Leipzig (/ˈlaɪptsɪɡ/; German pronunciation: [ˈlaɪ̯pt͡sɪç] ( listen)) is a city in the federal state of Saxony, Germany. It has around 520,000 inhabitants and is the heart of the Central German Metropolitan Region. Leipzig is situated about 150 kilometres (93 miles) south of Berlin at the confluence of the White Elster, Pleisse, and Parthe rivers at the southerly end of the North German Plain.
Leipzig has been a trade city at least since the time of the Holy Roman Empire, sitting at the intersection of the Via Regia and Via Imperii, two important Medieval trade routes. At one time, Leipzig was one of the major European centres of learning and culture in fields such as music and publishing. After World War II, Leipzig became a major urban centre within the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) but its cultural and economic importance declined, despite East Germany being the richest economy in the Soviet Bloc.
Leipzig later played a significant role in instigating the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, through events which took place in and around St. Nicholas Church. Since the reunification of Germany, Leipzig has undergone significant change with the restoration of some historical buildings, the demolition of others, and the development of a modern transport infrastructure. Nowadays Leipzig is an economic centre in Germany and has a prominent opera house and one of the most modern zoos in Europe.
In 2010 Leipzig was ranked among the top 70 world’s most livable cities by consulting firm Mercer in their quality of life survey. Also in 2010, Leipzig was included in the top 10 of cities to visit by the New York Times, and ranked 39th globally out of 289 cities for innovation in the 4th Innovation Cities Index published by Australian agency 2thinknow.
Leipzig is derived from the Slavic word Lipsk, which means «settlement where the linden trees (British English: lime trees; U.S. English: basswood trees) stand». An older spelling of the name in English is Leipsic.
Leipzig was first documented in 1015 in the chronicles of Bishop Thietmar of Merseburg as ‘urbs Libzi’ (Chronikon VII, 25), and endowed with city and market privileges in 1165 by Otto the Rich. The Leipzig Trade Fair, started in the Middle Ages, became an event of international importance and is the oldest remaining trade fair in the world.
There are records of commercial fishing operations on the river Pleisse in Leipzig dating back to 1305, when the Margrave Dietrich the Younger granted the fishing rights to the church and convent of St. Thomas.
There were a number of monasteries in and around the city, including a Benedectine monastery after which the Barfußgäßchen (Barefoot Alley) is named and a monastery of Irish monks (Jacobskirche, destroyed in 744) near the present day Ranstädter Steinweg (old Via Regia).
The foundation of the University of Leipzig in 1409 initiated the city’s development into a centre of German law and the publishing industry, and towards being the location of the Reichsgericht (Imperial Court of Justice), and the German National Library (founded in 1912).
On 24 December 1701, an oil-fueled street lighting system was introduced. The city employed light guards who had to follow a specific schedule to ensure the punctual lighting of the 700 lanterns.
The Leipzig region was the arena of the 1813 Battle of Leipzig between Napoleonic France and an allied coalition of Prussia, Russia, Austria, and Sweden. It was the largest battle in Europe prior to World War I and ended Napoleon’s presence in Germany and would ultimately lead to his first exile on Elba. In 1913 the Monument to the Battle of the Nations monument celebrating the centenary of this event was completed.
A terminus of the first German long distance railway to Dresden (the capital of Saxony) in 1839, Leipzig became a hub of Central European railway traffic, with Leipzig Central Station the largest terminal station by area in Europe. The train station has two grand entrance halls, the eastern one for the Royal Saxon State Railways and the western one for the Prussian state railways.
Leipzig became a centre of the German and Saxon liberal movements. The first German labor party, the General German Workers’ Association (Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein, ADAV) was founded in Leipzig on 23 May 1863 by Ferdinand Lassalle; about 600 workers from across Germany travelled to the foundation on the new railway line. Leipzig expanded rapidly to more than 700.000 inhabitants. Huge Gründerzeit areas were built, which mostly survived both war and post-war demolition.
With the opening of a fifth production hall in 1907, the Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei became the largest cotton mill company on the continent, housing over 240,000 spindles. Daily production surpassed 5 million kilograms of yarn.
The city’s mayor from 1930 to 1937, Carl Friedrich Goerdeler was a noted opponent of the Nazi regime in Germany. He resigned in 1937 when, in his absence, his Nazi deputy ordered the destruction of the city’s statue of Felix Mendelssohn. On Kristallnacht in 1938, one of the city’s most architecturally significant buildings, the 1855 Moorish Revival Leipzig synagogue was deliberately destroyed.
The city was also heavily damaged by Allied bombing during World War II. Unlike its neighbouring city of Dresden this was largely conventional bombing, with high explosives rather than incendiaries. The resultant pattern of loss was a patchwork, rather than wholesale loss of its centre, but was nevertheless very extensive.
The Allied ground advance into Germany reached Leipzig in late April 1945. The U.S. 2nd Infantry Division and U.S. 69th Infantry Division fought into the city on 18 April and completed its capture after fierce urban combat, in which fighting was often house-to-house and block-to-block, on 19 April 1945.
The U.S. turned over the city to the Red Army as it pulled back from the line of contact with Soviet forces in July 1945 to the predesignated occupation zone boundaries. Leipzig became one of the major cities of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany).
In the mid-20th century, the city’s trade fair assumed renewed importance as a point of contact with the Comecon Eastern Europe economic bloc, of which East Germany was a member. At this time, trade fairs were held at a site in the south of the city, near the Monument to the Battle of the Nations.
In October 1989, after prayers for peace at St. Nicholas Church, established in 1983 as part of the peace movement, the Monday demonstrations started as the most prominent mass protest against the East German regime.
Leipzig was the German candidate for the 2012 Summer Olympics, but was unsuccessful.