Interview with Gaia Manco, founder of The Leipziger.
Gaia Manco, founder of The Leipziger, in Beijing in 2014. Photo courtesy Gaia Manco.

Glocal spotlight: Gaia Manco, “The Leipziger”


The Leipziger has been a popular online magazine among international people in Leipzig. Everyone I’ve talked to about my desire to start a webzine has mentioned The Leipziger and its founder, Gaia Manco. Gaia is a fellow “citizen of the world” (a glocal kindred spirit?) and a dynamo of a woman I met during a colleague’s PhD defense a couple years back (the colleague happened to be her husband). Even there, right after I approached her because I liked her bright dress and smile so much, she told me about her publication, which she was obviously very excited about. Unfortunately, Gaia has had to leave for South Africa, so The Leipziger has been a tad hard to maintain. But this didn’t prevent me from picking her brain a bit in this 10-question Q&A – on both her relationship with Leipzig and adventures in interviewing, writing and publishing here for an international audience – via e-mail earlier this month.

Q: Hello Gaia. Thank you very much for agreeing to do this Q&A with me. First of all, can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?

A: I’m Gaia, 32 years old, multimedia journalist and producer. But also communications and media manager, web-mistress (it’s not porn, it’s code), podcaster, teacher, feminist activist, traveler, cook, gardener and hopeless estimator of Hercule Poirot. Italian by birth, I recently moved to Johannesburg after a year living between Europe, South Africa and China. My last home was Leipzig.

Q: From when to when did you live in Leipzig?

A: I am a Wahlleipzigerin, and I’d like to say I always will be. I arrived in Leipzig at the end of 2011 and left in mid-2014, so I spent almost three incredibly rich years in Leipzig.

Q: Why did you move to Leipzig? Why did you eventually move away?

A: Leipzig is particularly meaningful to me because moving to Leipzig meant moving in together with my husband Frank. It sounds super traditionalist to say it this way, but my husband and I never really lived together until after we got married. We simply didn’t live in the same country and sometimes not even in the same continent! We chose Leipzig because it was a city where we, with our poorly paid intellectual professions – he is an academic – could live well. Much better than in England, where I lived at the time! Nevertheless, I was craving more adventures, so my husband and I started to look for opportunities outside Europe and we were lucky to find them in this interesting place that is South Africa.

Q: What were some of your first impressions of Leipzig?

A: I wrote three posts about this on my personal blog; I liked Leipzig from the start. Mind you, I visited in May 2010, and spring in Leipzig is gorgeous. For me, it was the city that smells like flowers. And I loved to see so many bikes. Not being able to go around by bike is one of the things I miss the most now that I live in Johannesburg. Does it sound super pretentious to say that I liked the cultural offer as well?

Q: When you arrived in Leipzig, did you think there were adequate communication and information channels for non-German speakers and international people in general?

A: Not at all. But maybe I didn’t know the right people! It struck me that there was no outlet that could inform the international community about the cultural offers in a curated way. And there was no information on how to be an active citizen. There was a good print magazine, Leipzig Zeitgeist, for which I wrote when I arrived, but there was no daily or weekly news.

Q: What gave you the idea to create The Leipziger?

A: The realisation I am talking about above. And the fact that I believe in informed choices. When I started The Leipziger (end of 2012), we were about to vote for a new mayor and no one had apparently considered that foreign Europeans are voters too and might not be fluent in German. (Barbara Höll, the Die Linke candidate, did have informational material in Russian, to be fair.) So I wanted to create a magazine that could help with enjoying the daily life in Leipzig as well as making people aware of the bigger picture: the elections, 1989, the Stolpersteine, the book fair… I interviewed all the candidates to the mayor election, as an example.

Q: From when until when did The Leipziger run?

A: From the end of 2012 to mid-2014. But a bit randomly: I wanted to do too much at the same time and I had to work, of course! And learn German!

Q: How did you go about building your audience, and how many viewers were you eventually able to get?

A: Enough to be proud of it and to be able to get recognition and work partnerships. I will tell what’s public, about 1100+ Facebook fans. When the website closes, the page will live on.

Q: Who was your target audience?

A: The international community that you might call expat, even if I don’t like the word. I find it simplistic. The international students, the academic community, everyone who chose to come to Leipzig. And the Leipzigers who came back after living abroad.

Q: What was your purpose with The Leipziger?

A: Well, I was quite ambitious! My main purpose was to know the city better, to participate in the public life and the public debate, and… to find storiesgigs for my freelance career. I am pretty happy with it. Several collaborations stemmed out of it, and good friendships too! I got in touch with the tourism office (and the amazing Steffi Gretschel), I met filmmaker Alina Ciranek, I ended up finding my “professional home” at the Mediendienst Ost collective in Leipzig.

I didn’t want to make money out of it (also because I knew it would have been difficult in the short term); it was always a side project for me, but I did want to progress professionally by doing it.

If I may, I would invite your readers to follow my adventures around the world. Here is the podcast, and here is its Facebook page. For a closer look at my work, visit this page.

The Leipziger will indeed close soon, but the FB page will live on to share and discuss among readers and well, I’d like to think, friends.

A Global Studies doctoral degree holder and former newspaper reporter, avid eater, pseudo-philosopher and poet, occasion-propelled singer, semi-professional socializer, movie addict, Brazilian-American nomad. In this space, she will share some of her experiences and (mis)adventures regarding various topics, with special attention to social issues.

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