled to 320,000. This pressure, added to the growing numbers of Monday Demonstrations in other cities, contributed significantly to the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989, and eventually to the end of the GDR regime.

Signs outside the Runde Ecke

The protests continued throughout November and December, piling pressure on to the crumbling regime and its institutions. On 4 December 1989 the protesters entered the Runde Ecke and occupied it, primarily in order to stop the destruction of files. Realising that their time was up and panicking about all the evidence kept in their files, the Stasi had begun to systematically feed the files into shredders. They used special ‘wet shredders’ which turned the shredded paper into a pulp, rendering it completely unreadable. This occupation of the Runde Ecke brought a halt to that process here in Leipzig.

Stasi shredding machine

That night the Bürgerkomitee Leipzig (the 'citizens committee of Leipzig'), was founded, with a mission to safeguard the evidence. This museum is the result of their efforts and is still run by the committee. This gives it a slightly amateurish and decidedly old-fashioned air, but that in a way adds to its appeal, as it feels very genuine and heartfelt in its mission to preserve what remained of Stasi activity and to expose it.

[Incidentally, the rest of this building is now used by the Leipzig branch of the Federal Stasi Records Agency responsible for sorting and archiving the files left behind by the Stasi. Citizens who want to know if the Stasi had kept a file on them can enquire about this here, and if there is one they can gain access to their file and read it.]

Stasi – Macht und Banalität / Stasi – Power and Banality

The permanent exhibition, entitled Stasi – Macht und Banalität (Stasi – Power and Banality), is set out in a series of rooms which otherwise remain much as the Stasi left them, with the original lino and curtains. As you walk through these corridors and former offices, you can experience the building as it was in the days when Stasi officers recruited their informers, wrote and filed their reports on citizens, opened letters arriving from outside the country, planted cameras and other monitoring devices in buildings, and interrogated their prisoners.

Entry to the museum is free, although even if a charge were made it would be well worth visiting. Displays cover various aspects of Stasi activity and their impact on daily life in the GDR. The extensive captions are all in German, but an audio guide (available in several languages) can be hired for 5€. We didn’t bother however, as Chris’s German is sufficient to translate most of the explanations and he was happy to do so.

One of the first rooms you see is a Stasi employee’s office, left almost untouched since the day it was abandoned.

Stasi employee's office

The remaining offices however, all small rooms opening off the one corridor, have been adapted to hold displays on various topics. Some of the sections which caught our attention were on:

The indoctrination of children through school and sports activities and involvement in the Free German Youth movement – the Freie Deutsche Jugend or FDJ

Freie Deutsche Jugend uniform

School poster

Opening of letters (both those written by citizens and those received from the West) - the letters were carefully steamed open using a range of devices, and resealed with special glue which mimicked that used on envelopes. There were separate devices for self-sealing envelopes.

Letter opening device, targeting steam along the glued edge

Old letters

The pressure put on ordinary people to spy on their neighbours as ‘Mitarbeiter’ (collaborators) - everyone was encouraged to play their part in maintaining the system .

Spy equipment such as tiny cameras (including one that was hidden in a false stomach, and another in a briefcase), listening and recording equipment (one disguised as a lady’s handbag), false noses and wigs, etc. Stasi members were trained to disguise themselves, for instance as a builder or an Arab, and were even trained to make their own false beards and hair extensions.

Miniature spy cameras

The ‘collection of smells’ – we didn’t fully understand the purpose of these jars of yellow cloth, other than that dogs were used to sniff out anyone whose smell marked them as a suspect. Returning home and doing a bit of research I found this explanation on the Dark Tourism website:

‘The story of the scent samples is also one of the most intriguing and appalling parts of the Stasi legacy. What they did was this: for interrogation they sat “suspects” on chairs which had been prepared with a yellow cloth secretly placed under the outer upholstery. Interrogation is of course a situation in which anybody is prone to some perspiration. That way they obtained the scent of the “suspects” in case they ever had to track them down again at a later stage using sniffer dogs. For that eventuality the yellow cloths were archived in sealed glass jars. Several of these jars are on display at this exhibition.’

Collecting smells

This seems an unscientific method for the identification of guilt, but one that was regularly relied upon

A mock-up of a prison cell (prisoners were in practice held in a separate building, hence the mock-up here)

Mock-up of a Stasi prison cell

A claustrophobic interrogation room

Interrogation room

On the way out we took a better look at the exterior of the Runde Ecke building, which was originally constructed for an insurance company in the early 20th century, in what is known as the Gründerzeit style. For a brief period immediately after the Second World War it was used by the US occupying forces, serving as the regional seat for their military administration. A small memorial plaque to the right of the main entrance commemorates the liberation of Leipzig by US troops in April 1945.

Memorial to the liberation of Leipzig by US troops

When Leipzig was handed over to the Soviets in July 1945 they also took over the administration building. In 1950 the newly-founded GDR security police, the Stasi, moved in, and were to stay for forty years.

Runde Ecke building details

Richard Wagner in Leipzig

We made a brief detour to check out the nearby statue of Richard Wagner, which caught our eye because it is unusually brightly coloured. This was erected here in 2013 to mark the composer’s 200th birthday. Made in bronze, it stands on a plinth dating back to the 1920s. This was the work of the famous Leipzig artist, Max Klinger, who had been commissioned in 1903 to design a monument to Wagner to stand here in the city where he was born. The outbreak of World War One interrupted his work, and although the half-made plinth was later finished by Leipzig sculptor Johannes Hartmann, the statue designed by Klinger never materialised.

Richard Wagner statue

The plinth, which depicts figures from Wagner’s work, stood for eighty years in a Leipzig park, the Palmengarten, before being moved here to the spot where it was originally intended to stand. The new statue, the work of Stephan Balkenhol, shows a young Richard Wagner standing in front of a black bronze plate in a shape that echoes Klinger’s original design for the statue.

Detail of the plinth

The figure above is Mime, from the story of Siegfried, in the third part of the Ring of the Nibelung Cycle, and is on the left hand side of the plinth as you face Wagner. On the front of the plinth the three Rhine water nymphs or Rheintöchter from the same cycle. There was some controversy at the time of its first unveiling because they are depicted unclothed.

City strolling

We had drinks in a pavement café, Zum Arabischen Coffe Baum, near the Lipsia Fountain on the Kleine Fleischergasse. Built in 1913 to a design by Max Lange (as part of a competition for the beautification of the city) the fountain was originally known as the Puttenbrunnen, named for the cherubs below the upper bowl of water, known in Italian as putti. But the popular name of Lipsia, taken from a nearby building of the same name, has stuck.

Lipsia Fountain details

The Lipsia Haus

Drinks finished, and with brightening skies and temperatures rising, we stopped off at the hotel to drop off our coats. This led to another detour, into the fascinating shop on the opposite side of the courtyard which sells antiques, collectibles and downright oddities - beautiful old lamps and coloured glass sit side by side with animal skeletons. Drawings of skulls, a lamp shaped like the Eiffel Tower (more than a metre high), another (smaller) like a crocodile with the bulb between its teeth, old toy cars and a dolls house, many many hats, a pair of worn ballet shoes … truly a treasure trove, of sorts! A sign at the door said no photos, but I sneaked a couple!

Shop in the Fregehaus

Returning to our explorations we strolled east from the Marktplatz, past the town hall shrouded in canvas and scaffolding. The first building of interest we came to was the old stock exchange, the Handelsbörse. A sign, in German and English, told us that it was:

‘Built in 1678/87 on the initiative of 30 tradesmen probably following drafts of the Saxon state master builder Johann Georg Starcke.
The house is the oldest meeting place of the Leipzig tradesmen and the city’s first Baroque building. The four sandstone figurines on the roof balustrade were created by Johann Caspar Sandtmann.'

The Handelsbörse





Handelsbörse details

In front of the stock exchange stands a statue of Goethe. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, to give him his full name, spent three years studying Leipzig (1765-68) so the city is perhaps more entitled than some to celebrate a connection (I recently had an interesting discussion with a friend about my blog entry on a visit to Vaduz in Liechtenstein, where he stayed just one night according to a plaque on the town hall: Collecting countries. As my friend Ingrid asked, ‘Is there any place in the world (or Europe) where he wasn't?’)

Statue of Goethe in front of the Handelsbörse

Handelshof shopping arcade

Anyway, this statue was erected in 1903, the work of Carl Seffner. Originally a marble statue was planned but this final result is in bronze. I read on the German Wikipedia page that a 28-year-old Leipzig gym teacher in theatrical costume served as a model for the young Goethe, but that as there were no images of the poet from his time here, his face is taken from later portraits.

From here we walked through the fascinatingly decorated Handelshof shopping arcade to emerge by the Nicholaikirche, the largest church in the city. Before going inside we stopped to photograph the large building that faces it across the Nicholaikirchhof. This is, I believe, the Priests’ House, built in 1886/87 according to a design by Hugo Licht – the architect also responsible for the Runde Ecke some 25 years later (and for the Neues Rathaus, which we were to visit and admire later in our stay in Leipzig).

Priests’ House, Nicholaikirchhof




Building details


Before exploring the church itself, it’s worth reflecting on the part it played in the Monday Demonstrations, the peaceful political protests against the government of the German Democratic Republic which I described above. While the church didn’t organise these protests, it did trigger them (through the regular prayers for peace) and provide support and a focus for communication between protestors. The column in the Nicholaikirchhof, erected in 1999 and a replica of the columns inside the church, is a memorial to the demonstrations. Its design symbolises how the ideas of freedom which started inside the church were carried out into this public space and beyond.

Nicholaikirchhof, and church spire

A sign at the door of the church said that photography was only permitted on payment of 2€ in the bookshop. I went to pay and was given a sticker to wear, but I soon realised that several other people were happily taking photos on their phones without paying. The same sign also said that photos shouldn’t be posted on the internet, but as I share them here to promote the church and not for my own commercial gain, and as there are already many photos posted by others, I choose to ignore that request, feeling I have done my bit by paying the fee that most other visitors avoided!

The original Nicholaikirche was built here in the 12th century, in the Romanesque style, following the granting of a city charter, and the right to hold a market, to Leipzig, and was therefore dedicated to St Nicholas, the patron saint of travellers and merchants. It was extended and enlarged in the early 16th century, in the Gothic style, and the Baroque main tower was added in 1730. It is the largest church in Leipzig

The interior was remodelled by the German architect Johann Carl Friedrich Dauthe in the Neoclassical style in the late 18th century, and the result is one of the most striking church interiors I have seen, in colours reminiscent of ice cream perhaps, or delicately flavoured cakes!

In the Nicholaikirche

Nicholaikirche ceiling

The organ

Even before the Monday Demonstrations this was a pioneering church. It was here in 1539 that the Reformation in Leipzig began with the first Protestant church service. Today the church is Lutheran. Johann Sebastian Bach was musical director here and at the Thomaskirche from 1723–50, and several of his works premiered here, including the St John Passion.

The apse, and bust of Bach

Fresco in a side chapel

OK, this is proving rather a long entry and no doubt is testing your stamina, as it is mine! I’ll take a break here and continue this day in my next entry.

Posted by ToonSarah 08:54 Archived in Germany Tagged churches buildings architecture history statue germany museum music author world_war_two Comments (12)

An anniversary trip to Germany

Leipzig, day one

View An anniversary trip to Germany on ToonSarah's travel map.

Thomaskirche, Leipzig

In recent years we have developed the habit of taking a short break to mark our wedding anniversary, usually somewhere in Italy. This year however, Chris proposed Germany as an alternative, being very keen on their food and beer! I was happy to agree (especially as several of our recent trips have been very much my choice) and after tossing around a few alternatives we settled on Leipzig, mainly on the basis that neither of us had ever been there – although later Chris was to realise that he had visited briefly while on a cycling trip with friends some years ago!

Just ten days before this trip I had experienced a trip of a rather different and less enjoyable nature, falling heavily while on a day out at Amble in Northumberland (https://toonsarahnorthumbria.travellerspoint.com/11/), breaking a bone in my elbow and badly bruising my ribs. But I was determined not to let that spoil things, and in fact I had already made good progress towards healing by the time we set off.

Getting to Leipzig

Taking off from Heathrow

Above Kew Gardens

Flying over London

To get to Leipzig we considered two options - fly direct from Heathrow to Berlin, then train via the city centre to Leipzig’s Central Station, or fly to Leipzig Halle with a connection through Frankfurt and then by S-bahn to Markt in the old city centre, just metres from our hotel. We chose the latter and it would have been a good choice were it not for the strong winds that closed one runway at Frankfurt, delaying our take-off from there by around 50 minutes.

But before that we had to get to Frankfurt, and that part of the journey went smoothly - tube from home to Heathrow, quickly through security, time for coffee and a pastry before boarding and a prompt departure. We landed on time at Frankfurt, which was good as we had a relatively tight connection and quite a long journey through the airport. But we made it with time to spare, only to sit in the plane waiting to be cleared for take-off.

Coming in to land in Frankfurt

Stuck at Frankfurt Airport

Taking off from Frankfurt - at last!

Landing in Leipzig

But once in the air the flight went quickly (less than an hour) and we landed in cloudy Leipzig. The forecast had been for rain, so to have only clouds was actually a bonus! The airport is small and was fairly quiet, plus we had no baggage to collect, so we were soon through customs and following signs to the Bahnhof. This proved to be quite a long walk away (so much so that we wondered briefly if we were going the wrong way!) but we got there eventually and bought our tickets from the machines (a reasonable 4.90€). Further confusion ensued when trying to find the right platform. We took an escalator downwards only to discover that this took us only to platform 1, whereas the display boards gave our train’s departure from platform 2. So it was back up the escalator, down a different one to platform 2 - where (fortunately) I spotted a sign indicating that today that train would leave from platform 1! Luckily we had enough time to head back to where we had started, and the train when it came was punctual and quick.

We alighted at Markt, found our way up to the large square dominated by the old town hall (disappointingly under wraps for refurbishment) and walked the short distance to our hotel, the Fregehaus.

Hotel Fregehaus

Above the entrance to the Hotel Fregehaus

The hotel is in an historic building, which we entered through an archway into the central courtyard. This is shared with a florists’ shop so looked very pretty even on this dull day. We took the lift to reception on the 2nd floor, where we received a friendly welcome and the keys to our room, #3, one floor down on the first. It was a lovely big room, overlooking the courtyard and therefore nice and quiet, and with a modern bathroom with walk-in shower. The style, mixing old and new, really appealed to us.

Our bedroom

We were to have a lovely stay here, and the building captured my imagination so much that on returning home I did a bit of research into its history. According to a German-language Wikipedia entry, it started life in 1535 as a Renaissance style house, which was bought in 1705 by a merchant, Gottfried Otto. Otto had the property rebuilt in the Baroque style, in four wings around the rectangular courtyard.

View of the courtyard from our room

In the courtyard of the Hotel Fregehaus

The entrance to this courtyard from the street is the original Renaissance one, and a few other elements from that era also remain – the vaulting of the entrance archway, a couple of doorways on the ground floor and a stone plaque mounted on a wall of the courtyard which, the Wikipedia caption tells me, is a satirical depiction of the Pope, Kaiser and Martin Luther.


In the courtyard of the Hotel Fregehaus

Settling in

We unpacked, more or less (my only criticism of the room would be the small amount of storage) and headed back out for a short walk to get our bearings. I took a few photos in that pretty courtyard but otherwise restrained myself, as I knew I would be walking these streets a lot in the next few days and hopefully (judging by the weather forecast) in better weather. I did however stop to photograph this Stolperstein I spotted on the pavement near our hotel – the only one I saw during our stay here, although apparently there are quite a few in the city.

Stolperstein, Leipzig

I first came across Stolpersteine (or, literally, ‘stumbling stones’) a few years ago in Berlin. I wrote of them then, on Virtual Tourist,

‘These are by their nature too easy to overlook, but in my opinion that is the last thing you should do, because each one tells of an individual whose life was extinguished during the Holocaust. These Stolpersteine are small brass stones set into the cobbles in front of a number of house entrances in various parts of the city. They are really mini-memorials, each marking the memory of a person who lived at this address prior to the Holocaust and who was killed by the Nazis. Each one says to us: “I lived here, I was a real person not just a statistic, my life mattered to me and to those who loved me – do not forget me”.’

The stones are the work of Cologne sculptor Gunter Demnig, who manages similar projects in more than 50 other cities across Germany. A website, in German, lists all of the stones currently laid in Leipzig (more are planned): http://www.stolpersteine-leipzig.de/. From it I learned that Wilhelm Schilling was a Christian musician, arrested for the distribution of political leaflets or posters against Hitler. The website adds that, ‘He did not have the support of his family, because some family members participated in the National Socialist movement. Thus, the fate of William Schilling became a taboo subject in the family.’ As the Stolperstein says, he died in Sachsenhausen concentration camp on 4 November 1939, aged 37.

After a short stroll around the Marktplatz and a couple of neighbouring streets we stopped for a beer in a café just off the square, Bellini’s – a chance to relax and soak up some atmosphere, and to try for the first time the local pils, Radeberg. Then we went back to the hotel for a short break to freshen up for the evening.

Paulaner Hof

Paulaner Hof, Leipzig

We usually like to eat the local food wherever we travel - not for us pizza in Germany or tapas in Paris, much as we enjoy those when at home (in England of course we eat the cuisines of just about any country!) So it was stretching a point on our first evening in Saxony to eat in a restaurant serving Bavarian style food. But I had spotted on the menu of the Paulaner Hof one of Chris’s all-time favourites, Leberknoedelsuppe. In addition, they had a selection of dishes involving Sauerkraut, another of his favourites. And the restaurant lived up to expectations.

The restaurant is a little tucked away from the livelier buzz of the streets off the Marktplatz, in quiet Klostergasse near the Thomaskirch. It has a cosy atmosphere and on this Sunday evening was about half full. The service was brisk but friendly.

We both had the Leberknoedelsuppe to start with (it was soup weather!). Chris followed this with the Nuremberg sausages served, of course, with Sauerkraut, while I had a delicious Schnitzel topped with mustard, cheese and horseradish, served with little roasted potatoes with bits of bacon and onion. Very filling, but I managed it all - well, it was a long while since our light breakfast at Heathrow!

In the Paulaner Hof

Paulaner Hof bar

My Schnitzel

We accompanied the food with a glass each of the Paulaner Pils. We had no room for dessert but asked the waiter to recommend a Magenschnapps, the classic Germans herbal spirits said to be good for the digestion. The best known of these is Jägermeister, of course, but there are others that are better, and his suggestion of Radeberger bitters, which we both adopted, was excellent - a great way to round off our first dinner in Leipzig.

We strolled back to the hotel, glad to have avoided the forecast rain (for now at least) and looking forward to seeing more of the city tomorrow.

Posted by ToonSarah 01:03 Archived in Germany Tagged food restaurant history hotel flight germany leipzig Comments (12)

Out of Africa - literally!

Botswana safari plus, day twelve

Making the most of the last few hours

Rufous sparrow (I think), Ole Sereni Hotel

It turns out that while the Ole Sereni, where we spent our last night in Africa, might well be located on the edge of Nairobi’s city Game Park, the view from our bedroom there was more akin to Spaghetti Junction than to the Masai Mara, and the noise levels equivalent. My sleep was consequently somewhat disturbed!

After a good buffet breakfast we had time to kill before our planned bit of sightseeing - time to relax, catch up on emails etc. and try to spot birds or other signs of life in the park. I had seen a few colourful birds while we were at breakfast, but when I later took my camera out on the terrace by the bar, all I could see were sparrows! Admittedly I think some of these might have been the Kenyan Rufous sparrow, rather than our own ubiquitous house sparrow, but nevertheless not very exciting!

A later visit to the terrace yielded an eagle of some sort flying overhead, and a small yellow bird in the bushes which I’m guessing is a weaver.

Possibly a weaver of some sort?

Out of Africa

'I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills.'
(the opening sentence of 'Out of Africa, by Karen Blixen)

At 11.00 we were picked up by Jackson for our small sightseeing trip, a visit to the former home of Karen Blixen of ‘Out of Africa’ fame. Although I have not seen the film, I was reading her book in preparation for this visit and was intrigued to see the house where she lived.

We drove out of the city centre along the Ngong road, which in her day would, according to her accounts of it, have been little more than a mud track, impassable in wet weather. Today it is a busy dual carriageway, with a large slum to the right (Jackson told us with a tinge of misplaced pride that this is the second largest in Africa, after Soweto) and on the left the affluent suburb of Karen, developed on land once part of her coffee farm.

Karen Blixen's house

We arrived at the house, now a museum, where Jackson paid the entrance for us and then left us with a young guide, who did an excellent job of showing us around. Firstly, she told us something of Karen Blixen’s story. She was born in 1885, as Karen Dinesen, into a wealthy Danish family and in 19914 married her Swedish second cousin, Baron Bror Blixen-Finecke, becoming Baroness Blixen. He was keen big game hunter, a pursuit still considered acceptable at the time (something you must bear in mind when learning about Karen and/or reading her book).

Using an investment from their common uncle, the couple bought land in Kenya (in those days, British East Africa), planning to start a cattle farm. But they later changed their minds, having become convinced that coffee would be more profitable. With the uncle they founded the Karen Coffee Company and set about establishing their coffee farm. It did not go well as the First World War led to a shortage of workers and supplies. Nevertheless, they decided to move to a bigger farm and bought a property to the west of Nairobi, near the foot of the Ngong Hills. Of their 6,000 acres of land they used just 600 acres for a coffee plantation – the rest were used by the natives (known as ‘squatters’) for grazing or left as untouched virgin forest. But still the farm continued to struggle. The land here wasn’t really suitable for growing coffee as its elevation is too high and there were other problems too – a fire destroyed the coffee processing factory, there were poor harvests, and so on. When Karen and the Baron separated, in 1921 (and subsequently divorced in 1925) she was left to run the farm on her own, which she did until the company finally collapsed in 1931. Meanwhile she had fallen in love with the English hunter, safari guide and pilot Denys Finch Hatton – the main subject of the film ‘Out of Africa’, in which he was played by Robert Redford (and Karen by Meryl Streep). The book however focuses more on the day to day life of the farm and is very interesting background reading for a visit here.

Our guide showed us some old farm machinery from Karen’s time - ploughs that would have been pulled by her oxen, a wagon used to carry the sacks of coffee to the railway station in Nairobi for onward transport to the port in Mombassa, and a tractor.

Old farm machinery and a 1922 tractor

Then she took us to the house, starting with the separate kitchen with its iron range and still many of the historic cooking implements in place.

In the kitchen

From here we went into the main house where we visited a series of rooms, including Karen Blixen’s study and bedroom. From my reading of the book I recognised our guide’s description of her as someone who loved to tell stories and it was good to see the fireplace where she would sit to entertain her friends.

Study with fireplace


Dining room

There were photos of some of these friends on the walls, as well as of Karen herself, her husband Baron Bror von Blixen Fincke and her lover Denis Finch Hatton (played by Robert Redford in the film). We also saw reproductions of some of her paintings (the originals are in museums in Denmark) - I liked those of some of the local people (whom she terms Natives in the book).

A lot of reviews I’ve read since say that photos aren’t allowed inside, but I asked our guide if I could take some and she said it was fine as long as I didn’t include any of the art works. And I felt it best not to use flash, although this wasn't stipulated, which explains the slight gloomy, grainy look to my images!

Outside we saw the millstone converted by Karen into a table, where she liked to sit when asked, as she often was, to make a judgement in some local dispute.

Rear of the house, with millstone table

From the house we walked a short distance through the grounds to see the old coffee processing machine, where the beans were dried before being packed into sacks and sent to Mombasa for export to England.

Coffee processing equipment, and path from the house

Walking back to the house we took the opportunity to chat a little to our young guide. She told us that she had done a four month attachment at the museum last year, as part of her tourism studies and once these had finished, earlier this year, had returned to work as a volunteer while waiting to graduate. She has ambitions to work for a tour company and I am sure will succeed, based on the very positive experience we enjoyed with her. Needless to say, we tipped her well.

Our young guide

Young artist signing our picture

I found it a little odd, however, that Kenya, and Kenyans, seem so comfortable talking about, and through the museum promulgating, the picture of colonial life painted by Karen Blixen and her views on ‘Natives’ which today we would all recognise as racist. At one point in the book she says that ‘white men fill in the mind of the Natives the place that is, in the mind of the white men, filled by the idea of God.’ And this is typical of her attitude throughout – while she has a lot of good things to say about the workers on her farm as individuals, these are always filtered through a lens of superiority, and when she talks about them collectively it is always to suggest an inferior or at least less sophisticated level of understanding. I found that much harder to stomach, when reading the book, than her enjoyment of big game hunting (which I recognised as an uneducated anachronism).

I was somewhat surprised therefore that our guide talked about her with a sense of familiarity and affection – ‘Karen always liked to sit here …’, or ‘Karen knew a lot about medicine and often treated her workers …’ And this seemed genuine, not parroting what she thought visitors would like to hear. I can only assume that the impact of the book, and later the film, in widening awareness of the beauty of the Kenyan landscape and drawing visitors here, must have not so much outweighed any consideration of her colonial attitudes but rather caused them to be put totally to one side. Kenyans it seems retain some affection for their former colonial power (all of those we spoke to were rooting for England to win the World Cup!) which perhaps makes them more tolerant of past colonialist attitudes.

Having said all of the above, I enjoyed our visit and would recommend it to others. Even if you haven’t read ‘Out of Africa’, or seen the film, a tour here enables you to see the typical colonial architecture and imagine life for Europeans in Kenya at that time, which is after all a major part of the country’s history. And engaging with such an excellent young guide was a great bonus!

The card we bought

After our tour we had a quick look round the gift shop but didn’t buy anything. As you can imagine, they are keen to promote the DVD of the film, part of which was shot near here on location, but there are also all the usual souvenirs.

Outside on the veranda was a young artist, Tim, displaying his work. Her explained that normally he would be painting but today was too cold - like our guide, he was wrapped in a Masai-inspired blanket. We took a liking to him and his work so bought a small handmade card, depicting a hippo (one of our favourites of the animals we had seen on our safari), to frame, which he kindly offered to sign.


Our tour also included lunch at the nearby Karen Blixen Coffee Gardens, Tamambo. The building here was formerly a house on the farm, used for guests, but is now separated from it by other developments including a medical college.


The Karen Blixen Coffee Gardens

Zanzibari seafish

Chocolate mint dessert

We sat in the garden where it was a little chilly, but they brought a sort of iron bucket with hot coals to warm us. There was a set three course menu with a couple of choices for each course - far more than we would normally eat for lunch but all delicious. In this weather it had to be the butternut squash soup to start. I especially liked my main course, a ‘Zanzibari seafish’ in a spicy sauce, and we both loved the chocolate mint dessert.

As a bonus we befriended the two resident cats. Our waiter Nicodemus (yes really!) had told us that the cats had walked out of the forest and they were trying to tame them, but we found that they were already very tame and comfortable around us!



Making friends

Ole Sereni Hotel

After our meal Jackson drove us back to the hotel to take it easy for the afternoon ahead of our flight home. We took a few photos around the public areas as I rather liked the modern artworks – stylised representations of African animals, for the most part.

The hotel is built on a site formerly occupied by the US Embassy, which found a temporary home here after the August 1998 bombing of its city centre building (it has since moved to a high security location next to the UN building in the north of the city). We had a very good coffee in the bar, and later a light meal in the Big Five restaurant, choosing salads and excellent mini desserts from the large buffet selection, as we were still pretty full from that lovely lunch.

In the Ole Sereni Hotel

Time to go home

Jackson picked us up again at 8.00 pm to drive us to the airport which was as mad and chaotic as on our previous flight out of there to Livingstone. We went through five security scans between arriving at the airport and reaching the plane - one while still on the road outside, one entering the building, one to access the departures hall and two in quick succession at the gate. Passengers were encouraged to go through the last of these two hours before departure and we then sat for ages on hard seats with no toilet facilities! While there I overheard one girl saying that the spices she had bought as a gift for family at home were confiscated because they were a powder!

The chaos continued right through to boarding, with announcements inaudible and a last minute move to the neighbouring gate. We were pleased to find ourselves on board and settling into our seats for the overnight flight to London. Homeward bound!

The flight was uneventful and we even managed to snatch some sleep, having forked out for exit row seats with extra legroom, which made a big difference to our comfort levels. But British Airways are definitely not what they used to be in terms of comfort on board and service. The food was poor (especially the dry breakfast roll and cereal bar offered just before landing) and although the entertainment system promised '100s of movies', in fact there were only around 20 to chose from and few of those appealing. The TV and music selection was similarly limited and there were none of the games that usually help to keep children amused.

We landed on time at Heathrow, and despite a rather lengthy queue for the e-passport gates, manged to get through there, collect the bags and catch the Tube home all in good time. Within 90 minutes of touching down we were opening our front door!

Posted by ToonSarah 03:57 Archived in Kenya Tagged restaurant history hotel flight museum africa cats kenya author Comments (8)

Closing the circle

Botswana safari plus, day eleven

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Last day at Victoria Falls

Flowering tree, Victoria Falls

Our last day at Victoria Falls, with no fixed plans until our evening flight back to Nairobi. Real Africa’s Paul had arranged for us to have a late check-out, so we had a relaxing morning, starting with a leisurely breakfast.

We then walked into town, crossing the railway line where an old train carriage seemed to be permanently parked. A local family were hanging out there – possibly they are even squatting there?


By the railroad tracks, Victoria Falls

Crossing the railroad tracks

We strolled around taking photos for a while, happy to have somewhere new to indulge our shared love of street photography. There were lots of photo opps, and it made a change from all the wildlife and landscape photography we'd been doing so far on this trip.

Local street vendors

Local people

Shoe repair shop, and local family

Local man reading the paper

A lot of the people on the streets here have crossed over from Zambia, via the bridge at the falls. Farmers there are able to come into Zimbabwe without a visa and do so on a daily basis as they can get a better price for their crops and produce here.


Zambian farmers with produce to sell

We had coffee in the rather cool Shearwater Café (which incidentally had some fun signs on the loos!)

Toilet signs, Shearwater Café

Locals outside the café

I was amused by some of the other signs in town.

Signs in Victoria Falls

Shop sign

'Sign up, send it, sorted'

'Clean spot'

I browsed a few of the shops but didn’t buy anything, despite being rather tempted by some colourful cushion covers - realising, somewhat reluctantly, that they would look out of place in our London suburban Victorian terrace house.


Souvenirs for sale

Souvenir street vendor

Back at the hotel we had an equally leisurely last lunch at Stanley’s Terrace, with that wonderful view of the spray from the falls. A band (the collective noun) of banded mongooses came past as well as some vervet monkeys.

Mongooses on the lawn

We said goodbye, again, to Donna and Steve, who had arrived at the hotel the previous afternoon after a brief stay in Chobe. Then it was time to pack our bags and check out.

Back to Nairobi

Our transfer to Victoria Falls Airport was prompt and the airport itself very new and very quiet. Once we had checked in and gone through security we settled into the pleasant café to await boarding.

Our Kenya Airways plane landed on time from Cape Town, some passengers disembarked and we boarded.

Boarding our plane

Sunset at Victoria Falls Airport

Once airborne we seemed to turn in a full circle, the reason for which soon became clear. The pilot announced that at the request of some passengers he was doing a flyover above Victoria Falls! We got more excellent aerial views - higher up than from yesterday’s helicopter so giving an even clearer perspective on the shape, but harder to photograph through the plane’s rather grubby windows and in fading light. When those of us seated on the left had been treated to the view he then circled again so that passengers on the right could have their chance. I don’t recall a pilot of a scheduled flight ever doing something like that - point out the sights, yes, but deliberately change the plane’s path to ensure everyone could see them, no, never!

Victoria Falls from the air
taken through a dirty airplane window!

Dinner was served soon after take-off (fish or chicken, both not bad) with complementary bar service. The rest of the flight passed uneventfully, and we landed on time in Nairobi, a little after 10.00 pm their time.

Our room at the Ole Sereni hotel

The immigration hall however was chaotic, with a tangle of queues and conflicting information about which you needed to be in, depending on nationality and also whether or not you already had a visa. We thought that we had, having told the Kenyan embassy in London the details of our itinerary and been assured that despite our two separate visits within this trip, a single entry visa would suffice. It had seemed a little unlikely at the time and so it proved to be, so we had to fork out an additional $20 per person for a transit visa for this overnight stay. This is proving an expensive trip for visas!

Once in the baggage hall we quickly found our bags and were out into the night, to be met by Ortieno from Albatross Travel and our driver Jackson who had looked after us so well on our earlier stay. It was a relatively short drive to our hotel, as for this last night in the city we were booked into the Ole Sereni, quite near to the airport. We had a large modern room with all the usual facilities, and the nice extra touch of a bowl of complementary fruits so we could have a snack before turning in for the night.

We were back in the city where the adventures had begun. Tomorrow we would fly home, but there was still one more visit to make.

Posted by ToonSarah 06:30 Archived in Zimbabwe Tagged people signs hotel flight airport africa photography kenya street_photography Comments (5)

Above and around the falls

Botswana safari plus, day ten

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Tree in the hotel grounds

Above the falls

Before leaving home we had decided to treat ourselves to a helicopter flight over Victoria Falls and had pre-booked a short flight for this morning. But after taking to Areti and Glen whom we met at Xugana Island Lodge, who had already visited the falls and taken the longer flight, we had arranged to upgrade to this. The difference is that the short flight, about 13 minutes in length, takes you only over the falls and gorge below, while the longer flight, at 27 minutes, also flies over the Zambezi above the falls and over the neighbouring national park, in search of wildlife.

We were picked up from the hotel after breakfast and taken to the helipad a couple of miles out of town, where we were briefed on the flight path and weighed! There were to be five of us on the helicopter and seats were allocated to balance the weight. Our companions were an Australian woman and her two teenage daughters. One of the girls sat up front next to the pilot, while the rest of us were in the main section, with me facing Chris on the left and the Australian lady next to me facing her other daughter. We were strapped in, given headphones (which served both to muffle the engine noise and provide a commentary) and we were ready for take-off.

Our helicopter landing, dropping off the previous passengers and picking us up

Once in the air we flew towards the falls, approaching from the upper reaches of the Zambezi.

Flying towards the falls - the spray rises above the Zambezi

The flights are designed to take a figure of eight route, so that everyone gets the same views. Chris and I had the falls on our side at first and from above I could appreciate what we had failed to see through the spray, the topography of this natural phenomenon. Unlike other falls I have visited, which usually lie at right angles to the river’s banks and face directly downstream, the Victoria Falls face an abrupt narrowing of the river and therefore look towards an escarpment. The river flows away through a narrow gorge, creating a sort of wonky T shape, with the smaller right-hand arm lying in Zambia and the larger part on the left in Zimbabwe. Patrick had told us yesterday that 70% of the falls were here in Zimbabwe and just 30% in Zambia, and now I could see what he meant.

The falls from the Zimbabwe side
You can see the escarpment where we had walked yesterday in the spray, and the transition from rainforest to savannah

A closer look at the T-shape
Danger Point is just left of centre at the end of one of the paths

The falls from the Zambia side

We looped around over the bridge to fly over the Zambian side, from where we caught some great rainbows in the spray.

Rainbow and bridge

Rainbow in the Devil's Cataract

Cataract Island
The crack that may eventually become the site of the falls is clearly visible - see below

Then it was the turn of those on the other side of the helicopter to get the best views of the falls, while we looked out over the landscape beyond and towards the upper part of the river. Again, I could appreciate from here something that Patrick had mentioned - the spray creates its own microclimate, with the area immediately around the falls forming a small rainforest in the midst of dry savannah.

The Zambezi above the falls

Next we flew down the gorge below the falls, Batoka Gorge. This is in fact not one gorge but a zigzagging series of them. They were formed by the waters as they retreated – each gorge was cut by the falls across fault lines in the basalt rock created from lava 150 million years ago which cracked as it solidified. The gorges are numbered, with First Gorge being the one into which the falls spill their waters today, Second Gorge the one spanned by the bridge, and so on down to Fifth Gorge. The falls are currently cutting another gorge, through Cataract Island (see photo above) that will over time become their new location.




Batoka Gorge

The gorges are popular for a variety of activities, including zip-lining and white-water rafting. We could see rafters in the river far below us and the spray of the falls in the distance.


This is the point at which the shorter flight turns back to the helipad but we were going further! We looped back over the falls once more, spotting our hotel below us at one point. We got some great views of the Zambezi and could see hippos in the water and a crocodile on the bank in one spot.

Victoria Falls Hotel from above
The Jungle Junction restaurant is in the foreground and our room behind the right-hand of the large trees on the lawn beyond




The Zambezi above the falls

The Zambezi above the falls - rainforest vegetation

Spot the crocodile!

And the hippos!

Then we flew over the dry national park area, with the pilot making several loops to ensure we all also saw something of the wildlife here. There were plenty of elephants to be seen and I also spotted a giraffe. The latter was sitting on the ground but got up, in an ungainly fashion, as we passed overhead, presumably disturbed by the noise.

Flying over the elephants ...

... and giraffe

Baobabs in the national park

All too soon our time was up and the pilot turned back to base, but I still got a few more shots of the river and the distant spray of the falls before landing.

Once back on the ground we were shown a video of our flight, or rather footage of our group being briefed, weighed and boarding, and later disembarking, interspersed with general footage of the falls from above, with the commentary we had heard while in the air. We declined to pay the $50 asked for this – not only was it expensive, it was also exceedingly unflattering! But the Australian woman was persuaded by her daughters to buy it, as a record of their first ever helicopter flight.

Incidentally, while this was also Chris’s first time in a helicopter, I had been lucky enough to fly in one when I was just 16 and visiting Niagara Falls on a school trip. But I can remember that only vaguely so it was wonderful to have another chance, and a much longer flight too. We were very glad we had upgraded, despite the cost.

We were driven back to the hotel in time to enjoy morning coffee on the terrace before sorting through the many photos we had taken!

Three Monkeys

For a change at lunch time we walked into town and went to the Three Monkeys, which had also been recommended to us by Areti and Glen. They do good wood-fired pizzas, so we decided to split one of those, a Quattro Formagii, along with a side salad. The food was great and we enjoyed the ambiance too.

In the Three Monkeys

Light fitting, and pizza
The pizza was so good we had eaten quite a lot before I thought to take a photo!

Zambezi sunset

When preparing our itinerary, Paul from Real Africa had proposed a sunset cruise on the Zambezi as an activity for our stay at Victoria Falls and we had agreed, without really looking at the specific details. Checking those today I realised that we were booked on the Signature Deck of the Zambezi Explorer.

A boat on the Zambezi

Chris on the boat

This boat offers three options for sunset cruises, on each of three decks. The lowest is a standard cruise experience with some drinks and snacks included. On the middle deck you have a more spacious area and the snacks are upgraded to canapés. The upper Signature Deck is the most open, albeit partly shaded, and very comfortable, with large wicker sofas and lots of cushions to lounge on. There is an open bar throughout the two hour cruise (only a handful of premium drinks, such as malt whisky, must be paid for) and of course the canapés. If we had been booking ourselves we would probably have gone for the middle option, or maybe for one of the many smaller boats which also offer cruises, but we loved this special experience so we’re very glad we had left it to Paul!

The Zambezi Explorer

We were picked up from the hotel by bus and stopped at one other hotel before the short drive to the jetty on the banks of the upper reaches of the river. There we were checked in at a desk set up on the shore and directed to the appropriate deck. Once on board we simply had to settle into our comfortable seats and enjoy the ride.

Drinks orders were taken immediately and more offered whenever a glass was emptied. While we were quite modest in our consumption (two G&Ts for me, three beers for Chris) I did feel one group took advantage of the hospitality and got through a lot of drinks, including tequila shots and cocktails, even asking for one last drink as the boat docked. Their over-boisterousness was the only slight blemish on an otherwise wonderful cruise.

Actually, although called a cruise, the boat doesn’t really go very far, but rather drifts gently a little way downstream - close enough to see the spray from the falls - before turning and making its meandering way a short distance upstream.

Rainbow in the spray

When animals (mostly hippos) were spotted, the pilot would head towards the relevant shore and turn so that passengers on all sides got a good view. In any case, the spaciousness of our deck allowed us to move freely to whichever side seemed best, but I suspect that wasn’t the case lower down, where they must have appreciated these turns.

Zambezi hippos

Vultures roosting by the Zambezi

A waitress came around at regular intervals to offer the canapés. Among others, there were skewers of tandoori chicken, crocodile sliders, mini beef tarts and sushi rolls. My vote for the tastiest went to the crocodile sliders!


Late afternoon on the Zambezi
You can see that the river is in full flood

As the sun sank lower we continued to drift from shore to shore, as did the many other boats on the river. At one point a crocodile was spotted, and later three giraffes on the river bank, but this experience is mostly about the relaxing ambience and the landscape of the upper Zambezi.

Giraffes at sunset, by the Zambezi

We had a marvellous sunset out on the water and then turned towards the shore.




Sunset on the Zambezi

As we started our return to the jetty one of the staff gave a short talk about the Zambezi - its origins in Zambia, flowing through part of Angola and back into Zambia, along the border between there and Zimbabwe, over the falls and eventually down into the Indian Ocean in Mozambique. He talked about the ‘discovery’ of the falls by David Livingstone (actually of course they had been known to the peoples of this region for centuries) and how he introduced them to Europeans, creating the basis for the tourism that helps to sustain the local economy here.




Baobabs at sunset, banks of the Zambezi

Sunset cruise boats on the Zambezi

After sunset, the Zambezi River

Once we had docked the bus took us back to the hotel, via several others. We had eaten so many canapés that we didn’t really feel the need for a full hotel dinner, but as we were on half-board and had a reservation at the Jungle Junction we went along to supplement those canapés with some salad from the buffet, a glass of wine and a small dessert.

We then went back to our room to watch the England v Croatia World Cup semi-final on the TV there. Unfortunately this was when England’s great run in the tournament came to an end, the young players finally running out of steam (and maybe out of belief). But they had done a great job and exceeded expectations, which bodes well for future tournaments.

Posted by ToonSarah 08:17 Archived in Zimbabwe Tagged waterfalls sunsets_and_sunrises animals boats flight river africa zimbabwe national_park helicopter Comments (10)

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