Leipzig's insider blog & webzine in English

The big Karl Marx head in Chemnitz, formerly Karl Marx Stadt. (Photo: public domain)

Chemnitz at 875: history, industry, culture

in History/Society by

Everyone knows Leipzig, Hypezig, the city of hyperboles, the growing metropole of the East. Everyone has been to Dresden, too, and knows that it’s the capital of Saxony. But who has already been to nearby Chemnitz, except for work?

Because, well, yes, as the adage in German says: “In Dresden, one celebrates; in Leipzig, one does business; and in Chemnitz, one works.”

Chemnitz City Hall and Market Square. (Photo copyright: Cwe MbH)
Chemnitz City Hall and Market Square. (Photo copyright: Cwe MbH)

Renamed “Karl Marx Stadt” during the GDR (even though Karl never set foot on its soil), Chemnitz is the third biggest city in Saxony after Leipzig and Dresden. It’s a workers’ city with an important industrial history involving machines, trains and bikes. Everyone has a friend who proudly owns an old Diamant bike – well, they were, and still are, being produced in Chemnitz.

Known not only for its big Karl Marx head (the “Nischel” in Saxonian), Chemnitz now has around 240,000 inhabitants and a quite important technical university, where 25% of students (!) are international.

And this year, 2018, the city happens to be celebrating its 875th jubilee.

Chemnitz was conferred with commerce rights (Marktprivileg) in 1143, whereas the monastery at Schloßberg was probably founded by King Lothar in 1136. At the crossroads of different commerce routes, Chemnitz became an exchange place and an industrial avant-garde from the 18th century on.

The Industriemuseum retraces its history of innovation, from bikes to cars via coffee filters and zeppelins, whereas the cultural house Das TIETZ exposes a prehistorical petrified forest found during excavation works within the city’s boundaries.

Crowd at the opening jubilee event in Chemnitz, 21 January 2018. (Photo: Stadt Chemnitz/Kristin Schmidt)
Crowd at the opening jubilee event in Chemnitz, 21 January 2018. (Photo: Stadt Chemnitz/Kristin Schmidt)

The opening ceremony for 2018 as the jubilee year took place on 21 January. In it, 1,300 singers from local choirs and also Chemnitz’s partner cities – for example in China and the Czech Republic – shared the same repertoire, as 2,000 people in the Congress Center’s audience sang along.

Various themes will underscore this year’s commemoration, including “progress” and “challenges.” The latter is connected to Chemnitz’s loss of 100,000 inhabitants due to World War II and the end of the GDR. It will be explored by different projects and groups, even an artists’ collective questioning the history of Wismut, a Chemnitz enterprise mining for uranium during the GDR.

Meanwhile, the theme “love” is dedicated to the love towards the city and also in the city, and to intercultural love stories. Recently, university students were casting for their Chemnitz-set version of the Shakespearean classic Romeo and Juliet.

The city’s archives have also prepared 21 presentations, lectures, concerts, and tours of different kinds relating to the city’s history. After all, during an anniversary, history is obviously a large topic.

But Chemnitz is also looking to the future – for instance, its future in Europe, which will be a topic in May.

After the mayor announced in January 2017 that Chemnitz would apply to become European Capital of Culture in 2025, the preparations for the upcoming jubilee transformed more and more into a pre-application process.

Children singing at the opening jubilee event in Chemnitz, 21 January 2018. (Photo: Stadt Chemnitz/Kristin Schmidt)
Children singing at the opening jubilee event in Chemnitz, 21 January 2018. (Photo: Stadt Chemnitz/Kristin Schmidt)

In total, 160 projects have been proposed, and 100 selected within that framework. Projects span from the middle ages to contemporary arts, linking past, present and future.

Let’s see if these initiatives bring out the city’s potential to become a culture capital in seven years’ time. You can keep up with the jubilee celebrations by visiting the official website.

By Anne-Coralie Bonnaire

Born and raised in France, Anne-Coralie Bonnaire has lived in Prague, Sofia, Frankfurt (an-der-Oder), Nice, Paris, Amiens… and longed to see the world (Canada, the US, China, Indonesia, Jordan… besides Europe). With Leipzig, it was love at first sight, even if it took her some years to put down roots in the “little Paris.” As a Frenchwoman, she obviously agrees with Goethe’s definition of the city, and feels home and “glocal.” She likes food and travels, books and films, her bike and her cat, and also to discuss politics and interculturalism.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*

Latest from History

Go to Top