While some prefer the road less travelled, I tend to find that with age, I return to the roads well travelled. Every time I go back to a place filled with good memories, even though the places may have stayed the same, I find that I have changed, so the memory is always renewed and refreshed. I am always discovering something new. The best places exist in many layers like an unfurling onion that has a habit of slowly unravelling, revealing it’s various layers over time. Leipzig is one of those cities which keeps on peeling back its layers of history, revealing stories at every twist and turn. Like an invisible vortex, it keeps pulling me back for more. It wasn’t love at first sight. I first came in 2013 and hated it. I didn’t warm to the dreary soviet style architecture and plattenbau, prefab concrete buildings, a hangover from the GDR era. However, on a subsequent visit, many years later, I found myself in the more grungier and alternative district of Plagwitz and just fell in love with the area, the vibe and found the keys to the city. I’ve also grown rather fond of the grim soviet style architecture in a weird, nostalgic kind of way.
The street that I keep coming back to and falling in love with, every time is Karl Heine Strasse or KHS as locals call it. If I could afford it, I would live there in a heartbeat. It has become less gritty but there is that whiff of decadence, an edge and enough imperfections that still makes my pulse race. It does remind me of the reason I fell in love with Berlin all those years ago. However, lets be clear, Leipzig is not the new Berlin and is just Leipzig. No hype or more famous doppelgängers required.
To give some context, Karl Heine is located in the former industrial neighbourhood of Plagwitz, in the city’s west. Originally a small village, which was heavily industrialized in the mid-1850s by the solicitor Karl Heine, post reunification, Plagwitz became the bohemian district of the city and home to lots of artists. It used to be a pretty run down area with lots of semi-derelict buildings with artists squatting in them and a handful of cafes but now the street has cleaned up nicely.
I always base myself around the corner of Karl Heine Strasse in a hostel called Multitude. Technically located in the equally hip neighbouring district of Lindenau but just a 10 minute walk from the beginning of Karl Heine, this is a really homely hostel with lots of light, beds with the perfect mattress for a great night’s sleep, a very spacious self catering kitchen, a good outdoor terrace for relaxing and a great onsite bar with fireplace, which attracts a nice mix of locals. It is one of those hostel that feels instantly like home which is the same way I feel about the city.
View this post on Instagram
So. Let me rewind to the most recent trip, just a few weeks back. After a quick shop for groceries at the Rewe supermarket next door to the hostel, we dust off the cameras and head off for THE walk. The weather had turned colder that day but after a few days of constant drizzle, the skies were baby blue and the pale sunlight was filtering through the rust rouge leaves, giving off an ethereal glow. The large willow trees arched over our heads in perfect symmetry as we entered Karl Heine, just like the opening pages of a fairytale. It was just pass noon and already a throng of locals were huddled around the tables of some of the cafes.
There is an enormous choice of places to eat in Karl Heine Strasse, so if you are a foodie, this is the street to visit.
It is the perfect day for a hearty bowl of soup and I know just the place – a Moroccan eatery called Salon Casablanca. Lovely well-priced food, lots of vegetarian options, good portion sizes and refreshing mint tea, I love coming here to try their tagines and soups.
Next stop is Beard Brothers and Sisters, a vintage hole in the wall bar that serves the most scrumptious hot dogs and drinks. I have always wanted to come here in the past based on positive reviews from friends and happily they did not disappoint. Great dog, perfect bun, good range of toppings and sauces, plus if you come in the evening, they have local musicians performing in a small balcony above the bar. The food and the fun does not stop there.
We next visit Westwerk, a former factory complex that has become the heart of the local creative scene with ateliers for artists, musicians and also home to a wide variety of affordable places to eat
I try Georgian food for the first time at Kleiner Kaukasus and it was so good. Owner Malkhazi prepares the Khachapuri in front of us – warm, soft flatbreads stuffed with molten cheese with a delicious topping of beetroot and cream.This was heavenly, melt in your mouth kind of food. Later in the trip we also popped into the next door Vietnamese diner, Bamboo’s Streetfood where on plastic tools you can sup on a bowl of Pho besides other specialities. Not the best pho but still, a very solid 8 out of 10 option if you are craving Asian flavours. I also have to mention Naumann’s Gaststube. Part of the Felsenkeller, a former ballroom turned live music and arts venue, it is worth visiting just to enjoy the grand interiors of this former neo-baroque building that dates back to 1890. Naumann’s Gaststube serves honest, working class people’s grub and I would highly recommend their schnitzel.
Westwerk is no longer a secret but still retains its creative, hippy vibe with a diverse mix of second-hand shops, artists‘ studios, yoga and tattoo studios, culinary venues such as Kleiner Kaukasus but also large billiard halls like the uber cool Mensa on the top floor. My favourite shop in the complex is Westfach where you find all kinds of beautiful things, from postcards and prints, ceramics, jewellery from local artists plus a great selection of vinyl and vintage items.
Opposite Westwerk, another local landmark I like to checkout for drinks, food and entertainment is the Schaubuhne Lindelfels. Housed in a magnificent Art Nouveau villa straight out of Paris, this functions as a bar by night, (order the house Gin and Tonic) cinema but also acts as a theatre and festival venue. On one of the nights, we were privileged to catch one of the acts at the annual Leipziger Jazz Festival. Sitting there in this 140 year old ballroom really is a magical experience.
No trip to Karl Heine is complete without a traditional visit to one of the classic Photoautomats. The booth is one of the craziest I’ve ever seen, plastered with stickers, posters and graffiti. The photos are never great here but it is an experience sitting in that booth, a time travel machine of some sort and a connection to previous, younger naive versions of myself.
There are a few great bars on the street to checkout but if you visit just one bar, go to Noch Besser Leben, which means something like ‘Even better Living’. Such a great name for a pub and a sentiment to represent. It’s a favourite for local artists, musicians and students, actually anyone. It has that laidback rough around the edges charm, but is pretty friendly and a great place to meet locals.
At the end of Karl Heine Strasse there is a turning onto the Karl Heine canal path. Stretching for 3.3 kilometres, this is a beautiful walk, anytime of the year. In Autumn, it is especially magical with all the colours and the reflections in the water. Lined with historic villas to modern industrial lofts, the canal is also a great timeline of the city, another form of time travel where you walk from the past, straight into the future.
There are no doubt plenty more memorable places to visit in Leipzig and I’m sure with years to come, I’ll find something new and magical about Karl Heine Strasse. While we travel the four corners to see the world, in some people, places and streets we see the world and that is the magic of Leipzig and KHS for me.
Disclaimer: My trip to Leipzig was made possible thanks to the kind support of Leipzig Tourismus but all the opinions, good and bad, are entirely mine. Thanks for reading and your continued support.