Nowhere embodies Leipzig’s renaissance as a youthful, dynamic, artistic city quite like Plagwitz. With its exceptional blend of restored 19th century homes, graffiti-strewn factory sites which now house artists studios and pop-up cafés, and elegantly cobbled streets running alongside leafy canals, the whole neighbourhood seems tailor-made for a hipster’s Instagram profile. But there is a lot more going on here than it may seem; you just need to know where (and how) to look.
Plagwitz’s history as a centre of industry began in 1854, when the Leipzig layer Karl Heine began purchasing land there for the planned settlement of industrial companies. Vast manufacturing sites were built for these new enterprises, complete with housing for the employees, mostly in red-brick, giving Plagwitz its distinctive look. New traffic routes were also created, the first section of the canal was constructed, and a large industrial railway station connected numerous lines and brought in heavy freight from across the region. This growth in industry was reflected in a massive increase in the population, jumping from 134 inhabitants in 1834 to almost 20,000 by 1910.
Plagwitz’s (and Leipzig’s) importance as an industrial centre continued throughout the 20th century, with the thriving city being seen as an exemplar of Soviet collective industrialisation during the GDDR period. This declined with the end of the GDR and, in the years immediately following reunification, industry collapsed. Thousands left the city seeking their fortunes elsewhere, and the area became characterised by its now-abandoned spaces.
Recovery took a while to come, and it did so in somewhat unexpected fashion. Abandoned factories were repurposed into recreation spaces, illegally occupied and used for raves, film-screening and various other happenings. Artists and other creative types moved in, and word of mouth spread. Soon the revival was in full flow; haphazard and semi-legal occupation became an official movement, and the artists were followed by start-ups and others looking to participate in Plagwitz’s renaissance.
It is this mixture of art and industry, of leisure and commerce, of spontaneity and structure, which characterises Plagwitz today. Once-abandoned factories are now thriving artistic emporiums, and crumbling apartment buildings are freshly renovated and highly desirable. A succession of rundown, shabby-looking buildings house pop-up street food restaurants, underground art installations, or even the offices for the next big app.
This character is typified by places like the Spinnerei. Lying on the very western border of Plagwitz, this was formerly a huge cotton mill with a complex of buildings, complete with family housing, fire brigade and even its own power plant. Production ceased in 1993, and the site was abandoned and quickly fell into disrepair. Now, however, the site has been reclaimed as an artists’ community, with galleries, exhibition halls and much more. Leipzig’s famous start-up accelerator SpinLab is even located here.
Somewhat surprisingly, given its industrial nature, Plagwitz is also a popular place to spend a day on the river. The White Elster forms the eastern border of the neighbourhood, while the Karl Heine Canal runs right through the heart of it. On a warm summer’s day, you will find both filled with a parade of canoes, paddle boats, and even a gondola or two. And though Plagwitz itself might not have any parks, it is very close to the Palmengarten to the north, Clara Zetkin Park to the east, and Kleinzschocher state park to the south.
Plagwitz has understandably become a very popular residential location in recent years and there are some justifiable fears that the neighbourhood’s character is being overly-sanitised and losing what made it so unique. The rough edges have not all been smoothed out, however, and any visitors to Plagwitz will find a neighbourhood with a strong identity, an artistic community, and a vibrant spirit that should definitely not be missed.