The big trip

Trip of the week: in search of J.S. Bach in Leipzig

Visit this German city for its superb musical heritage, old cafés and food

Although it’s now being referred to as the “new Berlin”, Leipzig isn’t all that prepossessing: it is a “mishmash” of a city marred by centuries of “destruction and erasure, rebuilding and renewal”. “It’s as if Leipzig is still recovering from its own history.” But there are good reasons to visit, says James Runcie in the Financial Times – including its superb musical heritage.

Johann Sebastian Bach came to work here in 1723, at the age of 38, and stayed until his death in 1750. He was the cantor, or choirmaster, of the church of St Thomas, which still stands today, and while Leipzig has changed a lot since then, other illuminating traces of the city he knew remain.

St Thomas’s is a “barnlike” late-Gothic hall-church with two organs – a reminder that when Bach wrote the St Matthew Passion for two choirs and two orchestras, he was producing “antiphonal music for this exact location”. He was originally buried in another church nearby, but his bones were moved here following the Allied bombing of 1943, and now lie in a vault in the nave. His house no longer stands, but a trip to the Altes Rathaus (the Old Town Hall) evokes the travails of his life, with its sour-faced portraits of town dignitaries – the kind of men he railed against when he felt he wasn’t getting the “money or attention” he deserved.

For a lighter insight into the great composer’s daily experience, take a food tour. Bach loved Gose, a sour wheat beer many find fairly “revolting”. You could try it at the tavern of Gosenschenke Ohne Bedenken.

At Auerbachs Keller (where Faust drinks in Goethe’s 1808 play), order Leipziger Allerlei, which is “the kind of food Bach ate”: a “melange” of peas, asparagus, morels, cabbage and cauliflower with bread dumplings. And stop off at one of the city’s old cafés – Bach seems to have loved coffee and even wrote an amusing “mini-operetta”, the Coffee Cantata, about it.

For details of the Leipzig musical trail visit leipzig.travel

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