Leipzig Coffee Cantata
In Praise of Coffee Shops in Leipzig
Coffee has been a ritual in Leipzig since the late 1600’s. The composer Bach wrote a Coffee Cantata in the city and the city centre boasts the second oldest continuously open coffee house in Europe. So it’s not surprising that in this most musical of cities Leipzig’s coffee hangouts are a rich blend of creativity and tradition. From poetry coffee carts to skate shops, we visited a few, while humming Bach’s Coffee Cantata…
“If I couldn’t, three times a day, be allowed to drink my little cup of coffee, in my anguish I will turn into a shriveled-up roast goat” – Liesgen, in libretto to Bach’s Coffee Cantata
It’s all Bach’s fault
I get it. I really get it. My own skin has shrivelled to crackling if I haven’t sourced an extra hot, medium skinny, double shot latte on a camping trip by 9am. Johann Sebastian Bach and I are pretty similar. The composer liked his coffee. I like my coffee. He spent a lot of time in coffee shops writing world famous music. I spend a lot of time in coffee shops.
Bach’s Coffee Cantata Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht, (be still stop chattering) was written for a musical ensemble called The Collegium Musicum based in a Zimmerman’s coffee house in Leipzig. If you don’t know your comic opera from your requium you just need to know Coffee Cantata is about a girl called Liesgen who really, really wants a coffee! She wants a coffee more than she wants a husband. And most days I want a coffee more than I want my husband so I feel qualified to write about this. And so, as a tribute to Bach, I drag Stuart around some of Leipzig’s most celebrated and eclectic coffee shops in search of what inspired the great composer.
10am: Feeling More-ish at Franz Morish Kaffeerosterei
“Ah! How sweet coffee tastes, more delicious than a thousand kisses, milder than muscatel wine.” – Liesgen’s Aria from libretto to Bach’s Coffee Cantata
I’m not sure Motel One would appreciate me bursting into song over breakfast. So I ask followers on Twitter to recommend a treat. The tourist board suggests Zack Zack, a supercool brunch place, but it’s too far for a first hit, I will be gasping by then.
@Chrisolinus recommends Franz Morish Kaffeerosterei. It’s a short walk from Leipzig’s Grassi Museum, and an even shorter stroll from hispter coffee perfection. There’s no smell of shrivelling goat-woman here, the first thing you notice is the smell of beans in an enormous open roaster. Liesgen would probably try and climb into it. The cafe is named after a fictional footballer; its owner is a former professional footballer who decided to tap into his passion for good coffee on his retirement from the sport. The story reminds me of the super Fabrica cycling cafe in Girona.
This light and airy bar is filled with the young and the good looking; and if you would like to stare into the eyes of your own good looking companion, you can enjoy a romantic lunch in a private shipping crate for two. The lunch menu is populated by chilli and wraps and the sweet stuff alone is worth coming for; we share a cake that managed to combine rhubarb, custard and crumble in a neat tray bake. And the coffee? Perfection in a cup, prepared slowly and carefully by hipster bar tender. First hit successfully sorted. Liesgen would be proud.
11.30am: Symphony and strudel at the Coffe Baum Tree
Café Zum Arabischen Coffe Baum started serving in 1711. That’s a really long barista shift! It is the second oldest continuously functioning coffee house in the world; the oldest is in Paris. “There are several cafes in Coffe Baum,” says our guide Gitta Perl as we walk the city, “Vienna style, Paris style, and a little café where you can have a coffee Arab style. And on top there’s an interesting coffee museum showing 300 years of Saxon coffee culture free of charge.” Sold.
We make for the traditional tea house atmosphere of the Schumann Room on the ground floor after Gitta tells us composer Robert Schumann and colleagues planned and published magazines of music here. I feel at home pretending to be Liesgen and humming away. There are coat pegs with the composers names on them, and it’s not hard to track down which of the other classical greats have taken tea here. That’s if you can tear yourself away from the pastries. I recommend the Sachsische Quarkkeulchen auf Zimtschmand, Apfelmus und Vanilleeis (a saxon pastry with apple sauce and ice cream) as well as Leipziger Rabchen mit Heidelbeer (deep fried plums filled with marzipan.) And the coffee, of course.
1pm: Wagon of words at Zielichmanierlich
“If it would only happen soon, that at last, instead of coffee, before I even go to bed, I might gain a sturdy lover!” – Liesgen in Aria from libretto to Bach’s Coffee Cantata
On the banks of the Elster flood plain, a coffee cart is a bit of an establishment. But it’s not any old coffee cart. It’s run by a poet. For 10 years Rebecca Maria Salentin has sold coffee and cake from a brightly coloured circus wagon Zierlichmanierlich. If there’s anyone who can understand Liesgen’s siren song I’m sure it is Rebecca.
She has now passed on the caravan to a new owner but still works there, selling coffee and renting out games and picnic blankets when the weather is hot. She brews me up a latte while I give her a song but begs me not to ask her to write a poem. “Everybody says please don’t write about me, but it’s something utterly different.” She explains that her poetry is reserved for the winter months while the summer is for selling coffee. On a sunny day the cart is busy with cyclists and people using the river, “It’s beautiful and feminine,” says Rebecca. Perhaps she is the new Bach as I appear to be smashing it as Liesgen?
3pm: Kandler Conditorei – a gift and a lark
“Coffee, I have to have coffee, and, if someone wants to pamper me, ah, then bring me coffee as a gift!” – Liesgen in Aria from libretto to Bach’s Coffee Cantata
There are two reasons to visit the Kandler chain of coffee shops in Leipzig. The cakes and the chocolate. The coffee is more of an accessory here (and quite expensive) but I think even Leischen might be seduced by the cakes and the vibe. Try the Leipziger Larchen (Lark Cake), a little cake made from shortcrust pastry, almonds, nuts, and strawberry jam or marzipan. In the past people hunted the songbirds to eat in stews and soups in Saxony. When the sport was banned, an enterprising baker recreated them in pastry and a tradition was born.
There are five Kandler cafes in and around the city. After you’ve tried the cakes, sample one of the Bachtaler chocolates; Leipzig’s answer to the Austria’s Mozartkugeln. We recommend an espresso and a range of cakes in the Kandler cafe opposite Thomaskirche with Bach’s famous statue watching over you.
4pm: Elephants remember Kaffeehaus Riquet
Stuart has now had enough of coffee, but I’m still going. And I’m glad we do when we wind up at the iconic copper elephant heads that adorn the front of Kafeehaus Riquet. The art nouveax building was erected in 1908 for the company Riquet & Co, who traded with East Asia and the Orient from 1745 and the architectural influences are Chinese. There are two coffee shops inside, neither can really match the grandeur of the outside, but the place has a pleasantly nostalgic feel and unsurprising for a former coffee trader, it does great coffee and cake. We recommend the Vienna style part on the first floor.
5pm: Boarder friendly Shredderei
Shredderei café is a skateboarders hangout and you’re likely to find people flying around on wheels inside, outside, and around the shop. It’s part coffee shop and part skateboard shop trading under the name of Bastlboards. “Kids often drop by to dream,” laughs the manager as she pops the last piece of vegan chocolate cake on a plate for us. The shop is part of a small roasters community in the city and you can buy their own skateboard branded coffee. “We got the beans from Uganda and had them roasted here in Leipzig.”
I buy a bag while Stuart settles in for a late afternoon snooze. If we were here earlier we could have rented a skate or long board for the day to explore the city. During our visit, a mum is hanging out drinking coffee while her daughter learns to board on the training ramp. It’s all very cool as cats.
“Cats do not give up mousing, girls remain coffee-sisters. The mother adores her coffee-habit, and grandma also drank it, so who can blame the daughters!”– Chorus from libretto to Bach’s Coffee Cantata
7pm Devilish fun at Mephistos
“You naughty child, you wild girl, ah! When will I achieve my goal: get rid of the coffee for my sake!” – Liesgen’s father in libretto to Bach’s Coffee Cantata
My song is nearly done and Stuart needs a drink! The good news is that Mephistos bar offers coffee and alcohol. To be honest you can have anything you want as long as you don’t mind paying with your soul. Only kidding, the barman is also happy to take your euros. Mephistos Bar is the newest part of the famous Auerbach’s Keller in Madler Passage. The Keller owes its reputation to Goethe’s play, Faust; it is the first place Mephistopheles takes Faust. And the Dark Lord himself makes his presence known in Mephistos several times an hour in a fun theatrical way, although only the tourists bat an eyelid. We count how many versions of hell exist on and in the walls, and stay on for a live pianist. And a cocktail or two -of course the devil does the best cocktails!
And if you fancy something a little more substantial…
If you fancy more than coffee but don’t have much budget, here’s some decent places in Leipzig you can top up with a snack..
Some places do urban redevelopment with such style that you almost forget grit and the grime permeated its history. Leipzig is full of refurbished plants and factories that now have a renewed purpose, as well as smelling good for the first time ever. South of the city centre, about 15 minutes bike ride from central station, Werk 2 is one of these. Known for its concerts and dance nights, the former machine testing factory at Connewitzer Kreuz offers creative workshops and a cool hangout. We have cheap tapas in Connstanze; a huge plate of home-made hummus and a bruschetta as colourful as it is delicious.
If you like factory hangouts, The Spinnerei has thirteen galleries, 100 artists and a coffee shop. You can also grab a snack to take into the tiny but trendy cinema that shows movies on film. And if you like cheap cinema bites, just down the road from Werk 2 you can find an open air cinema with a deli in a former soup canning factory.
Wullewupp soup bar was named after alternative comedian Helge Schneider; the owner Felix is a big fan. Soup bars are popular in the city; and this split level bar with tables outside has plenty of office workers and families tucking in. WulleWupp serves six soup dishes a week and flavours remain the same for a whole week, served up in cool white and blue enamel bowls.
“We wanted to use the old GDR style dishes,” says owner Felix, pouring thick chilli into my dish and adding garnishes and fresh bread. For style and authenticity.
Keeping it simple with hot dogs and beer
The cafes on Karl Heine Strasse do what they say on the tin bowl. A few shops away from Wullewupp, Beard Brothers and Sisters Hot Dogs and Beer serves only hot dogs and cold drinks. Unlike the hearty soups of Wullewup the hot dogs are more for elevenses or a light afternoon snack rather than a big lunch and no one actually has a beard, but it’s the teeny tiny stylish room that wows. On the balcony above the vintage style compact bar, a sign advertised live music. Playing the hot dog and beer blues? Could there be anything cooler in Leipzig?
Birds eye lunch at Panorama
Leipzig’s Panorama Tower is at the top of City-Hochhaus, the tallest multistorey building in Leipzig which is shaped like an open book. The restaurant gives you a bird’s eye view of a city that changes daily according to the weather. We enjoyed the set business lunch; the food is light and affordable and you can stretch your legs by popping into the viewing gallery next door. A word of warning though, only one set of lifts takes you to the restaurant. (The lifts on the right as you go in. The others may have you visiting 35 other floors.)
Hidden and tasty Leipzig
You can find some of these recommendations and more in a neat little booklet containing 146 tips of some of the lesser visited parts of the city. The Hidden Leipzig book costs €8.50 and you can download it, or buy it from the city’s Tourist Information centre.
You can read more and watch a video about Leipzig and its musical life in this related post on A Musical Day in the Life of Leipzig, City of Music. Click on the picture below and we’ll take you there.
Disclosure Note: This post is a paid collaboration with Leipzig Tourism and Captivate. All words, opinion, photography, videography, coffee drinking, cantata singing and consumption of lark cakes was all our own. For more city based posts like this check out the City Tripping linky.