Photography by the authors
Heinrich Stromer was a professor of pathology in Leipzig University and personal physician to the Duke of Saxony — who along with the right to elect the Holy Roman Emperor was a powerful nobleman.
(American tourists will find the “Electors of Saxony’ a confusing mixture of geography, politics, religion and, yes, greed so we need to move on to Dr. Stromer.)
Those were the days before socialized medicine and government fees. The good doctor was given, as his reward for faithful services, the right to open a wine bar. The bar was extended to become a restaurant, one of the oldest in the world.
Stromer, a popular figure around town, was called Dr. Auerbach from the name of the town near Nuremberg where he was born in 1476. He was first and foremost a physician. He wrote a book on plague, for instance, that was still in use in the Middle Ages a century later. (He felt the causes of the disease were bad air from marshes and mists and fumes from the unburied dead — and from bad food.
He apparently also wrote a booklet in 1531 called The Ugly Vice of Drunkedness, ironic since he had opened his wine bar just six years previously and become wealthy from it. Town records show that he was taking care of one-third of all wine taxes paid in Leipzig. But Stromer was also a shrewd business man and he was a wealthy man when he died in 1542.
His restaurant, called Auerbach’s Cellar, was built in his home and continued by his family. Then, it was expanded into the one made famous by Goethe, a student in Leipzig from 1765 to 1768. It is said that Goethe spent more time in the bar than the university.
The restaurant has a colorful history involving Goethe and his play about Dr. Faust, where he took a local legend and based some scenes in it in Auerbach’s Cellar. Rooms in the upstairs dining room area show episodes from Faust that don’t seem to bother the appetites of the vast numbers having lunch in this busy place, busy because the Saxony cuisine is great and the prices reasonable.
But the charm is asking if you can visit downstairs in the cellar itself where a painting shows Dr. Stromer dining with his friend, Martin Luther — and, hanging from the ceiling on the next room, a scene showing Faust riding off on his celebrated beer barrel.
If that’s not too much history, it’s less than a five-minute walk to Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church and, opposite that, is a small café housed in what used to be an apothecary’s shop and is now a museum owned by a Dr. Bethge (who was not available at the time of our visit). Even with the sophistication of health professionals it is hard to evaluate the exhibits as nothing is written in English and Google couldn’t come up later with any informative website.
The museum has some herbalist illustrations and ancient books and an interesting framed illumination that should remind us how much our knowledge of medicine’s history between Galen and Andreas Vesalius comes from what has been provided by Arabian medicine.
So here we are in this marvelous city of Leipzig, famous for centuries but recently also appreciated because it was the city that started the rejection of communism that broke up the Soviet Union in 1989.
But, of course, proximity to St. Thomas Church doesn’t encourage tourists to go poking around in an alchemy museum when they can enter the hallowed place where Johann Sebastian Bach was cantor.
There are many opinions as to who is the greatest composer who ever lived. Some might say Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or Ludwig van Beethoven, but musicians we’ve asked (including a former family physician partner, Jeff Neilson) immediately say, Bach!
One musician in Eisenach where Johann Sebastian Bach was born told us: “Not all musicians believe in God but all musicians believe in Bach!”
Richard Wagner, by the way, was born in Leipzig.
An impressive statue of Bach stands outside the church and, inside, appears not only one of his busts, but also his face on one of the stained glass windows. His grave lies in a vault on the floor of the church. This is a City of Music. A five-minute walk brings visitors to an older Bach monument and, close by, a statue to Mendelssohn.
There’s a Felix Mendelssohn museum in Leipzig and one to Robert Schumann in Leipzig. There’s also the marvelous Grassi Museum of Musical Instruments and although we had earlier passed the Stasi “Round Corner Museum that documents the power and banality of the GDR secret police,” we don’t return to it because we’re on the newly created Leipzig Music Trail.
A trail of curved stainless steel inserts, some looking like sword blades, decorates the sidewalks and leads music enthusiasts along a three-mile route that shows Leipzig’s 800 years of music history and how “Music Moves the City.” In the museum sits a bust of Beethoven.
You could spend hours in the Museum of Musical Instruments. One section shows how instruments are made and how sound is produced. Other showrooms portray the changes in how instruments were produced. The museum even has some of Bach’s possessions on display.
And if it’s true you can never be too rich or too beautiful or be too pleased with music we have a final treat to enjoy at the 18th century Mendelssohn Concert Hall: a Chopin piano recital where Vesselin Stanev will play the Etudes Opus 10 that Chopin composed in 1829 through1832.
Born in Bulgarian in 1964, Stanev studied in Moscow and Paris and now travels the world for rare recitals. We know Chopin is technically demanding but the recital of Chopin’s etudes tonight is brilliant.
Pianist and composer Vladimir Horowitz has been quoted as saying: "Chopin is the only truly great composer for the piano.”
And pianist Arthur Rubenstein has said, “Chopin’s music conquers the most diverse audiences. When the first notes of Chopin sound through the concert hall there is a happy sigh of recognition.”
We give a happy sigh of recognition and agree.
The Andersons, who live in San Diego, are the resident travel & cruise columnists for Physician's Money Digest. Nancy is a former nursing educator, Eric a retired MD. The one-time president of the NH Academy of Family Practice, Eric is the only physician in the Society of American Travel Writers. He has also written five books, the last called The Man Who Cried Orange: Stories from a Doctor's Life.