Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Leipzig

I arrived to Leipzig, and found my hostel nearby the train station, a place called Central Globetrotter. The place was conveniently located, and the accommodations were fine and affordable.  After I settled in, I asked the fellow at the front desk for a recommendation of a cheap, nearby place.  He mentioned the train station and explained that it had a lot of options.  I ventured over to the beautiful, century-old train station and found some Indian food that looked good.  It was just fair--a bit bland because it was spiced for German tastes.  I made up for it with a marzipan puff pastry for dessert.

I wandered a bit around the beautiful city, but it was cold so I turned in.  I suffered from the downside of hostel life, with two loud snorers in the dorm, including a woman below me who literally vibrated my bed with her sonorous snoring.

I awoke the next morning to the cold and ventured out to explore the city a bit.  As previously mentioned, Leipzig was the heart of the 1989 revolution.  I wandered through the beautiful city center, following landmarks discussing various places of protest.  I wandered through the markt and baroque and gilded facades and past Nikolaikirche-the church of revolutionary space.

It was cold, and beginning to rain so I made my way over to the Musee Grassi, which houses three museums.  I visited the stellar Museum for Applied Art, which traced the history of decorative arts from antiquities through the middle ages and on to renaissance and romantic, on through Arte Noveau, Art Deco, Bauhaus and modernism, as well as Chinese, Japanese and West Asian decorative arts and crafts.  It was beautiful and fascinating, and the perfect way to spend a cold, rainy day.

After the museum, I made my way back to the hostel to have some lunch of lentils and rice.  After lunch and a little rest, I made my way back out to the famous Zum Arabischen Coffee Baum, Leipzig's first coffee house, which dates back to 1711.  The coffee house doubles as a museum about the history of coffee and coffee culture.  The place has three different styles of rooms to sip coffee, in style of French, Viennese and Arabic coffee houses.  I sipped a cappuccino where Bach, Goethe and Liszt, among others all frequented.  Interestingly, when East and West Germany were discussing re-unification, Kohl and his East German counterpart met there to discuss the prospects of a unified Germany.

With some caffeine back in my system, I made my way out in the cold to Runde Ecke ("the round corner"), which was the former Leipzig headquarters of the Stasi.  The Stasi was the East German secret police, who ruthlessly suppressed dissent in the GDR.  It was said of the Stasi: "it was German love of efficiency, mixed with a Russian love of espionage."  To see more on the Stasi, I would recommend the movie, "The Lives of Others," an excellent and gripping film about a Stasi officer.

The museum chronicled the history of the Stasi, and their role in the GDR.  It looked at the history of the security service in the Soviet Union under Dzerzhinsky, and how the Stasi saw themselves as the Chekists of East Germany.  The museum discussed the Stasi's methods of control, of recruitment of youth and collaborators and examined their methods of espionage and spycraft. It had displays on disguise, on wire-tapping and mail-opening and how the Stasi would gather "odor samples" of those they were spying on.  The tactic that I found most chilling was Zersetzung, literally a biological/chemistry term for "decomposition."  The technique was the Stasi's method of undermining suspect by creating life crises or job-related problems to stop them from participating in anti-government activities.  They had these measures codified into 7 forms, and 5 means, from systematic discreditation to professional and social failures.  Sadly, a bit like the COINTELPRO in 'Murica during the '60s.

The museum also chronicled the history of the revolution in Leipzig, and how peaceful protesters put candles on the steps and occupied the building before the Stasi could destroy the records, as well as the rise of the peaceful 1989 revolution.

After the museum, I was walking back in the rain.  I was on the sidewalk, minding my own business when a biker almost ran me over.  I just barely missed getting hit.  Then another woman came over to me and started saying something forcefully in German.  I thought she was admonishing me for being in the lane of the biker--even though there were no lane lines.  Given that it is not uncommon for Germans to admonish strangers when you are not following the laws to a "t," I thought she was chiding me. Her voice kept getting higher, and I kept protesting but we were having language difficulties.  So I tried French.  Then Spanish.  She spoke Spanish well, and it turns out that she was complaining about the biker not me, and how the biker should have been more careful.  We laughed, and I explained that I thought she was mad at me.  She said it was quite the opposite.

In the rain, I made my way back to the hostel and settled in to make dinner--spaghetti of which I had bought little veggies at the nearby market.  

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