LEIPZIG: A City of Passages and Crossroads of Bach, Mendelssohn and Martin Luther

By Richard Varr

Leipzig’s stone and arched passageways, lined with bustling retail shops, boutiques and restaurants, are a symbolic reminder of how this city is the crossroads of some of Germany’s most favorite sons.

Bach statue outside St. Thomas Church, Leipzig. Photo by Richard Varr

The full-sounding organ chords reverberate throughout the wood-trimmed nave of St. Thomas Church – a fugue no doubt written by Johann Sebastian Bach.  The fugue, however, isn’t the only reminder of one of the world’s greatest composers.

I approach the altar and see Bach’s final resting place marked by a bronze floor plaque, on this day garnished with red roses.  His likeness on one of the church’s stained glass windows gazes over the pews.  And outside, Bach is again remembered – and revered – through his larger-than-life statue.

Bach tomb in St. Thomas Church. Photo by Richard Varr

Bach Portrait in the City Museum, Leipzig. Photo by Richard Varr

“Beethoven said his name should be ocean because Bach means stream,” says my tour guide.  “Other musicians said he’s the beginning and the end.  He made music for the future and we are proud that he lived here.”

Across town, the 19thcentury home of Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy is today a museum.  In the museum’s recital room, I listen to a pianist capturing the fervor of his passion – a composer who was particularly enamored with Bach and today is noted for reviving his music.  “Mendelssohn grew up in a musical family, and even his grandmothers had lessons with a son of Bach,” says the museum’s director.

Study in the Mendelssohn House. Photo by Richard Varr

“His mother had piano lessons with one of Bach’s son’s students.  So there was a very close connection.”

Painting of Martin Luther by Cranach in the City Museum, Leipzig. Photo by Richard Varr

And no tour of Leipzig would be completed without references to Martin Luther, the German priest who started the Protestant Reformation.  “Martin Luther came to Leipzig 17 times,” says my guide.  “He preached at St. Thomas Church in 1539 because it was the beginning of the Reformation in Leipzig.”  A likeness of Luther also dominates one of the church’s stained glass windows.

Passageway in central Leipzig. Photo by Richard Varr

Other places bringing the history of Leipzig’s favorite sons back to life include the Bach Museum and the Leipzig City History Museum, which showcases Cranach’s famous Luther portrait and the most famous portrait of Bach painted from life.  Modern day Leipzig, meanwhile, is a city of passageways lined with retail shops and restaurants, some of them places where Bach and Luther once walked and frequented.

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