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Posts tagged: Leipzig

Travel: Contemporary Art and Cultural History at Leipzig’s Spinnerei

    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 catmillsap@gmail.com

 

Leipzig: Back to Bach

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

 

 

 

The day before I left Spokane and caught an early flight to Germany, the weather was wet and cold. More like late winter than late spring. Everywhere I went people were grumbling about the rain.

“Sorry you have to be out in this,” the usually-cheerful student at the coffee-shop told me. I just shrugged. I’ve given up trying to convince people I don’t mind the rain. There are times, in fact, like when I travel, that I prefer it.

Rain changes the landscape. Especially in a beautiful old city. Colors fade and stone buildings settle into shades of gray like an old black and white photograph. Cobblestones are more pronounced, glossed by the moisture.

When the sun shines we lose our focus. We squint and turn our faces up to the sky. We are tourists, even in our own cities; driven to get out and play. We wilt in the heat and fret about the crowd and the irritations of too many people in tight quarters.

Rainy days set a mood. In the right light, the scene could be set in any time. Old and new blend and blur. It’s easy to imagine things that would, in the bright light of sunshine, be implausible.


I arrived in Leipzig, Germany,  the city of Bach and Schumann and Wagner and Mendelssohn, just as an unseasonable rainy spell set in. Skies would pour, then clear, then pour again. Rain fell off and on as I wandered around the city.  As they went about their day, people huddled under umbrellas, heads down, until the sun came out again.

Leipzig is the place where Johann Sebastian Bach spent the last 25 years of his life. Where he raised a family and lived his life as both busy academic and musician.
The sun was out when I toured the Bach museum and in a darkened “treasure room” looked down on a cantata written in his own hand. I saw the house where his family’s closest friends lived, the place where the only remaining organ played by Bach is housed. Where a chest decorated with his family crest is on display.
I looked down on his grave - or, what scholars are reasonably certain is his grave - in St. Thomas Church. I studied the statue and all the artifacts, but it wasn’t until the skies clouded again that I felt like had found the man.

In the spell cast by the rain, I could imagine him, worried, distracted, his mind on everyday irritations and ordinary concerns, barreling down the same narrow streets or striding across the square. It wasn’t hard to picture him dodging puddles as he walked, turning over in his mind all the worry and aggravation of work and home, lost in thought, focusing on numbers, budgets, a choir of rowdy  boys; juggling the burden of a large family or the purchase of instruments for the orchestra or consumed by the composition of a cantata.

I ducked into one of the small shops looking for chocolates to bring home.  The clerk, realizing I was an American, apologized for the weather.
“Yesterday was so much more beautiful,” she told me. “Perhaps tomorrow will be better.”

 “Oh, no, today was perfect” I said, taking the shopping bag full of sweet souvenirs for my family back home. “I saw exactly what I was hoping to see.”



Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her 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 catmillsap@gmail.com
  

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Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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