Leipzig's City Centre is mind-boggling!

It is mind boggling how Leipzig, German (population 580,000) fits so much into its tiny City Centre – just 800 meters by 800 meters (or eight fields by eight football fields).

Leipzig Fun

The entire City Centre, about half the size of Calgary’s East Village, is home to six major museums, two major concert halls, two historic churches, five major department stores, three large shopping malls, University of Leipzig City Center campus, two large plazas (actively programmed with farmers' markets and events), a few small park spaces and a small skatepark to boot.

 

In addition, hundreds of restaurants - many with huge patios, perfect for people watching - and dozens of five and six-storey mixed-use buildings. 

It also home to the second largest train station in Germany, with 19 platforms housed in six iron train sheds, a multi-level concourse with towering stone arches, and a 298-metre long facade.

All of this and yet there is only one highrise - a 36-storey office tower. How could this be?

 

Pedestrian Paradise

One of the things you first notice when exploring Leipzig’s City Centre is there are no buses, trains and only a few cars.  Even bikes are walked more than ridden. 

That is because there is a major ring road around City Centre for cars, trams and buses. Entrances to parkades are from this ring road; all transit users get off on the edge of the City Centre and walk in. There are no surface parking lots, no street parking taking up valuable space anywhere in the City Centre.  Deliveries all seem to happen in a few hours before the stores and museums open.

Also buildings are not set back from the street, meaning no useless decorative green spaces or plazas in front of buildings and no wasted space between buildings as they are all attached to each other or the building encompasses the entire block.

Classical Music Paradise

Leipzig has perhaps one of the richest musical histories of any city in the world.  The Gewandhaus Orchestra dates back to 1743 when sixteen merchants decided Leipzig needed an orchestra. Today it plays to an audience of 500,000 per year. 

The Opera House is the third oldest in Europe and is linked to several famous composers – Wagner, Telemann, Marschner, Lortzing and Mahler. The St. Thomas Church is linked to Bach and the renowned St. Thomas Boys’ Choir.  

It is not surprising Leipzig has perhaps one of the most unique urban trails in the world.  The “Leipzig Music Trail” is a 5 km signposted route connecting 20+ sites of relevance to the city’s 500 years of musical history.  There is even an audio guide allowing you to listen to audio clips from the composers as you arrive at houses of Mendelssohn or Schumann or Bach at the St. Thomas Church.

While Calgary has the wonderful new National Music Centre, there is really no link between it’s collection and the history of Calgary.

Architectural Paradise

While Leipzig is one of the oldest cities in Europe, (it was a major trading center in Roman Times), it has also embraced new architecture. 

Within just a few blocks you can see lovely examples of Baroque and Art Nouveau buildings, side by side with modern ones.

One of the most unique urban design features of the City Centre are its 24 historic mid-block Hofs, i.e. wide, mid-block passageways full of shops, cafes and restaurants that link streets.

The most famous Hof is the Madler-Passage with its luxury shops, plush blue carpet and historic Auerbachs Keller restaurant (where famous German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe used to hang out).  

 

The Barthel Hof is one of the city’s most notable buildings and the last remaining trade court from the trade fair period of the 18th century.

In the interior courtyard, the cranes used to hoist goods up to the storage rooms are still visible as is a Renaissance bay window from 1532.  

Exploring the Hofs is a lovely walk back in time. There is even a festival in September celebrating the history of the Hofs.

FYI: The map of the Hofs looks amazingly similar to a map of Calgary’s +15 walkways. Should Calgary start thinking about a +15 Winter Festival? Perhaps in 500 years, if we embrace our +15s, they too will become a tourist attraction.

While Leipzig is blessed with many historic buildings, there are also several noteworthy modern buildings.  The 1972 City-Hochhaus tower designed by Hermann Henselmann, East Germany’s most famous architect, resembles a huge open book. 

There is also the monolithic 40 meter high “glass cube” designed by Hufnagel Puetz Rafaelian architects for the Museum of Fine Arts, which unfortunately will be hidden by four L-shaped buildings around it.

Across from the Hauptbahnhof, sits the uber-modern Hofe am Bruhl or “Tin Can” as some call it because of its aluminum façade. Designed by Gruntuch Ernst Architects, this huge North American-style shopping center, with two floors of parking above and residential floor at the top, in fact has four different facades that reflect the history of the buildings that were there before. Inside the design creates a sense of in passageways and arcades that pay homage to the past.

  In the foreground is the popular skatepark, which is combined with a small plaza that is used for markets and other events and in the background is the "Tin Can" shopping centre. This was one of the few times the area wasn't bustling with people.

In the foreground is the popular skatepark, which is combined with a small plaza that is used for markets and other events and in the background is the "Tin Can" shopping centre. This was one of the few times the area wasn't bustling with people.

 The  Paulinum  at the  University of Leipzig  stands where the  Paulinerkirche  church stood until 1968, when it was unnecessarily torn down by the communist regime of  East Germany . 

The Paulinum at the University of Leipzig stands where the Paulinerkirche church stood until 1968, when it was unnecessarily torn down by the communist regime of East Germany

Lessons Learned

Calgary has a long way to go before its City Centre becomes tourist destination like Leipzig.  Essential to attracting urban tourist is having a history where famous people have lived and worked and where important world events have happen.

FYI:   Leipzig’s City Centre is where Martin Luther Reformation happened and where the Monday Demonstration happened in 1989 that led to the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. Leipzig has an amazingly rich history.

Visiting Leipzig made me reflect on Calgary’s 100+ history - what really distinguished, renowned, influential individuals have lived or worked here and what world-changing initiatives or events have originated here. I couldn’t think of any.

When visiting cities like Leipzig, I am reminded of how young Calgary is.  And how it takes centuries to create great cities and not every city becomes great.

If you go:

We stayed at Motel One which has two locations in Leipzig's City Centre.  Motel One has modern rooms with colourful decor. The staff and lobby were very welcoming and we especially loved the lively and tasty breakfasts, in the very contemporary lounge with huge windows over-looking the street.  Link: Motel One

Calgary's Billion Dollar Gamble????

Could Calgary be on the cusp of becoming a major arts centre? And could the arts become a major element of Calgary’s economic diversification program?  With a billion dollars of private and public investment, one would sure hope so.

Yes, you read right.  A billion dollars!

Probably the biggest criticism of Calgary by left wing, bohemian artsy folks is the city lacks a vibrant arts scene. However, this is quickly changing with the opening of the new Bell Studio (National Music Centre) which has generated international attention including a piece by the prestigious Architectural Digest titled “Canada Just Opened a Massive Museum Dedicated Solely to Music.” 

Unfortunately, it didn’t say, “Calgary Just Opened a Massive….”

National Music Centre a massive construction project is now the southern gateway to Calgary's East Village community from the south. 

Is Calgary on the international art map yet?

While Calgary is not yet on the international art map, things like the Calatrava’s Peace Bridge and Jaume’s Wonderland (sculpture of young girl’s head on the plaza at the Bow Tower) are attracting international attention in some circles. 

And, flying under the radar was the opening of the opening of the $90 million, 787-seat Bella Concert Hall in at Mount Royal University (MRU) in September 2015.  It is part of the world-renowned Mount Royal Conservatory, whose roots go back to 1911 and today boasts over 4,000 students.  How many Canadians or even Calgarians know MRU was a huge musician incubator?

Fact:  Calgary has 190 venues for live performances?

And coming up next is cSpace, the $29 million transformation of the historic King Edward School in Marda Loop into a multi-use arts centre. The majestic sandstone school looking over the City Centre, being reborn as a creative hub, will have 29 tenants representing over 1,000 artists – an eclectic mix of fashion designers, film makers, musicians, theatre groups, writers, jewellery makers and the Alberta Craft Council’s Calgary office/gallery.  It will also include an intimate multi-purpose theatre and a Montessori School. 

The east side of the site has been sold for a 56-home active living seniors complex while the west side was sold for upscale townhomes – deals helping finance the project.

The fact cSpace had three times as many arts group and artists interested in renting space than they could accommodate is a strong indication of Calgary’s growing arts community.  In the past, Calgary’s prosperity resulted in emerging artists often moving to other cities with a lower cost of living.  However today, more and more artists want to stay and make Calgary home.

Fact: Calgary has 19,000 establishments involved in creative industries employing over 67,000 workers?

The Taylor Centre For The Performing Arts at Mount Royal University includes the Bella Centre as well as teaching and practice spaces. 

Decidedly Jazz Dance Centre is just one of several exciting new cultural facilities being added to the east side of Calgary's City Centre. (photo credit: CANA Construction)

 A BILLION DOLLARS INVESTED IN ART FACILITIES

  • August  2015             Bella Centre ($90 million)
  • April      2016             DJD Dance Centre ($26 million)
  • May       2016             Film Centre ($28 million)
  • July       2016             Bell Studio ($191 million)
  • Spring   2017             cSpace ($29 million)
  • Winter   2017            Youth Campus TransAlta Performing Arts Studios ($20 million est)
  • Fall        2017             Youth Campus BMO Amphitheatre ($7 million est.)
  • Winter   2018             Youth Campus Calgary Arts Academy ($20 million est.)
  • Fall        2018              New Central Library ($245 million)   
  • TBD                            Youth Campus Calgary Opera Centre ($23 million est)

If we include the cultural spaces in Calgary’s new recreational centers (i.e. theatres, studios and gallery space) and new theatres like Webber Academy’s Performing Arts Centre we are closing in on a billion dollars in public and private investment in new cultural facilities over the past five years.

Fact: Calgary is third in Canada in attracting cultural migrants?

cSpace is nearing completion with occupancy later in 2017. 

Grassroots Cultural Centres  

It is also important to note there are many smaller DIY art group projects that are just as important as the mega million dollar projects in transforming Calgary from a corporate city to a creative city.

For example, the Beddington Community Hall has been recently. Renamed the the Bedding Heights Community Arts Centre, it is home to two of Calgary’s longest running community theatre companies - StoryBook Theatre and Front Row Centre Players. 

In Sunalta, underneath the gritty Bow/Crowchild Trail spaghetti interchange, sits a non-descript, bluish-grey building that is now home to TRUCK Contemporary Art, Ghost River Theatre and West Village Theatre

Flying under the radar is how the community of Forest Lawn has become a magnet for many Calgary artists to live. artBOX on 17E (converted retail paint store), an initiative of the International Avenue BRZ, which serves as their performance and exhibition space has been so successful a shipping container was dropped on the front lawn this past summer to serve as a retail incubator space for artisans.  

Market Collective, founded in 2008, is a group of local artisans who have organized weekend pop-up sales of their work all over the city- old car dealership on International Avenue, Simmons Building in East Village, Chinese Cultural Centre, downtown and King Edward School (soon to be cSpace) in Marda Loop.  

Artpoint Gallery & Studio Society is Calgary’s off-the-beaten path, hidden gem cultural facility. It is hidden from the street and sidewalk in an old warehouse next to the railway tracks above the 12th street railway bridge underpass in Inglewood.  Tucked inside are 23 artists’ studios, three gallery spaces and an ambitious year-round exhibition program.

Computer rendering of Calgary Stampede's Youth Campus which is currently under construction.

Last Word

Need we go on? It is too bad that Calgary’s corporate culture gets all the attention - in good times and bad – while the ongoing growth of our cultural sector flies under the radar. 

Perhaps with a billion dollars of new investment in cultural facilities, Calgarians and Canadians will realize our city is more than just oil & gas head offices. 

Note: All of the facts are from Calgary Economic Development’s website.

If you like this blog, you might like: 

What's with the names - Art Commons & Contemporary Calgary

Glenbow: A new kind of art museum!

Calgary Civic Art Gallery: Do we dare to be different?