First there were mill workers, the men and women (in later years predominantly women) who worked the machines that made up one of the largest cotton mills in Europe. For more than 100 years, through boom and bust, through war and peace, through the post-WWII dissection of Germany, the Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei, an industrial city unto itself, operated in Leipzig, Germany.
Then in the 1990s, when the mill closed, the mill-workers moved out and artists, always looking for the luxury of great space without great expense, quickly moved in.
The Spinnerie is now the creative workplace and refuge of hundreds of artists and creatives. The vast workrooms with wide multi-paned windows have become studios and galleries and storefronts. A popular cafe located just inside the entrance attracts people-watchers who spill out to tables and chairs when the weather is nice. There’s a place to buy art supplies and a coffee shop. You can stop by the office to arrange a guided tour, buy a T-shirt or pick up a book (available in English) about the history and contemporary focus of the 125-year-old historic site.
The size and scope of the industrial complex of old brick mill buildings, storerooms, and alleyways--more than 20 buildings encompassing 90,000 square meters--is almost overwhelming. Wherever you look in the sprawling compound your eye is caught by something interesting.
Neo Rauch, the most well-known artist of the New Leipzig School was one of the first to occupy a space at the Spinnerei. In a second-story studio, porcelainist Claudia Biehne creates ethereal and otherworldly pieces that become lamps and bowls and sculptures. To stand in her showroom is like stepping into an eggshell. The light is soft and transfused through the pieces she displays by the big windows.
There are elements of the Spinnerei that put places like New York City and Berlin to shame: The sheer size of the complex, for one thing. In larger, more densely-populated areas, that kind of room to grow and create is unheard of, and there’s the Spinnerei’s proximity to affordable and vibrant Leipzig. There is an energy and intense focus that belies the age and crumbling facade of the structures in the old mill city.
The art world is paying attention to what is happening at Leipzig’s Spinnerei. It is a model for what you can do with history, and how you can use the past to create the future.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org