Whenever we get the chance we head south from Berlin to Leipzig, only an hour and a half away by train (unless you like to take the more leisurely route), where we have good friends to visit and the added bonus of one of my favourite cities in Germany. Normally we spend most of our time in the slightly-beaten-up but increasingly trendy neighbourhood around the Karl-Liebknecht-Straße south of the city centre, which is where our friends lived and which, with its combination of cafes and bars, semi-squatted cultural centres, and mixed population, reminds both Katrin and I of the Prenzlauer Berg of ten or more years ago.
This time we were taken west, not to the old industrial neighbourhood of Schleußig – which is also well worth a visit – but to Plagwitz, which was hosting one of their quarterly “Westpaket” events, which combines handicrafts and fleamarket stalls in an old iron and steel works and along the Karl-Heine-Straße, but also readings, performances, concerts and other cultural offerings. We entered the market through a anarchist travellers site parked up alongside the canal on a patch of wasteland, which was certainly a singular way to arrive, before we stepped into the vast industrial hall to explore what goodies the creative folk of Leipzig had come up with.
The Westpaket is organised by an umbrella organisation called Westbesuch, which is a neighbourhood initiative for the surroundings of the Karl-Heine-Straße. Alongside these regular events, the organisation is committed to improving the quality of life in and around Plagwitz and neighbouring Lindenau through cultural offerings such as readings, exhibitions, performances, theatre, concerts, workshops and discussions… and it is one of many similar projects I have seen in local neighbourhoods from Belfast to Berlin that, it seems to me, helps foster a sense of community through cultural events and gets people out on the street together. We only had the chance to explore the market, but the hall and pavements were packed with people, and the smell of the glühwein, the sausages and the many wood fires burning along the way was inviting us to linger, despite the cold.
Words: Paul Scraton
Pictures: Katrin Schönig