For a thousand years, what is now Leipzig’s hippest quarter lay in a deep slumber, until a knight of the Industrial Revolution braved the “wild west” and led it into modernity. There is more to Plagwitz’s creation story, of course, to that of its godfather Mr. Karl Heine, to its lives before and after – quite a bit of it not fairytale-like. But in a summer afternoon of perfect skies, it’s difficult not to see the neighborhood in its most positive light.
Our tour guide’s name is Florian and he walks us through a millennium of history along the main arteries of Plagwitz in three hours, minus a Biergarten break. He considers himself a Leipziger through and through and has given countless tours of the city as a full-time guide for the past two years, but says he very much likes the tip-based model of Free Walking Tour Leipzig, which he joined roughly a year ago. Himself a Plagwitz resident, he has been enjoying developing this new alternative tour with them, and taking the small groups to see his ‘hood – as long as they follow the ground rules of respect and mindfulness while there.
The inaugural tour a few Thursdays ago brought together a mix of tourists and fellow residents, all learning a lot about the different lives of Plagwitz, from pastoral to industrial to activist to artsy.
In the group was a young woman from Australia and Sri Lanka who has been living in Plagwitz for a while but wanted a peek beyond the facades and landscapes she passes by everyday. She got introduced to hidden facets of the lives of old factories and of landmarks such as Felsenkeller, Heilandskirche, Karl-Heine-Kanal, and Zum Wilden Heinz, a favorite local watering hole and former home of a goat that has attained mythical status.
The tour’s whole vibe even inspired a more recent arrival – from Chile via Berlin into Leipzig’s growing tech scene – to share an idea for a niche travel blog project. Meanwhile, a random cyclist stopped by, liked what he was hearing from Florian by the canal, then chatted for a good bit with Matej, founder of Free Walking Tour Leipzig.
Besides their educational value, the tours Matej and his team have been running for the past three years in Leipzig are known for their friendliness, openness and chilled out vibe, which tends to attract kindred spirits.
Tourists from Copenhagen and Bavaria, respectively, were just getting to know Leipzig and liked their city center tour so much that they decided they wanted to be shown around Plagwitz as well. The three young women from Bavaria had actually extended their stay in Leipzig.
The Bavarian travel buddies were hardly able to contain their exhilaration – and in fact their surprise – as they came across the smiling cyclists, the converted factories, the street drinking, the urban art. They told me they came to Leipzig after COVID-19 derailed their summer plans to go abroad, and only reluctantly so, because they’d always heard of it as a city of Plattenbauten and narrow-minded folks. But they’d never been to Saxony before so it would at least be an adventure.
The women ended up discovering that just as Munich and surroundings cannot be reduced to giant beer mugs and Lederhosen, Leipzig is much more than gray buildings and provincial minds speckling its inclusive spirit and creative exuberance. Exploring sunny Plagwitz with the guidance of an open-minded and conscientious local reminded me, as well, of the best of Leipzig’s character, which eight years of routine in the city tends to make me forget.
Free Walking Tour Leipzig’s Alternative Tour (of Plagwitz) takes place each Thursday at 3 PM, in English, starting from the little square across from Felsenkeller on Karl-Heine-Straße (Trams 3 and 32). Group sizes are limited to 15 and the team asks that you make a reservation in advance through this link.
For information on this and other tours offered – Leipzig city center, local Jewish history, music and more – visit Free Walking Tour Leipzig’s website and keep up with them on social media: Facebook | Instagram