Opportunities Today : October 2008 Issue

SAXONY- The hidden treasure of GERMANY - LEIPZIG & MEISSEN

 

continued from previous issue


The penultimate day in the region of Saxony we were to visit Leipzig, the city of music, also known as the city of Johann Sebastian Bach who lived and worked in Lieipzig for over 27 years and later was buried in St. Thomas' Church. On our schedule for the day, was also a visit to the city of "white gold" or European Porcelain - Meissen.

Leipzig is historical as it was the first town in Germany to win the right from the Emperor to hold a trade fair, way back in 1497 and it grew over the years to become a cosmopolitan and commercial city and is one of the most important cities of Germany. Leipzig lies to the north west of Dresden and can be reached by road or by train. With a population of over 560000 inhabitants, Leipzig is over 2 hours from Berlin, just an hour away by train and over 3 hours from Frankfurt on Main. It was the largest trading town and has a tradition as a trade fair city. The Leipzig Fair organized in the city is in fact the oldest trade fair in the world and at times is referred to as the "Mother of all Fairs" and was undoubtedly the most famous trade fair town of Germany until the Second World War (WWII). After the Second World War, and after the reunification, it was Frankfurt which gained prominence as the city for the Trade Fairs. Leipzig has the biggest train station in Germany as it was a trade fair town. The train station has 26 platforms and about 140 shops and restaurants and it is one of the most beautiful and cleanest train stations in Germany. In fact the largest shopping mall is in the Leipzig Main Station which is the largest terminus in Europe and a visit to the railway station is a must as part of your visit to Leipzig.

 

Leipzig is a city known for its automobiles, industries and technology. The Porsche Cayenne is produced here and also the 3 Series of the BMW. Global players like DHL, Amazon, Siemens have their headquarters in Leipzig. Leipzig is a city of music with well known names such as Bach, Mendelssohn and Wagner. Richard Wagner was born in Leipzig, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy led the Gewandhaus Orchestra to international fame and Robert Schumann, the famous composer and influential music critic studied in Leipzig University. Leipzig has the second oldest University after Heidelberg and over 50000 students come every year to study in Leipzig. Interestingly, the Berlin Wall came down because of Leipzig as it was in the walls of the St. Nicholas Church, there was a non-violent protest movement that took place in 1989 that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany.

 

During our short visit to Leipzig, we did a walking tour of the city following the traces of some of the well known musicians, the churches of St. Thomas and St. Nicholas and the tomb of Bach. The Nikolaikirche, or the St. Nicholas Church is the oldest church in Leipzig, dating back to 1165 and refurbished in the 18th Century. The date of 9th October 1989 has a great significance as it was on this date and year that lead to the break down of the German Democratic Republic and reunification of Germany. The peaceful demonstration by over 70000 people took place after peaceful Monday demonstrations were held in this church. The ceiling and columns of the church are very impressive and the columns look like palm trees. Closeby we also had the opportunity to see the tomb of Johann Sebastian Bach.

 

In the past Leipzig was a small town and the major developments took place here only after the 20th Century. Leipzig is a city which is a delight for fans of classical museum as you have the Bach museum, Schumann's House and Mendelssohn's House which is unparalleled anywhere in the world.

 

For lovers of coffee, a visit to the Zum Arabischen Coffee Baum is a must, where you can have some coffee and then go upstairs to see the coffee museum. The  Coffee Baum is one of the oldest coffee houses in Germany and amongst their guests were Wagner, Schumann and other famous personalities. There are fine cafes also along the Grimmaische Street where we were heading next for lunch to a very historical place - the Auerbachs Keller (or Auerbach's Cellar in English), a remarkable restaurant in the most beautiful shopping arcade, the Madler Passage. The restaurant was made immortal by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who was a student of Leipzig University, in his famous "Fausthus" novel where Mephisto rides on a wine barrel that is accessible to the visitors of the restaurant even today. The historical rooms in the Auerbachs Keller are illuminated by almost a 1000 light bulbs and approximately 75000 litres of beer are consumed in the cellar every year. The Auerbachs Keller ranks amongst the top 10 most well known restaurants that one must visit across the world.

 

The Auerbachs Keller is known throughout Germany and is one of the most famous and oldest restaurants and it dates back to 1525 when a wine tavern was established in the cellar of this house by Heinrich Stromer, a doctor who was born in the Auerbach. In 1530, he rebuilt the house completely and soon the property became famous as a tavern and trading house which was known as the Auerbachs Hof. The cellar came to fame during Goethe's time because of the scene in Goethe's drama "Faust" that depicts "Auerbachs Keller in Leipzig". The most interesting part of the cellar are the wine rooms where gourmet cuisine is served. The Goethe Room, The Luther Room and Alt Leipzig and Fasskeller are places where the historians frequented during the earlier days and in the big cellar of Grosse Keller is where you can experience fine Saxonian hospitality with 100 years of tradition. The big cellar offers a romantic and personal ambience and has a capacity of seating 500 guests. A visit to the Auerbachs Keller was truly a cultural, historic and culinary discovery, very unique and special.

 

Thereafter we headed to Meissen which is 40 minutes drive and 15 kilometres north west of Dresden. Although European porcelain was invented in Dresden, it was here in Meissen where the porcelain became world famous and later we were not only to visit the State Porcelain Manufactory but to have some fine cuisine served in Meissen porcelain at the Manufactory. Our visit to Meissen commenced with a walking tour of the old town. Meissen, also known as the Cradle of Saxony was the former capital of this region and it is here that the German Emperor established his rule by erecting a castle on the hill during the 10th Century. Later, the first palace building was erected here before the Saxon capital was shifted to Dresden. The historic part of Meissen was never destroyed and comprises of 1500 valuable buildings, some as old as 350 years and have been restored after the German reunification. Meissen is also on the Saxon wine trail route as it is one of Germany's smallest wine growing regions.

 

Meissen is rich in history and the mighty ensemble of Albrechtsburg Castle and Meissen Cathedral adds character to this beautiful town. You can see the banks of the Elbe from the hill above and is truly a photographer's delight. The Albrechtsburg Castle was the first castle ever designed as a royal residence in the German speaking region and was built in Gothic style during the 15th Century. Now a museum, it is truly an architectural masterpiece. The old city hall and the Church of Our Lady with its 57 metre high tower are as impressive as the stroll along the medieval streets of this beautiful town with its quiet squares and steep flight of steps, old houses, small shops, cafes and wine cellars. A visit to the Vincenz Richter wine bar is a must. The Vincenz Richter is one of the most famous wine restaurants and is like a museum. This former guildhouse dating to 1523 lies on the main marketplace and is family owned since 1873. The restaurant has a fine antique collection of pictures and weapons on display including a room with instruments of torture dating back to the Middle Ages. The torture chamber as it is known can be visited by the guests of the restaurant and is quite interesting indeed.On our way across the medieval narrow streets we came across a shop selling Meissen Fummel, a fine pastry with a protected designation of origin from Meissen. The shape is an irregular round "balloon" made of a very thin dough and the pastry is very brittle and fragile.

 

This was the creation of the Elector of Saxony and it was believed that the messengers who used to carry mail on horseback from Meissen to Dresden would damage the mail after having the Meissen wine. So the Elector invented this fragile pastry and the rider had the challenge to bring the mail without breaking the Fummel. The bakers were instructed to create this thin dough. This was created for an evidence of being sober or else penalties would be imposed on these messengers. I am sure not many messengers would have been successful in reaching Dresden without breaking the Fummel whether they were drunk or not.Our final halt was at the Meissen porcelain manufactory. The "crossed swords" are one of the oldest trade marks in the world and epitomizes accomplished craftsmanship, beauty and style. Each piece of Meissen porcelain is an original hand made work of artists which makes the porcelain truly a collector's item. More than 40000 visitors come to see the highly artistic and masterly production of the porcelain every year at the manufactory which has over 3000 porcelain pieces on display, one of the most comprehensive collections in the world. After a short documentary, we went through a quick tour of the manufactory and the amazing range of porcelain was simply out of the ordinary.

 

We were taken through the various stages of how porcelain is shaped and the time taken to make it a finished product does make it truly the "white gold". It is said that Johann Friedrich Bottger was supposed to make gold for the Elector of Saxony, Augustus the Strong and accidentally ended up developing a red stoneware which eventually became the white gold or the European porcelain. Amongst several impressive works of art was a piano made entirely of porcelain on display and was available at a price of 200000 Euros!!! And then we were all set for the grand finale of the Saxony tripů the dinner ceremony on Meissen porcelain. Truly, to take back fond memories of this wonderful region, we were served a special menu known as "Journey of Time" taking us through different periods of cuisine - a cream soup of sugar peas with roasted king prawns, followed by saddle of lamb, medium rare, with olive crust vegetables provence style and couscous and the dessert comprising of panna cotta with peach lavender ragout.

 

The food was accompanied by fine wines of the regions such as the 2006 Riesling Dry (QbA), from the Weingut Vincenz Richter and 2005 Dornfelder Dry (QbA) from the Meissner Weinhaus-Prinz zur Lippe. We were taken through the different styles of dining across different eras and it was indeed incredible to note that an area of 480 hectares in the Elbe valley produces 35 different varieties of grapes thus making Saxony the gastronomic capital of Germany. The following day I took my flight home and later in 2008, I made my second trip to Germany in less than a year when I planned an itinerary covering the regions of Hessen, Baden Wurttemberg and Bavaria starting with the magical city of Frankfurt.

 

To be continued

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