A Curmudgeonly Guide to Leipzig

Fresh off getting scammed yet again by landlords in Aalborg (seriously, that city has an accommodation problem), I found myself in a simmering Leipzig summer. Thankfully, the city was lush and blooming with parks and gardens and the heat dissipated after a few days in favour of a week of rain. Others might like summer warmth. I prefer winter. You can pile on layers for winter but there's only so much you can strip off in the summer swelter. But hey, whatever floats your boat, man.

So anyway, this guide is best only, and only, for student travellers who spend at least a month here in summer and don't like tourist places. Don't you be complaining about how shitty this guide is if you don't even know who this is for in the first place. To recapitulate, this is good for:

    • student travellers

    • who spend at least a month here

    • in summer

    • and don't like touristy places


Enough of these bellyaching disclaimers.

Accommodation

Here's the thing. You need to be a student for this to work well. If not, you pay 9% tax or something. I don't know. You figure that shit out when you get to it. Anyway if you're a student you can apply to the Studentenwerk Leipzig for cosy little homes for relatively cheap. You're likely to get it in summer, because loads of people will be away for internships, visiting family, and other unnecessary crap like that.

What the Studentenwerk Leipzig doesn't tell you is that they charge a 30 Euro fee in addition to the rent. Unless you're dead broke and begging on the streets you're likely to find that an affordable if unreasonable sum to cough up. You'll soon forget it anyway because of how fucking beautiful the bloody city is in summer.

Once you dump your leather-bound suitcase in your room and settle your typewriter on the desk, you can visit the Dish Stock Exchange, where students ditch their pots and pans and other utensils when they're finally forced to give up the paradise of Leipzig for the grime of the real world. You can borrow utensils and return them when you leave, and they're open only on Mondays and Thursdays.

You do have two other options for accommodation: squats and trailer parks. If you're already connected to people from squats elsewhere, you should be able to weasel your way into the squats network anywhere else in Europe. I don't know, I've never tried. You do it and tell me. Trailer parks require some sort of special networking too, and maybe you can bump around the net and find a contact or something. Trailer parks are quite the rustic option with outhouses instead of toilets and fridges that don't work, as far as I've seen. There are also lots of bugs, but there are cats and dogs too, and free-living spirits with healthy cheeks and open smiles. Some of them throw amazing parties with hardcore music my friends love. My friends have bad taste.

Black Triangle is a squat presently fighting to exist. I didn't have time to visit but people tell me it's a happening place. You should visit.

Transport: Bicycles FTW

Don't buy a monthly ticket for public transport. The moment I arrived I bought one. Bad bet. As it turns out, most trips in Leipzig on a bicycle take about 15-20 minutes. 30 max. And in this beautous weather for which the birds singest of summer in full-throated ease (Keats, you goddamn plebs), and the trees rustle in a choir of harmonic serenity, you will want a bicycle, otherwise you'll be staring out from the stifling pressure-cooker chambers of trams and buses and kicking your sorry arse into next week. Which is what I'm doing now.

So get a bicycle. In fact, you know what, get ye to the bike kitchen behind the Japanese house at Eisenbahnstrasse 113b. There, you can get help building your own bicycle, for a donation. Don't expect too much. This isn't Vienna. You're not going to pimp your stupid bike. Be glad you have a working one. In my day I didn't have a bike. Nobody had a bike. We had to trudge ten thousand miles to school with boulders strapped to our backs and Romans lined up along the roads to whip us.

What if it rains, you say? Don't be a puss. Get a raincoat. It'll barely be a drizzle. You're not going to die. Ride the rain and be glad for its icy freshness. It'll wake you up.

The risk in getting a bicycle, though, is that you sit on it all day, which happened to a friend of mine. By the end of her visit, she hadn't enjoyed the parks on foot, which is such a pity. Get off your bicycle once in a while. The parks make you want to fall in love. And then you can't find love because you're pathetic, which only intensifies your loneliness. Oh well. Leipzig's lovely enough. You can't have everything, can you?

Maps

Here Maps will serve you well. It's on Google Play Store too. Google Maps suck in Leipzig.

Public Kitchens

Leipzig has this beautiful phenomenon called the public kitchen. Various organisations open up their kitchen for people to come and cook and eat together for a donation. You don't need to cook if you don't want to. Just go eat and meet people and drop them some money. I'm told that it's a way of making sure people who have no money don't go hungry. So awesome, yes? More often than not you'll see people spilling out into the streets and occupying the pavements in little social circles eating, drinking, chatting, laughing, and making new friends.

There are a number of these kitchens: Sublab, Atari, Japanese House, etc. I don't have the whole list. Go ask around. I found a brochure in the Japanese House yesterday with a whole list with the dates the kitchens are open but I didn't take it because I was lazier than a dead donkey. Sublab's is open Saturdays, they cook from 4pm onwards and dining starts around 6-7pm. The Japanese house does it on Thursdays and Saturdays, around the same timings but their notion of time seems to be elastic. Their website says 7pm for Thursday but they started a little after 8pm when I went. I couldn't tell the difference anyway since it was still bright as morning, and coming from Asia where it would have been dark as crow's eyeballs, that plays tricks on my senses.

The kitchens do run out of food pretty first. Be there within an hour and a half of their openings or starve. It's your own damn fault anyway for dilly-dallying. Don't tell me you were lollygagging. It's just like you to hem and haw like that.

Other Sources of Cheap Food

Or, you can go dumpster diving or foodsharing! I didn't have time to get into this but here are some links:


These groups also discuss where to buy cheap food in bulk, which would be great if my refridgerator wasn't built for a mouse.

Repair Cafes

So I arrived and the first thing that excited me was the rice cooker. These things are marvellously useful. You can cook all kinds of things in them, including improvised bibimbap. Unfortunately, it was broken. Somehow or other I found out about the Repair Cafe at Wurzner Strasse 2, where they help you to fix your own broken crap. Together, we diagnosed that the rice cooker had a broken fuse. So we removed the fuse. Not the best idea for a high voltage short circuit device, but you can get a new fuse in Conrad, which is an electronics shop on Neumarkt. If you're familiar with the prices of such things in Asia, you're gonna baulk. Your eyes will pop out of your head. But hey, this is a continent that sells wolfberries in tiny bags for outlandish profit margins that bring back sweet reminiscences of the spice trade when white people broke the back of Asia with empire, opium, and gun. Hannah Arendt might augment that view but this is not the place for that discussion! Did you know they used to make 3000% profit on white pepper? I forget where I got that factoid. Probably in some history book.

Anyway, there are a number of repair cafes and you can bring down your rice cookers, laptops, soy bean machines, headphones and what other newfangled tech young whippersnappers have these days. Wurzner Strasse 2 opens Mondays from 6pm onwards. Sublab's are on Thursdays, 7pm onwards. Cafe Kaputt is another one. Rhizomia has an open textiles workshop? I've never been. Again, I found a list in the same pamphlet in the Japanese House. It's a useful little booklet, that one. It has everything, but it's meant for refugees, I think, so I didn't take it. It was in Arabic and Italian. I didn't know there are Italian refugees.

Forum for Contemporary History

I don't usually do the tourist thing, but I do recommend this one. It's called the Zeitgeschichtliches Forum Leipzig, which is basically a seizure on your tongue. It goes through the history of Leipzig and the GDR. It's mostly in German but with some bits in English, which confuses me as to whom their target audience is. I suppose they want to focus on German visitors for the most part. It's still great. Sobering. Free admission too. So, take this opportunity to hit on a handsome winsome German-speaking person of your preferred gender and make a date here so he/she can explain everything to you. Or just kidnap someone off the streets. I'm sure there are some idling layabouts willing to entertain Your Lordliness for a couple of hours. Then you'll understand where this comes from.

Activities

With a population of around 570,000 in a space you can comfortably circumambulate in a few hours, Leipzig feels like a large village. Once you get to know a community it's likely you'll bump into them again and again here and there, and especially at the public kitchens. In a city as cosy as this, most organisations get pretty tardy when it comes to social media management. Meetup.com, Facebook, and Twitter will fail you for the most part. The best way to get to know what's happening is to talk to people. Word of mouth is key.

There is at least one hackerspace and one makerspace. There's Code Girls Leipzig. There are repair cafes, public kitchens, and bike kitchens. And regular parties and barbecues in parks, trailer parks (called wagenplatz in German), squats, student dormitories, and everywhere else. When people come back from their summer holidays, public seminars on citizen science, economics, and other themes begin for adults and young rascals (here, here, and here). There's even a lake where the nudist movement FKK is active. You can get involved in almost everything. Civic life in Leipzig is a dream come true. So open your mouth and talk to some people, for goodness sake.

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