[caption id=”” align=”alignleft” width=”320” caption=”Picture of Leipzig ©2002 by James Martin”]Picture of Leipzig ©2002 by James Martin[/caption]

Though I first learned this last year, I’ve kept mum until the official papers arrived verifying that I’d been granted a Guest Professorship at Leipzig University. That’s the Leipzig in Germany, with a university founded in 1409 no less, and it’s the Picador Guest Professorship for Literature in the university’s American Studies department. The papers arrived on Friday.

It’s a wonderful program which will give us four months (we’ll be there for the winter October-February semester) in a city known for its history, music, and art. If that sounds like a dry description of any of a hundred European cities, it is—but from what I can tell “dry” doesn’t apply to Leipzig at all. Check out this piece from Conde Nast Traveler.

And while today neo-Nazi rowdies plague much of the former German Democratic Republic, Leipzig seems a bulwark of the values of a democratic society. Three times a year, neo-Nazis arrive by train to march through town. “They never get farther than the railroad station,” Mark Hamilton, a Scottish artist and adopted Leipziger, assured me. Families come out and block the street, and what is peculiarly called “the radical Left”—a prominent faction among the city’s nearly forty thousand students—has been known to stand among them bearing American and Israeli flags.

Nowadays, Leipzig spends about $135 million a year on cultural affairs, the equivalent of what Frankfurt, a city with three times its 500,000 population, budgets. The person in charge of culture in this city is Georg Girardet, a Bavarian of Huguenot descent. Girardet is the deputy mayor for cultural affairs. No other German city has a deputy mayor specifically for culture, and the importance of the post is underlined by the fact that you have to run for office to get it. Girardet has been elected three times since he arrived in 1991.