Geschichte der Stadt Leipzig Bd. 1–4

Bünz, Enno (Hrsg.): Geschichte der Stadt Leipzig Band 1. Von den Anfängen bis zur Reformation. Leipzig 2015 : Leipziger Universitätsverlag, ISBN 978-3-86583-801-8 1.053 S. € 49,00

Döring, Detlef (Hrsg.): Geschichte der Stadt Leipzig Band 2. Von der Reformation bis zum Wiener Kongress. Leipzig 2016 : Leipziger Universitätsverlag, ISBN 978-3-86583-802-5 1039 S. € 49,00

Schötz, Susanne (Hrsg.): Geschichte der Stadt Leipzig Band 3. Vom Wiener Kongress bis zum Ersten Weltkrieg. Leipzig 2018 : Leipziger Universitätsverlag, ISBN 978-3-86583-803-2 1096 S. € 49,00

Hehl, Ulrich von (Hrsg.): Geschichte der Stadt Leipzig Band 4. Vom Ersten Weltkrieg bis zur Gegenwart. Leipzig 2019 : Leipziger Universitätsverlag, ISBN 978-3-86583-804-9 1168 S. € 49,00

Rezensiert für H-Soz-Kult von
Andrew Demshuk, Geschichtsabteilung, American University, Washington, DC

First mentioned in 1015 as a settlement at the crossroads of major trade routes, Leipzig evolved into Europe’s premier trade fair and publishing center with outsized cultural importance. Neither a free imperial city nor home to a royal court, its unique profile fostered an enduring civic vitality. By 1914, Germany’s fourth-largest city was a wealthy industrial metropolis with aspirations of global significance. By 1989, East Germany’s second-largest city was an impoverished town, whose once-impressive architecture moldered away under a haze of apocalyptic pollution. Today, Leipzig is increasingly youthful, ecologically conscious, and economically dynamic with renewed global ambitions. In its passage through such stark extremes, Leipzig’s history effectively encapsulates the triumphs and traumas of European modernity on a stirring local stage.

For the millennial jubilee of 2015, Leipzig partnered with local banks to finance a four-volume, over four-thousand-page thousand-year history. Each heavily illustrated tome offers meticulously researched contributions from diverse local experts on the basis of recent scholarship and their own reading of archives and other primary materials. Given the multitude of authors, it is impressive how cohesively the narrative flows from theme to theme through all four books. Volume one offers sweeping thematic analyses through the Middle Ages, then special treatment of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries with a preview of the Reformation. Volume two explores the entirety of the early modern period under enormous thematic sections. Volumes three and four respectively break down the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by epoch, treating each subperiod to thematic assessment. Enriched by extensive bibliographies, these definitive volumes will inform research on nearly every aspect of Leipzig for decades, possibly even centuries to come.

Enno Bünz opens volume one with a lament that Leipzigers and visitors alike seldom imagine that anything of consequence happened in the city before the Enlightenment, industrialization, and the tumultuous twentieth century. For the first time since Gustav Wustmann’s 1905 city chronicle (see Beate Berger’s assessment of Wustmann in volume 3, pp. 856–858), Bünz’s edited collection features Leipzig’s comparatively humble medieval history (p. 31). After surveying Leipzig’s flat and marshy topography and origins as a Slavic fortress, the reader learns that Leipzig’s name stems from an old Sorbian word for Linden. The earliest record of Leipzig’s existence – a 1015 text by the famed medieval chronicler Thietmar von Merseburg – receives a four-page treatment by Bünz (pp. 86–89), who also provides a map of Leipzig as it likely appeared around 1300 based on the paucity of sources typical for the era. Here it is striking how much the medieval street layout and landmarks match those that survived until the Second World War (pp. 150–155). Henning Steinführer then recounts the city’s late medieval expansion outside the city walls (pp. 636–640). Two concluding sections overview surrounding villages and landmarks before 1539 (pp. 683–787).

Volume two, edited by the late historian Detlef Döring, is broken into thematic sections on politics, civic life, economic and social conditions, religion, education, culture, everyday life, architecture and planning, a special section on the Battle of Nations, and Leipzig’s relationship with surrounding villages. Whereas the medieval city was comparably unimportant, early modern Leipzig enjoyed a unique constellation of factors that made it “one of the few German cities where such a spiritual and cultural effect unfolded in the 17th and 18th centuries, without being a residence” for royals (p. 18). Leipzig’s university, founded in 1409, helped make Leipzig the leading publishing center in the Reich by the 18th century; the triannual trade fair (Messe) expanded, not just due to the confluence of trade routes, but also on account of imperial laws forbidding fairs in the surrounding region as well as mandates that any merchant passing through must first sell his wares in the city for three days before continuing on. Although subjugated to Saxony’s Wettin dynasty in Dresden, Leipzig sustained a strong self-governing role over its internal affairs, a flourishing economic, cultural (especially musical), and academic life, and a university that (along with Halle and Göttingen) became a center of Enlightenment thought.

Despite regular devastation in lost wars throughout its early modern existence, Leipzig always managed to rebound stronger than before. After the comparably late arrival of the Reformation, Leipzig was bombarded in the Schmalkaldic War of 1546/7. Examining a six-piece woodcut of wrecked suburbs and fortifications, Anett Müller postulates what the city might have looked like before the considerable renovations of the latter 16th century (pp. 31–36). Müller further addresses the evolving urban space through another rare artifact from the city archives: architect Jacob Meyer’s cloth banner depicting the city in 1675 (pp. 154–160). After the disastrous siege of 1642 and occupation by Swedish troops until 1650, Leipzig’s trade fairs, publishing industry, and university helped to number it among the few cities of the Reich (like Breslau or Frankfurt/Main) that recovered and thrived in the century after the Thirty Years’ War. Even though the Great Northern War brought back the Swedes and the Seven Years War wrought plagues and plunder, rapid reconstruction prevailed thereafter, notwithstanding reparation payments to Prussia, Leipzig’s sudden borderland status as Prussia annexed historically Saxon neighbors like Halle and Wittenberg, and further famines and diseases that hindered demographic rebound to 1756 levels until just before the 1813 Battle of Nations further ravaged the city and its demography.

Although the sections on Leipzig’s early modern university and cultural scene are exemplary (not least Maike Günther’s delightful passage on Europe’s second-oldest coffee house, “Zum Arabischen Coffe Baum” (pp. 606–609), opened in 1719 to serve handworkers, wageworkers, and carriage drivers, rather than elites), it is crucial to take note of Andreas Glöckner’s survey of musical life in the era of Johann Sebastian Bach. After touching on the lifetime and contributions of Georg Philipp Telemann, Glöckner observes how Telemann and others refused the position of Thomaskantor until Bach took the job in 1723 and commenced his storied tenure as Leipzig’s greatest musical genius. Less gifted musicians succeeded Bach, as the city desired cantors principally dedicated to keeping order at the Thomasschule (pp. 541–550). Manuel Bärwald then surveys Leipzig’s post-Bach musical life, which continued to prosper through concert houses, publishing offices, and further musical production from Bach’s students and students’ students.

In his section on architecture and urban planning, Alberto Schwarz gives due attention to Leipzig’s post-1547 restoration in northern Renaissance style (not least the Altes Rathaus) under the city’s famous architect and mayor Hieronymus Lotter. After 1648, considerable building activity included new burgher houses with greater décor and grandeur, even as population growth made the suburbs outside the medieval walls larger than the historic core. Finally, Steffen Poser offers a dedicated section to the Völkerschlacht bei Leipzig: the “biggest mass battle in human history” (p. 725). Painstakingly tracing the battle’s phases and locations, Poser tallies the enormous casualties on all sides that filled Leipzig with the wounded and afflicted it with raging diseases (p. 739). The volume concludes with a detailed description of surrounding villages and their interrelationship with the growing city in their midst (pp. 750–836). Despite Leipzig’s sudden international fame thanks to Napoleon, however, few could have imagined the exponential growth that was soon to transform this peripheral town into one of the largest and most politically, culturally, and economically productive industrial hubs in Europe.

Volume three divides the century after 1815 into three epochs (1815–1830, 1830–1871, 1871–1914), each of which features subheadings on politics, economics and society, architecture, education, religion, art and culture, and everyday life. Editor Suzanne Schötz captures the “enormous progress and upswing” of Leipzig’s nineteenth century in her summation: “From a stagnating Mittelstadt of about 30,000 residents at the start of the century, a modern, pulsing big city developed with about 625,000 residents before the First World War. In 1913, Leipzig had risen to become the fourth-largest metropolis in the German Reich, was second to Berlin for its number of big industrial concerns, and was the most important trade fair center in Europe.” The city was globally renowned for its university, fur trade, publishing industry, musical life, and as the home of Germany’s working-class and women’s movements (p. 14). Contrary to most of Saxony, Leipzig fostered German strivings toward unification before 1871, from which it profited enormously. By the same token, however, it seethed with nationalist, militarist, antisemitic, and other inhumane trends that would later yield its downfall.

The first section (1815–1830) opens with Jörg Ludwig’s assessment of political, economic, and social ferment after Napoleon: while the Saxon crown blocked reforms and implemented censorship, Leipzig’s thriving book sector printed liberal and progressive ideas anyway, and burghers relentlessly demanded greater representation. The Biedermeier-era building boom, Nadja Horsch observes, was largely effaced by later construction or World War II bombings. Such lost highlights included the Altes Theater by famed Karlsruhe architect Friedrich Weinbrenner (1817), the first civic school by Carl Friedrich Dauthe on top of the Moritzbastei fortification, and the stellar observatory atop the Pleißenburg tower– all cultural institutions which replaced or accreted over obsolete fortifications. The city’s breakneck growth promptly relegated the 1822 three-dimensional Leipzig panorama by Johann Christoph Merzdorf and Karl Geißler to the role of antiquarian curiosity, perpetually displayed by the late 19th century as a bygone time capsule (pp. 61–65).

In the second section (1830–1871), Birgit Horn-Kolditz shows how self-administration and conscientious civil governance enhanced the trade fair, cultural institutions like the Gewandhaus, the city library, and campaigns to put Leipzig at the center of the evolving railway network (p. 138). Because the city assembly adopted revolutionary principles in 1848 on behalf of the engaged populace, Andreas Schneider argues, it “established itself at last in the perception of the citizens as their representative organ” (p. 167). Leipzig’s liberal firebrand Robert Blum became a democratic icon across Central Europe until his execution in Vienna in November 1848. While Leipzig bucked Saxon particularism and demanded German unification, it was also home to worker solidarity. As Thomas Adam recounts, it was in Leipzig that Ferdinand Lasalle, August Bebel, and Wilhelm Liebknecht formed early worker parties, which unified in 1875 into the Sozialistische Arbeiterpartei (SAP). Though the worker movement steadily shifted from Leipzig to the new imperial capital in Berlin, Leipzig remained the working-class publishing center and home to enormous May Day celebrations in the 1890s. Leipzig was just as central to the German women’s movement. Leipzig’s growth into a global industrial center, meanwhile, was specially indebted to the “Eisenbahnfieber” that made Leipzig (bereft of navigable riverways) one of Europe’s most important train junctions (pp. 253-261). After railway visionary Friedrich List convinced burghers and leaders to use Leipzig’s 1833 entry into the Zollverein to complete one of the first steam engine lines in continental Europe (Dresden-Leipzig) in April 1839 (p. 257), rapid railway construction helped Leipzig surpass earlier industrial magnets like Chemnitz and, by the mid-1860s, attain freight and passenger service to most German cities, even distant capitals like St. Petersburg. Thomas Keiderling’s examination of the modern book industry, meanwhile, provides an invaluable list of Leipzig publishers as of 1861, many pinpointed on a map (pp. 271-275). Nadja Horsch highlights the construction of cultural buildings across the old fortifications, most notably on Augustusplatz (named in 1837 for the first Saxon king), which by 1838 featured Albert Geutebrück’s austere main university building (Augusteum), remodeling of the University Church façade, and monumental main post office. The 1858 art museum and Karl Ferdinand Langhans’s 1868 neoclassical New Theater completed the square’s proportions while taking care to retain green areas. After Hans-Martin Moderow examines mandatory education for most citizens aged 6–14 by 1831, Katrin Löffler explores how Saxony’s largest Jewish population was sharply divided between orthodox Jews principally from Poland and dominant “German” reformed Jews, who integrated into Leipzig’s civic life and publishing industries (pp. 354–358).

Half of the third volume comprises 1871–1914, when Leipzig became Germany’s fourth-largest city: a cosmopolitan hub where railways met, industries churned, and ideas freely circulated about education, religion, socialism, feminism, nationalism, architecture, music, and commerce. Presumption that Leipzig would soon number a million people helped drive the completion of Europe’s largest train station with twenty-six tracks by 1915. An even bigger masterpiece of steel and cement construction was Leipzig’s Battle of Nations monument, completed in 1913 as Europe’s largest monument thanks to patriotic clubs like the Deutscher Patriotenbund along with public lotteries and donations (pp. 541–547). Just as superlative were Leipzig’s trade fair, publishing, and industrial development, though as Günther Schönfelder shows in his discussion of lignite mining around Leipzig, breakneck growth came at an environmental cost. Primitive pits since the eighteenth century were increasingly mechanized in the early 1870s, and the largest early mine – opened south of town in Dölitz in 1903 – supplied coal for electricity and residential heating until 1959. This indispensability and ecological damage from coal were but a foretaste of what was to come.

Peter Leonhardt’s description of Kaiser-era architecture and city planning commences with an artful retrospective from the 1913 International Building Trade Exhibition (Internationale Baufachausstellung, IBA) on May 3, 1913, which showed nearly four million visitors achievements from the preceding decades of peak-quality architectural output (p. 656). Over the past fifty years, grid-form suburbs had filled in vast terrains around the historic core, many of them laid out diagonal to the cardinal directions to ensure that no apartment was north-facing and bereft of sunlight. Large-scale demolition across the historic center, meanwhile, had wrought Parisian-style passages that became a Leipzig specialty, along with huge department stores and trade fair palaces. Even the old city hall was twice threatened with demolition, before winning restoration by 1909. Leonhardt concludes: “an unwavering belief in progress and sense that artistic achievements of the past could always be outdone are reasons why residents accepted most of the demolitions without strong feeling.” After sections on famed Leipzig Architect Hugo Licht’s magnum opus (the fusion of Pleißenburg remnants into the Neues Rathaus in 1898) and scores of Neogothic churches that arose across the new suburbs, Leonhardt celebrates architectural monuments like the Hauptbahnhof and Völkerschlachtdenkmal, completed on the eve of World War I, for overcoming historicism through new languages of monumentality based on poured cement, sandstone facades, and loose association with archaic forms. Ultimately, Suzanne Schötz concludes, bourgeois and socialist observers alike heralded German technical achievements and looked forward with confidence. A peripheral town just over a century ago, Leipzig had become a huge German city of the utmost modern form, where everything that was solid melted into air.

The final volume offers gripping testimony to the extremes of Leipzig’s turbulent twentieth century in five chronological sections (1914–1918, 1918–1933, 1933–1945, 1945–1990, 1990–present), each of which delivers recurring thematic analysis under five principal headings: politics and civil society; trade fair, economy, and ecology; architecture and urban planning; religious life; and culture, education, and leisure. All thirty-two contributors are experts who digest their own prodigious research. Ulrich von Hehl introduces each chapter’s political history. Markus Denzel foregrounds economic analysis. While Peter Leonhardt unpacks urban planning before 1945, Thomas Topfstedt and Annette Menting respectively assess it in the last two chronological sections. Markus Hein foregrounds each religion section. Thomas Höpel overviews culture, sport, and ecology.

After a first section on World War I celebrating Leipzig’s demographic and architectural apogee and assessing wartime deprivations, the second section features the interwar mayorship of Carl Goerdeler, who is defended as a gifted politician above parties. As in other eras, interwar Leipzig illustrates national trends with considerable intimacy, as the reader comes to know local players later seduced or repelled by Nazism. Of particular note is Conny Dietrich’s fascinating window into Leipzig’s interwar avant-garde art scene. Another gem is Anett Müller’s archival discovery of the “visionary request” a Dresden engineer sent to Leipzig’s city council in 1920 for a Luftbahnhof in the urban center as a platform (with tower) atop the storied Augustusplatz with its theater and art museum– an obscure, quixotic scheme that epitomizes 1920s optimism (pp. 149–151).

Although Leipzig tended toward the left, section three illustrates how Nazi Gleichschaltung prevailed. Goerdeler restrained Nazi attacks on Jewish tobacco dealers in 1933, but their historic businesses were liquidated anyway by 1936. Goerdeler himself was outmaneuvered when his Nazi subordinate Rudolf Haake unilaterally demolished Leipzig’s “Jewish” Mendelssohn monument on November 9, 1936, an act Goerdeler denounced as a “Kulturschandtat” and used as cause to resign (pp. 308–309). In his analysis of Nazi-era society, Alfons Kenkmann applies Detlev Peukert’s four-tier system of assessing opposition (Nonkonformität, Verweigerung, Protest, und Widerstand) to Leipzig, and he concludes that only a tiny minority had the “civil courage” to openly resist Nazism, notably those who sheltered Jews (pp. 321–332). Thomas Keiderling highlights the caesura when Leipzig’s book industry – damaged by Nazi-era censorship and Aryanization – burned to oblivion in the December 1943 bombing campaign, wherein “the estimate of 50 million burned books cannot be taken as too high” (p. 350). In his first Umwelt analysis, Thomas Höpel assesses how expanding chemical and lignite-mining industries poisoned the Pleiße, among other waterways, commenced the destruction of Leipzig’s Harth forest, and accelerated out of control at the expense of public health during the war in the name of national defense, as “industrial development retained absolute priority” (p. 353).

The largest and chronologically longest section covers 1945–1990. Detailing the evolving intricacies and competencies of city and Bezirk-level administrative departments, Christian Rau shows how after 1949 Leipzig’s historic self-administration eroded thanks to aggressive “democratic centralism” from Berlin that failed to meet the needs of a heterogeneously structured city (p. 508). Rainer Eckert surveys political repression amid the 1953 Uprising, Beat Music protests of 1965, and the demolition of Leipzig’s University Church in 1968 (given closer analysis by Katrin Löffler). Thomas Höpel argues that communist-era environmental degradation, continuous with Nazi technocratic plans, kept intensifying. Villages vanished to make way for strip mines approaching Leipzig’s southern border, the Pleiße was so polluted it was canalized after 1952, and air contamination reached deadly levels. After 1982, official discussions about the environment were classified, while opponents were labeled “imperialist” agitators (p. 593). Citizens responded with petitions (Eingaben) and the formation of environmental groups (largely in Protestant circles) that later took a leading role in the 1989 revolution. Thomas Topfstedt’s lucid survey of the myriad plans, achievements, and mistakes in communist urban planning spans over forty pages and evokes architectural highlights that elude many experts. For instance, the obscure but still intact Trinitatiskirche in Anger-Crottendorf (built in 1949/50 as a serialized “Notkirche” from plans by Otto Bartning) may be “the most important postwar Leipzig religious monument” (p. 600). Recounting communist modernist achievements – mostly destroyed amid often ruthless capitalist development after 1989 – Topfstedt also features less known popular outcomes like the illegally constructed postmodern Bowlingtreff or rare moments of historic preservation. “Local patriotism”, which Höpel highlights in his commendation of the Leipziger Blätter as a cultural initiative despite centralized repression (p. 718), exploded in 1989, whose evolution and causes Löffler features in a dedicated sixth subsection.

The final section reiterates a core thesis underpinning most of this volume’s contributions: Leipzig thrived when it enjoyed self-administration, and languished when centralization under single-party dictatorship took such independence away. Despite deindustrialization and massive unemployment that wrought demographic and economic collapse in the 1990s, early post-communist local administration and civic activism worked in tandem to craft a dynamic urban space well-regarded in today’s Germany. Billions in Federal and private investment saved existing housing, restored and improved infrastructure, and steadily drew back employers and skilled workers. Such investment and competent administration gave Leipzigers the chance that residents languishing in deindustrialized American cities like Detroit or Cleveland can only dream of. Sustaining this recovery was the restoration of Leipzig’s ecology thanks to regulation of mining and power production that closed many strip mines and filtered exhaust from modernized plants. Recreational areas with lakes and forests replaced strip mines, while decrepit industrial neighborhoods like Plagwitz and Lindenau came to feature loft apartments overlooking the restored Pleiße river with its bike paths and boat tours. In his closing section on the Leipzig city archive’s transfer into the former Soviet pavilion on the old fairgrounds, director Michael Ruprecht offers a fitting end to this four-volume city history: his archive has supported many of its scholars and encourages further research that nuances “traces in the long development of Leipzig from the Middle Ages to the 21st Century” (p. 966).

Not just researchers interested in Leipzig, Saxony, or Germany, but any reader interested in a comprehensive local history at the heart of Europe should explore the well-researched riches in this four-book collection. Though overlap between articles and blank spots are inevitable, the reader is aided by regular cross-referencing to other contributions, expanding one’s grasp of given historical moments. One wishes that the press had allowed for a topical index and footnotes for easier reference. The endnotes and bibliographies testify to substantial original research and mastery of much scholarship obscure to outside readers, and essential for future scholarship. An apt celebration of Leipzig’s millennial celebration, these books may well constitute the most ambitious scholarly collaboration on Leipzig’s history in its thousand-year existence.

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