LEIPZIG CULTURE UNDER THE MEDIA SPOTLIGHT
By WILLIAM TELFORD, Business Editor
Key to Leipzig’s cultural offer is the immense Leipziger Baumwollspinnerei (Leipzig Cotton Mill), once the largest mill in Europe and now homes to a community of more than 100 artists led by the world-famous painter Neo Rauch and his New Leipzig School of artists.
It also pulls in 400,000 visitors a year and stages international exhibitions – including the hugely successful first international show of the work of Plymouth artist Robert Lenkiewicz, just last year.
The 10-hectare site could have been converted into flats and offices, but the company that owns it instead saw the value of creating an artistic community that would encourage visitors and put the East German city on the international art map.
Yet Bertram Schultze, director of the MIB development company which bought the Spinnerei in 2001, said there was “no masterplan”.
He said artists discovered the buildings, and the firm was happy to let it develop that way.
“We bought it because we thought we could make something out of it,” he said.
“We developed it with our own money and some grants, including heritage and city planning money, and support from the savings bank Sparkasse Leipzig (see last week’s Business, or check online for details).”
When the mill, built in 1884, was in its heyday as an industrial site, it employed 4,000 people. But production stopped in 1993 following German reunification.
Now it contains 11 galleries, restaurants and 120 studios, with artists, many from around the world, even living on site.
In addition to Mr Rauch, famous artists include Jim Whiting, Hans Aichinger, and Matthias Weischer , and there are fashion designers, architects, printers, a goldsmith, a pottery, a porcelain manufacturer, an arts supply store, a bicycle maker and even a cinema.
“Everyone wants a studio here,” Mr Schultze said. “One hundred of the studios are more or less permanent, the others are used for exchange programmes.
“And the artists come from all over the world, plus 400,000 people come here every year.
“Old buildings have soul,” he said. “Because it’s used for something it wasn’t built for there’s a special spirit.”
Mr Schultze said the mill also “spreads the word about Leipzig”, marketing the city as a cool location.
“Others benefit,” he said. “We put out the message there is a thriving arts scene in Leipzig.”
There is still space yet to be developed at the mill, and although is has some residential and commercial tenants, including a call centre, it is envisaged it will develop further as an arts hub.
“This could have gone to residential use,” he said. “But it will pay off in the long run, doing something for the image of Leipzig. All other German cities are jealous.”
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