“You are welcome to come with us and we have a car,” say my new friends, the Dürnay family, who were also planning a tour of the Spinnerei factory, this afternoon. A car? I am known for (and quite proud of) my use of public transport all over the freakin’ world, but sometimes being able to hop in a friend’s car feels like a little bit of heaven. No need to look at my maps (although I kinda like looking at maps). No need to figure out train fare or why the station machine stole my change (although I love train stations). No waiting at a chilly bus stop wondering if it’s even the right bus stop at all (okay, I don’t really like that).
So after stuffing our faces with all the local treats on the Eat the World food tour in Leipzig, we hop in the family car and head to the former factory turned art studio/gallery space.
Besides being home to former world renowned musicians and artists, I’m told that Leipzig’s dynamic art scene has quite the reputation worldwide. Spinnerei, formerly the largest cotton mill of continental Europe, is now home to working studios of architects, fashion designers, and artists, exhibition halls , galleries, theater and dance groups, cultural initiatives, and lofts. It’s like a small city within the city of Leipzig.
Founded in 1884, the Spinnerei became an entire industrial town with over 20 factories, workers’ housing, kindergartens and a recreational area. The mill reached its maximum size in 1907, with 240,000 spindles processing cotton across a working area of about 25 acres. Up to 4,000 people worked there, until production of thread was halted in 1993 following the reunification of Germany several years earlier.
Since then, the cotton mill has been transformed into a real working ‘factory’ of art. About 100 artists have their own studios, along with 11 galleries and a non-profit space called Halle 14. One of the key artists of the so-called “New Leipzig School” is Neo Rauch, who was among the first to set up his studio in the Spinnerei and later gained international fame after Brad Pitt bought one of his prints. Why does this kind of annoy me? Great for the artist that he got some international recognition, but odd to me that once Brad bought his stuff….NOW it meant he was good.
We stroll from building to building, peeking in on artists creating, pottery classes, a huge arts supply store, and even a small movie theatre still playing actual film reels. It is great to see this old industrial space being put to use.
As we walk around, I also can’t help get the feeling of wondering how this place was used during World War II. We’re told some ‘prisoners’ did come to work here. I later found this info on their website’s history:
The Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei refused to admit concentration camp inmates to the production process, but was assigned 500 foreign forced labourers, for whom kitchens and washing, sleeping and living space were provided on the ground floor of the first Spinnerei building. Walter Cramer, a member of the Spinnerei’s supervisory board who belonged to a civil resistance group led by former mayor Dr. Carl Goerdeler, may have been behind the refusal to use camp inmates for as a labour force. Cramer was arrested and executed following the failed attempt to assassinate Hitler on the 20th of July.
Our last stop was the working studio of a husband and wife, Claudia Biehne and Stefan Passig, from whom the Dürnay’s had actually bought a piece. The porcelain studio was full of white, delicate lamps and free standing sculpture pieces that seemed to come straight from nature. There where bright white, smooth works that looked like coral straight out of the sea and hanging lamps made with impressions of leaves and flowers.
For more info:
Phone: +49 341 4980270
Main opening hours: Tue-Sat 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Disclosure: During my few days in Leipzig, I was a guest of Leipzig Tourism and Marketing GmbH, as always, all opinions here are my own.