I was impressed. In the interest of maximizing our time in Leipzig, I had reserved seats on the ICE train which departed Hamburg at 6:30 AM. Given the amount of walking and fairly late night we had had before, I assumed that trying to get my nieces moving in a cohesive manner would be a challenge. But it wasn’t. At the planned time they appeared in the hotel lobby where I was already in the process of checking out, and we found ourselves with enough time to enjoy an early-morning stroll to Dammtor station as dawn illuminated the city around us… at least as far as a group of people hauling luggage and backpacks can enjoy such a stroll. We arrived at Dammtor with plenty of time to have another cafe breakfast from the bakery under the platform, then headed up and finished watching the dawn over the main building of the university as we waited.
After boarding the train and finding our seats, we sat back and enjoyed being whisked out of Hamburg (ironically past my old housing). As we traveled toward Berlin the beauty of the early morning countryside failed to overcome the early start and my nieces drifted off into travel naps that lasted most of the way to Berlin. Luckily the train we were on was a direct connection to Leipzig so there was no need to transfer in Berlin, though as Berlin is one of my favorite cities it had taken me quite a bit of effort to not include it as one of our destinations. As we traveled on toward Leipzig my nieces gradually came out of their travel slumber, and as we pulled out of the Lutherstadt-Wittenberg station one of them grabbed her phone and started taking pictures of a tower in the city. Once it was out of view she explained that she had recognized it from the cover of a CD of Mendelssohn’s Reformation Symphony, and gradually the correlation dawned on her.
Arrival in Leipzig was impressive as always. Whereas I love the simplicity of Dammtor’s mainline double platform intimately wrapped in a single barrel vault, Leipzig’s massive, multi-vaulted terminal station pushes me on the other end with just the right combination of impressively solid structure and airy sky-lighted vaults. We stowed our luggage in a couple of lockers and set out for a roughly 4 hour stopover.
My knowledge of Leipzig was imperfect at best, but a quick glance at a tourist information map sparked the interest of my niece who had requested the stop. For someone with a strongly developed appreciation for instrumental music, Leipzig was indeed an inspiring place with no shortage of interesting attractions.
We opted for the Mendelssohnhaus, which consisted of an interpretative area on the ground floor as well as the furnished family apartments on the first floor. One of the interpretative installations was a virtual orchestra where visitors could stand in front of an orchestra made up of posts representing each element in their proper orientation, pick one of Mendelssohn’s works, pick up the conductors baton, and with a surprising level of accuracy direct the tempo of the piece as well as the contributions of each section. My niece with conducting experience gave it a first shot, then another one did, and while she was “conducting” a visiting school group came in and sat in rapt attention while their teacher whispered to them about what my niece was doing. It was quite a humorous situation to observe.
After enjoying the Mendelssohnhaus we still had a couple of hours before catching our train to Coburg, so we had a very enjoyable meander around the city center enjoying the architecture and the atmosphere and bustle of a perfect Saturday afternoon. I found several East German paperbacks in a used book store, one of my nieces found a book she was looking for in another bookstore, and we stumbled across a farmer’s market full of produce which created such an appetite that we had to go find a bakery for a snack. As we headed back to the station we came across an automotive rarity – A Fiat Multipla and a Trabant parked on opposite sides of a street. Two very unusual vehicles representing two very different design philosophies in a city which accommodated and exemplifies both.
Back at the station we retrieved our luggage and found our platform. Boarding was a bit awkward as the train came in opposite of how the diagram depicted it, so all of us who had queued up where our reserved seats were supposed to be had to swap around amidst those passengers who were getting off of the train. In all my time riding trains in Germany, that was the first time I can recall having ever experienced that irregularity. Once boarded, however, everything was back to normal. The last time I had traveled by rail between Leipzig and Coburg, which was many years ago, it wrapped up with a long, slow, picturesque journey involving multiple local trains as I made my way up to and across the Thuerengerwald (mainly via phenomenally scenic river valleys). In the intervening years, a high speed rail corridor had been built, so this time it was barely over an hour on a direct ICE. While I somewhat missed the scenery, my nieces quickly settled into a travel nap that would have made booking the slower route for the scenery superfluous.