Having studied German at my home university in Italy, as soon as I had the chance to spend some time in Germany and practice the language, I went for it. My first idea was, of course, going to Berlin. It was the summer of 2013 and I had just returned from my Erasmus in the UK; as I had some money saved and a whole summer ahead of me, I immediately looked for cheap Ryanair flights from Sardinia to Germany and booked them without any second thoughts. Initially I was determined to spend those five weeks in the German capital. I had some friends there and, needless to say, I was beyond fascinated with this city full of art, creativity and ideas, swarming with alternative subcultures.
Then, while I was organizing my trip, I came across an article about Leipzig, where the city was presented as the new Berlin, but a better and, moreover, cheaper version of it. As I was travelling on a budget, the article really made me rethink my decision. It also occurred to me that, since Berlin was so packed with foreigners, a smaller city that had just started to be targeted by the wave of Ausländer would be a more appropriate choice, as it would allow me to practice the language with native speakers and avoid relying on the always-so-convenient English.
My decision as to where to spend those 5 weeks suddenly changed and so did my life: my experience in Leipzig was in fact so great that I promised myself I would move there once I graduated.
It was the first time in my life I felt home. And here I am, after two years, all settled in Leipzig, writing about the reasons why I am happy I changed my mind that summer.
1. Perfect Size
I would like to be more original, but actually, the main reason why I love this city is, as many others, its size. “Leipzig is not too big and not too small,” that’s how many people enthusiastically describe it. I love that it only takes me ten minutes to go to my work place and ten, on the opposite direction, to go to university. The city is so ‘compact’ that many people do not even use public transportation but ride their bikes instead. Leipzig perfectly accommodates its 520000 inhabitants while offering at the same time enough space for oneself, a perfect example that it is possible to be such a young, vibrant city without the annoying side effect of claustrophobia.
2. Things-to-do galore
Despite its walkable distances and the ordinary size, Leipzig is the furthest thing to boring you could think of. Everyday there is plenty of stuff going on, and a great amount of possibilities as to how to spend your free time: exhibitions, flea markets, readings, concerts, meetings, projects and workshops, you name it. And the good thing about Leipzig is that you often don’t even have to choose (how annoying is it when you’re interested in different events but you can only attend one?): it is possible to attend an event for a couple of hours and then show up at your friend’s party in another neighbourhood, simply riding your bike or relying on the efficient night buses.
When I visited Leipzig for the first time, I did not know much about the GDR and how life was back then, except from what I had been taught in my history classes and by watching Good Bye, Lenin!. So one of the things I devoted my time to the most during that first visit was going to museums and collecting impressions and memories from the people who had lived in the GDR; the process turned out to be extremely interesting and at times very surprising. I still enjoy talking about the GDR, especially with elder people. I also find it very fascinating that such an important page of our European history is still so vivid in the memory of many people who are just a couple of years older than me. Moreover, I get to discover and experience a place whose recent history was greatly different from the country where I grew up.
One of the stereotypes we have in Italy Is that Germans are cold and unfriendly. Despite being a fairly warm-blooded Italian, during my Erasmus and previous international experiences I had always found myself clicking with Germans, so their alleged coldness did not scare me at all. Much to my surprise, though, I found that people in Leipzig are much friendlier and warmer than expected. “Die Leipziger sind gemütliche Leute,” (which translates roughly to “People from Leipzig are laid-back, relaxed, jovial”) a taxi driver said once to me and I could not agree more. People are very outgoing, funny, easy to get along with… and they even smile a lot!
Before moving to Leipzig, I had never considered myself being an architecture enthusiast, but apparently, the city has awoken a new passion in me. Every time I am out for a walk or simply heading somewhere, I cannot help but contemplate with an awe-struck expression on my face all the beautiful buildings around me. I am not talking about the famous historical places and monuments in the city centre but about the town houses; each one of them is unique and finely decorated, mixing features of Art Nouveau and elegant Baroque accents. The buildings often display the year in which they were built, giving them even more appeal.
Despite being a dark page of Germany’s recent history, one of the positive things the GDR brought about is a sense of fraternity and solidarity among the citizens. Back in the day, resources were scarce and neighbours had to help each other out with what they had. Today, people in Leipzig seem to be more than eager to keep this tradition alive, as many groups on Facebook attest: for example, on Free your Stuff people can give away any kind of item for free, from cutlery to furniture; Foodsharing Leipzig is a platform that allows people to share the food they have at home and that otherwise would go to waste. Both groups are really active and show how strong social conscience is in this city. I was so inspired by the idea of foodsharing that I created a similar group in my home city, getting a lot of attention from the local press and inspiring other people in other parts of Italy to found similar groups. Way to go, Leipzig!
By Julia Arena
Julia Arena works in the marketing and translation fields in Leipzig and runs a blog with her partner (The Other Half: theotherhalfjournal.tumblr.com), while pursuing an MA in British Studies.