Calling All Hipsters: Leipzig Is the New Berlin

Published on Spiegel Online International, by Maximilian Popp, Oct. 24, 2012 (Translated from the German by Paul CohenPhoto-Gallery).

Berlin used to be Germany’s hippest city, but the once scruffy capital has long since succumbed to gentrification. The latest city to attract the creative class is the former East German industrial seat of Leipzig. Moving in by the thousands, they are lured by the euphoric buzz of cheap rent and youthful ingenuity … //

… Ramshackle and Wild:

A few hundred meters from Clara Zetkin Park, in the Plagwitz district, artist Julian Sippel, 31, is walking across Karl-Heine-Strasse, a wide boulevard bordered by art nouveau buildings and derelict industrial sites. He points to the galleries, bars and theater that have emerged here over the past few years. “It all started here in Plagwitz,” he says.

Sippel has a three-day beard and carefully disheveled hair. He studied art in Frankfurt and urban planning in Hamburg. One year ago, he came with a group of artists from Hamburg to exhibit some of his installations in Leipzig. Sippel recalls how he restlessly roamed through Plagwitz at the time. Artists had moved into the old buildings. Friends took him along to parties in warehouses. The city was ramshackle and wild. In Hamburg, artists were struggling for every square meter of space. In Leipzig, Sippel and his colleagues found limitless space available to them. At the time, says Sippel, he couldn’t get the thought of moving to Leipzig out of his head.

Sippel walks up to an old factory. The walls are sprayed with graffiti, windows are broken and steel girders crisscross the building. Before the fall of the Wall, Sippel explains, the Westwerk was used to manufacture faucets and fixtures. Today, the space is used by artists and musicians. Painters are leaning over sketches in the studios, and music is booming from one of the old production halls. A woman with dreadlocks is hauling clothing into a vintage store. “In any other city, investors would have bought the building a long time ago,” says Sippel.

Three months after his first exhibition in Leipzig, he gave notice for his apartment in Hamburg and moved with fellow artist Andi Willmann to eastern Germany. Together they have rented a store near the Westwerk that they use as a living space and studio.

In another former industrial building, Sippel and some friends organized an exhibition of abstract art by young painters from Leipzig. For the opening, he nailed together wooden boards to make a bar, and a friend of his played music. No one in Leipzig expects to be a major commercial success, he says, so the artists help each other out.

Room to Breathe: … //

… Enterprising Spirit:

Leipzig is experiencing its golden age. The euphoric mood is attracting not only artists and students, but also start-up entrepreneurs who are looking for well-educated employees. The Leipzig Graduate School of Management, a private business school, is known for producing company founders.

By contrast, attempts by local politicians to move the city forward have often failed. The Leipzig Games Convention, for example, was a flop. Top city officials have also illegally sold off property at bargain prices, and top managers of the municipal waterworks have been convicted of taking bribes. In January, Leipzig will elect a new mayor. The incumbent, Burkhard Jung of the left-leaning Social Democrats (SPD), only has a chance of staying in office because there is no suitable opponent. The people of Leipzig have grown accustomed to expecting little of their politicians. The city’s enterprising young people organize things on their own.

The old cinema, UT Connewitz, will be 100 years old in December, and its supporters are celebrating this anniversary with concerts, readings and a film festival. The movie theater has survived wars, dictatorships and revolutions. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, no one was interested in running the old theater — until a group of local people founded an association in 2001 to maintain the institution.

Annett Fenske used to see films here with her parents when she was a kid. Fenske, who now works as a geriatric nurse, has mixed feelings about Leipzig’s transformation. She’s glad that the city is gaining popularity. But she is afraid that investors could soon force long-time residents out.

Fenske also compiles the theater’s program, books the bands and selects the films. During the summer break, she and fellow members of the association renovate the building. Over the past 10 years, they have laid a new floor, replaced the roof and cleared out the basement. She dreams that the old movie theater will one day look like it did at the beginning of the 20th century. The association receives no support from city hall. In Leipzig, says Fenske, ingenuity stems from the city’s residents.
(full text).


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