Posts Tagged ‘Leipzig’

German National Library Leipzig

Monday, September 19th, 2016

The German National Library in Leipzig (Deutsche Nationalbibliothek) is a researcher’s dream. It is one of two national library facilities in Germany. The second facility is located in Frankfurt/Main. Together, they form the largest reference library in the world and function as central archive and national bibliographic center for the Federal Republic of Germany. Each publication, published in Germany, must provide the German National Library with two copies. At the end of 2015 the two facilities held a combined total of 30.8 million media units.

German National Library Leipzig main entrance. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014.

German National Library Leipzig main entrance. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014.

Responsibilities of the two national libraries

Each of the two facilities focuses on specific areas of responsibility. The Leipzig facility’s mandate is to collect and permanently archive all German and German-language publications starting in 1913, foreign publications about Germany, translations of German works, and the works of German-speaking emigrants published abroad between 1933 and 1945.

The Frankfurt/Main facility is responsible for post-1945 literature and the development of information and communication technology, including development and management of the central database. It handles the production, marketing and distribution of national bibliographic services and houses the German Exile Archive (Deutsches Exilarchiv) 1933-1945.

A third facility, the German Music Archive (Deutsches Musikarchiv), established in Berlin in 1970, archives all music-related materials (both printed and recorded) and was integrated in the German National Library Leipzig following the construction of a new extension in 2010.

History of the German National Library

The Germany National Library was preceded by two institutions: the Deutsche Buecherei founded in 1912 in Leipzig and the Deutsche Bibliothek established in 1947 in Frankfurt/Main. As part of the German reunification both institutions were brought together to form Die Deutsche Bibliothek, which was renamed Deutsche Nationalbibliothek in 2006.

The German National Library building in Leipzig

The main building of the German National Library Leipzig was built between 1914 and 1916. The King of Saxony, Friedrich August III, provided the funds for its construction. The library’s impressive 525-foot long facade faces the “Deutscher Platz” (German Plaza). The main reading room is a timeless beauty. The enormous Meissen Porcelain vase on display in the first floor lobby is priceless. The painting depicts the Association of Book Traders building (Buchhaendlerboerse) of Leipzig.

Enormous Meissen porcelain vase on exhibit in the first floor lobby of the German National Library Leipzig. The vase was donated by Richard Linnemann. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014.

Enormous Meissen porcelain vase on exhibit in the first floor lobby of the German National Library Leipzig. The vase was donated by Richard Linnemann. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014.

Use of the German National Library

The German National Library is open to the public. Online catalog use and email inquiries are free. Patrons must be at least eighteen years of age and in possession of a current library card in order to use the facility. Library cards may be obtained for a small fee upon submitting a valid identification.

The German National library Leipzig has eight subject-specific reading rooms:

  •  The Humanities Reading Room
  • The Science Reading Room
  • The Technology Reading Room
  • The Shoah Reading Room (Collection of exile literature)
  • The Multimedia/periodicals Reading Room
  •  The Maps Reading Room
  • The Music Reading Room
  • The Museums Reading Room

Some 60,000 publications are available for direct use in the reading rooms. In addition, users have access to the bio-bibliographic reference library and to special collections. In the multimedia/periodicals reading room, in addition to current issues of about 1,800 journals from all subject areas, issues of selected titles from the last two years are available for consultation.

This library is well worth a visit. Individual and group tours are available. Reservations may be required.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of


The Lipsi – a politically correct dance

Monday, March 14th, 2016

The Lipsi was a new dance in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It was officially promoted by East German leaders. The socialist dance creation was the East’s answer to Elvis Presley’s Rock ‘n’ Roll and the Rock ‘n’ Roll-inspired dance, the Twist. Party officials saw in Elvis’ sexually provocative performance style an undesirable capitalist influence on their socialist youth and were looking for a more wholesome alternative.

The birth of the Lipsi

East German leaders regarded both dancing too closely together as well as dancing apart as indecent, decadent and offensive. Both dance modes were frowned upon and sometimes strictly forbidden. To eclipse the emerging Rock ‘n’ Roll music and dance modes, party officials had to come up with an alternative, a politically correct dance. And in 1959 they introduced the Lipsi.

Composer René Dubianski and dance instructor-couple Christa and Helmut Seifert concocted the dance. Since all three came from the East German city of Leipzig, they named their creation the “Lipsi” by adapting the name from lipsiens, the Latin name for Leipzig. Officials hoped that the “i’ on the end of Lipsi would make the dance sound modern and American and, therefore, appeal to young people. All aspects of the dance were government- supervised and approved. Officials even prepared for the possibility that the new East German dance might become a worldwide hit and applied for a patent.

Let’s do the Lipsi

The Lipsi is a dance in 6/4 time. Think of a double-time waltz, done to fast, upbeat music. Its basic steps and patterns are simple and easily learned so that beginners can master them in short order. The Lipsi is a couples’ dance. The man leads; the woman follows. It looks similar to the Latin Rumba without hip involvement, of course. While partners gently hold hands, they rarely dance apart nor do they get very close to each other. For a few beats of the Lipsi, watch Christa and Helmut Seifert on youtube.

What happened to the Lipsi?

Although the Lipsi was actually a rather nice dance addition, it had limited appeal. Its major downfall was that it was promoted as a politically correct dance to counter Rock ‘n’ Roll. Despite enormous propaganda efforts on the part of the East German government, the Lipsi was only briefly in vogue. The dance was too conventional to captivate the East German youth, which hungered for the rousing rhythms of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Within a few years the Lipsi disappeared again. However, since the beginning of the 21st century, the Lipsi has celebrated a come-back, especially in Leipzig.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of


Gewandhaus – Garment Hall to Concert Hall

Monday, July 6th, 2015

The renowned Gewandhaus Orchestra performs in a grand structure overlooking the Augustusplatz in Leipzig, Germany. Its name translates into “garment hall” because the city’s first concert hall was located in a textile-trading house. Completed in 1981, today’s hall can accommodate close to 2000 visitors and is known for its excellent acoustics. I had the good fortune of attending a recent concert at the Gewandhaus. It was directed by guest conductor Omer Meir Wellber. The performance of musicians and conductor was truly beyond words. What a treat for ears and eyes!

The current Gewandhaus was an East German cultural project. It is built in the style of an amphitheater. Its organ is the biggest musical instrument ever built in East Germany. The Gewandhaus Orchestra performs in the Gewandhaus, in the Leipzig Opera and, together with the Thomanerchor, in the St. Thomas Church.

According to Claudius Boehm (translated by Tom Greenleaves) the earliest roots of the Gewandhaus Orchestra can be traced to 1479. At that time, Leipzig’s City Council hired three artistic pipers (Kunstpfeifer) to provide musical accompaniment at church services, theater productions and concerts.

First Gewandhaus

Leipzig’s earliest concerts took place in private homes. Then an inn hosted the events. As the concerts increased in popularity, a larger space became essential, and in 1781, the City of Leipzig constructed a concert hall. Because the textile merchants had no use for a substantial part of the upper floor in the Garment Hall between the Gewandgaesschen and the Kupfergasse, the space was converted into a concert hall. It accommodated up to 500 patrons. Mozart played in this hall. So did Carl Maria von Weber and Franz Liszt. Hector Berlioz, Johannes Brahms, and Richard Wagner conducted here. The popularity of Gewandhaus concerts increased beyond all expectation so that the auditorium was modified several times to increase audience capacity. Unfortunately, the acoustics suffered each time, and a new concert hall was discussed.

Second Gewandhaus

In 1884, the Second Gewandhaus opened its doors on the south side of the Augustusplatz. It was designed by Martin Gropius and consisted of a main concert hall and a chamber music hall. While the City of Leipzig owned the First Gewandhaus, the Gewandhaus Concert Board owned the Second Gewandhaus. Anton Bruckner performed here at the organ, Paul Hindemith on the viola, Igor Stravinsky at the piano. Johannes Brahms, Edvard Grieg, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Richard Strauss all conducted the Gewandhaus Orchestra at one time or another. The Second Gewandhaus was destroyed during bombings in 1944. For a while, the Gewandhaus orchestra performed in various halls throughout the city and moved into the zoo in 1947.

Third Gewandhaus

The conductor Kurt Masur initiated the campaign for the construction of the Third Gewandhaus on Augustusplatz. It opened in 1981, two hundred years after the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra had moved into the First Gewandhaus site.

The amphitheatrical Great Hall accommodates an audience of over 1,900; the Mendelssohn Hall approximately 500. The Great Hall is crowned by its imposing organ, with its four manuals, 92 stops and 6,638 pipes. Today’s Gewandhaus hosts approximately 800 events per year, which include its concert series, organ recitals, various chamber music series, conferences, symposia and lectures.

Inside the Gewandhaus Photo © J. Elke Ertle

Inside the Gewandhaus
Photo © J. Elke Ertle


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.


St. Thomas Boys Choir – 800 years

Monday, June 29th, 2015

The  world-famous St. Thomas Boys Choir of Leipzig, Germany, is first mentioned in 1254. But most likely, the choir is as old church itself. The St. Thomas Church came into being in 1212 when Margrave Dietrich of Meissen founded an Augustinian Monastery on this spot. Toward the end of the 15th century, the church’s Romanesque nave was razed and replaced by the late-Gothic “Hall-Church” that we see today. In fact, the architecture of today’s church has not changed much since the end of the 15th century.

St. Thomas Church, Leipzig Photo © J. Elke Ertle

St. Thomas Church, Leipzig
Photo © J. Elke Ertle

Choir Director Johann Sebastian Bach

From 1723 to 1750, the renowned composer and musician of the Baroque period, Johann Sebastian Bach, led the St. Thomas Boys Choir. At that time, the chorus consisted of 54 boys. Today, about 100 boys and young men sing in the choir. Their primary focus is the preservation of Bach’s choral music. For that reason, weekly Friday and Saturday motets have become a permanent musical tradition at St. Thomas. Bach Passion Concerts and the Christmas Oratorio draw thousands of visitors each year. The present leader of the choir is, Georg Christoph Biller, the church’s 36th cantor.

During a recent visit, I was able to enjoy a Friday motet with the St. Thomas Boys Choir. The church was packed, and we were not disappointed. Music and setting succeeded in linking us emotionally to a long-forgotten time period.

Statue of Johann Sebastian Bach in front of the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig Photo © J. Elke Ertle

Statue of Johann Sebastian Bach in front of the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig
Photo © J. Elke Ertle

The Bach Organ

The organ from Bach’s days no longer exists. In 2000, for the 250th anniversary of Bach’s death, St. Thomas acquired a new organ. This new instrument, with its 61 registers and 4 manuals with pedal, looks and sounds similar to an organ of the 18th century.

Historic events at St. Thomas

The Lutheran St. Thomas Church has a long and eventful history. Not only has the St. Thomas Boys Choir sung here for the last 800 years. Many other important events took place in this church as well: In 1409, the University of Leipzig was founded in the monastery. In 1539, Martin Luther preached at St. Thomas, introducing the Reformation to Leipzig’s citizens. From 1723 until his death, Johann Sebastian Bach was Cantor of the Thomas school. In 1789 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart played the organ here. Mendelssohn performed at St. Thomas, and in 1813 Richard Wagner was baptized here. Since 1950 the St. Thomas Church is the location of Johann Sebastian Bach’s remains. Originally buried in an unmarked grave outside the Johanniskirche in Leipzig, Bach was moved to his final resting place at the foot of the church’s altar.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

Goethe writes Faust, a closet drama

Monday, June 22nd, 2015

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 -1832) was a prolific German writer whose extensive work included epic and lyric poetry, memoirs, treatises on botany, anatomy and color, an autobiography, prose and verse dramas, four novels, 10,000 letters and nearly 3,000 drawings. His poems were set to music throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by a number of composers. His best-known work is Faust, a two-part drama, which he wrote over a period of 57 years. It is a hybrid between a play and an extended poem. Performances of the two-part tragedy are still performed today at the Goetheanum in Switzerland.

John Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

Goethe’s Youth

By the age of eight, Goethe already spoke some Greek, Latin, French, English, Hebrew and Italian. His passion at that time was drawing, and he soon became interested in literature. By age sixteen he was sent to the University of Leipzig to study law. Because he hated having to memorize judicial rules by heart, he often attended poetry lectures instead. While in Leipzig, he became a regular patron at Auerbachs Cellar (Auerbachs Keller in German). The folk legend of Faust’s wine barrel ride at Auerbach’s made such an impression on him that he turned it into a closet drama.

Closet Dramas

Closet dramas ares not intended to be performed onstage. They are plays that are read out loud by a reader. Closet dramas written in verse became very popular in Western Europe after 1800. Nonetheless, Faust Part One and Faust Part Two are often performed onstage.

Faust plot

Faust, the main character, is an aging scholar. Frustrated with the limits to his knowledge, power, and enjoyment of life, he agrees to a pact with Mephisto, the devil. Faust agrees to exchange his soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures during his lifetime. On earth Faust will be master. In hell, Faust will be the devils’ servant for the rest of eternity.

Faust Part One

Mephisto leads Faust through a number of adventures that culminate in a lustful relationship with an innocent young girl. It ends in tragedy for Faust. The girl is saved but Faust is left to grieve in shame. Faust Part One was published in 1808 and created a sensation.

Faust Part Two

Part two begins with the spirits of the earth forgiving Faust. Mephisto tries to seize Faust’s soul when he dies, but angels intervene due to God’s grace. Faust Part Two was only finished shortly before his death and was published posthumously.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

Auerbachs Cellar- 5th in world fame

Thursday, June 11th, 2015

Auerbachs Cellar (Auerbachs Keller in German) ranks fifth in restaurant world fame. The famous restaurant and bar is located in the heart of Leipzig, Germany, a city that is celebrating its 1000th anniversary this year As the locals like to explain, “Wer nach Leipzig zur Messe gereist ohne auf Auerbachs Hof zu gehen, der schweige still, denn das beweist: Er hat Leipzig nicht gesehen.”

(If you have travelled to a Leipzig trade show without visiting Auerbachs, keep it quiet because it proves that you haven’t seen Leipzig.)

Auerbachs could have been Stromer’s

Auerbachs Cellar has been in continuous operation since 1525. It is located in the basement of the Maedler Passage, a shopping arcade in Leipzig’s historic district. Its original owner, Dr. Heinrich Stromer, sat on the Leipzig city council, was a professor of medicine at the University of Leipzig and personal physician to members of the nobility. In appreciation for Stromer’s services, the Prince-Elector of Saxony granted him the privilege of establishing a wine bar. The bar was first mentioned in 1438. Because Stromer was born in the city of Auerbach, Leipzig’s citizens liked to call him Dr. Auerbach. The name stuck. But the wine bar did not last long. In 1528, Dr. Stromer had the original structure razed and replaced with a larger one that included a large vaulted cellar (Grosser Keller), a Cask Cellar (Fasskeller), Old Leipzig (Alt-Leipzig), the Luther Room (Lutherzimmer) and the Goethe Room (Goethezimmer). The Mephisto Bar was constructed on the floor above. All of the rooms are still standing today. However, in the early 20th century – when the Maedler Passage was built – much of Auerbachs was reconstructed and expanded.

Grosser Keller, Auerbachs Cellar, Leipzig, Photo © J. Elke Ertle. 2014

Grosser Keller, Auerbachs Cellar, Leipzig
Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014

Auerbachs and the Goethe connection

While Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a German writer, studied in Leipzig in the 1700s, he liked to frequent Auerbachs Cellar. It was here that he got the inspiration for “Faust,” his two-part play in which Faust sells his soul to the devil, Mephisto. Faust and Mephisto carouse here with students before riding off on a barrel. The scene is depicted on a carved tree trunk in the Goethe Room. Two large bronze sculptures at the cellar’s entrance depict Dr. Faust, Mephisto and the students.

Sculpture of Faust and Mephisto at the entrance of Auerbachs Cellar, Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014

Sculpture of Faust and Mephisto at the entrance of Auerbachs Cellar, Leipzig, Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014

Rubbing Faust’s shoe for good luck

After dining in Auerbachs large vaulted cellar recently, we admired the painted ceiling and enjoyed the traditional German food. That day’s special – Sauerbraten with red cabbage and dumplings – tasted as good as it looked. Upon leaving, we made sure we gave Dr. Faust’s shoe a rub. It is supposed to bring good luck. There must be some truth to the legend because we noticed that Dr. Faust’s shoe gleamed golden, the dark bronze patina having been rubbed away by scores of good-luck-seekers before us.

Dr. Faust's shoe, polished by scores of Auerbachs visitors, Leipzig, Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014

Dr. Faust’s shoe, polished by scores of Auerbachs visitors, Leipzig, Photo © J. Elke Ertle. 2014

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.