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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006, 23:54 GMT 00:54 UK
Vibrant Leipzig defies dour image
By Laura Smith-Spark
BBC News

Visitors to the Wave-Gotik-Treffen festival in Leipzig (photo courtesy of Wave-Gotik-Treffen)
Some 20,000 Goths will gather in Leipzig ahead of the World Cup
Any World Cup fans who arrive early in Leipzig could be in for a big surprise.

Instead of the beer and bratwurst they may be expecting, the streets will be awash with mead, medieval markets, music - and extravagantly dressed Goths.

For Leipzig, the only city in the former East Germany chosen to host World Cup matches, is also home to the self-proclaimed world's biggest Goth festival.

Some 20,000 enthusiasts will gather from as far afield as Japan, Australia and the US for the Wave-Gotik-Treffen festival from 2 to 5 June.

Six days later, the city's Zentralstadion will be the stage for the first World Cup game for Serbia and Montenegro and the Netherlands.

Sometimes you see elderly people talking to the Goths and asking them why they look like this
Cornelius Brach
Goth festival spokesman

Festival spokesman Cornelius Brach said he was confident Leipzig's residents would have little trouble with the transition from Goth-magnet to a city bustling with soccer fans.

"The people have got used to the Gothic audience - they know they look a little bit strange but they aren't 'dangerous'," he said.

"[The townspeople] are very friendly and welcoming. Sometimes you see elderly people talking to the Goths and asking them why they look like this - and there's no problem."

Aside from the ubiquitous black, PVC and piercings, festival-goers will also be dressed in styles last seen in the Middle Ages.

The festival, now in its 15th year, prides itself on its diversity and has created a medieval village and pagan market to keep guests entertained.

'City of Heroes'

Of course the city, dating from the 11th Century, is no stranger to change.

Thousands of people take part in a Monday demonstration in Leipzig
Peaceful protests in Leipzig helped lead to the collapse of communism
Back in 1989, the Nikolaikirche (St Nicholas's Church) in Leipzig was the focus for the first protests against the communist regime, with thousands of people gathering to march after Monday prayers.

As other cities followed their lead, the Monday demonstrations became the centre of a call for freedom that eventually led to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Since the reunification of former East and West Germany in 1990, the city has seen rapid economic growth for many and a boom in construction.

Its streets, bombed during World War II, now present a striking mix of stark Soviet-era buildings, Baroque, Art Nouveau and modernist architecture.

LEIPZIG ALUMNI
Map showing Leipzig
JS Bach - worked in Leipzig, 1723-1750
Richard Wagner - born in the city, 1813
Chancellor Angela Merkel - studied physics at Leipzig University, 1973-78

But, as Leipzig's Mayor Burkhard Jung told the BBC News website, the courage that earned Leipzig the name "City of Heroes" is far from forgotten.

"The events of 1989 have left an indelible mark in the hearts and minds of all Leipzigers. And they are still visible," he said.

Visitors can take in a monument to the peaceful protests in the square next to Nikolaikirche, he says.

"But above all it is the people that matter. Ask any of our citizens who are old enough to remember and they will tell you their story."

Olympic disappointment

The city's transformation to a regional sporting capital began when it was chosen as Germany's candidate for the 2012 Olympics.

LEIPZIG'S WORLD CUP MATCHES
Leipzig's Zentralstadion
11 June: Serbia and Montenegro v Netherlands
14 June: Spain v Ukraine
18 June: France v South Korea
21 June: Iran v Angola
24 June: Group C winner v Group D runner-up
Although it failed to make the final shortlist, its preparations gave it a headstart creating the infrastructure needed for soccer's biggest event.

The city had its first taste of football-related excitement when it hosted the draw for the World Cup finals last December, watched by millions.

In the coming weeks it will welcome fans for group stage matches involving Spain, South Korea, Iran and Angola, to name a few, as well as one second round game.

It offers one of the World Cup's smaller venues, holding 38,000 in a stadium recently rebuilt within the walls of the city's old 100,000 capacity venue.

'No place for Nazis'

How Leipzig is perceived after the tournament may depend on whether the far-right NPD party is allowed to hold a rally planned for the Iran-Angola match on 21 June.

A police van passes bins set alight during a counter demonstration to far-right marches in Leipzig, 1 May 2006
Far-right groups have made Leipzig a centre for May Day rallies

In recent years the city has been the scene of sometimes violent clashes between far-right demonstrators, left-wing counter-protesters and police on May Day and 3 October, the anniversary of reunification.

Mr Jung said some extremists appeared to want to turn the city into a nationalist symbol.

"But so far, the people of Leipzig have thwarted their attempts. Each time neo-Nazis schedule a demonstration in Leipzig, the Leipzigers take to the street by the tens of thousands," he said.

"They show very peacefully but effectively that Leipzig is no place for Nazis."

The mayor hopes the tournament will be a chance to banish once and for all the idea that the former East Germany is a dour and gloomy place.

"This city is vibrant with life... And the Leipzigers are a hard-working, bright and optimistic kind of people.

"We hope that as many visitors as possible will come here and share this experience."


SEE ALSO
Germany in World Cup pledge
18 May 06 |  African
Leipzig - Zentralstadion
03 Dec 05 |  Venues

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