IYou have to be extremely careful in this building, otherwise you will get lost. First up a few steps, then down a few, you turn left, go through a huge room and you’re immediately in the next one, which is so big that it could accommodate a gym. But apart from a foam mattress, the room is empty. Warm light falls through the high window.
The brick building is in Zeitz and is probably the most surprising place in this city, about forty kilometers from Leipzig, which is marked by migration and vacancies. In 1888 Max Emmerling from Zeitz acquired the building and founded a pasta factory with the emblem of a windmill. At the beginning of the 1950s, the factory was expropriated by the GDR leadership and became part of the state-owned enterprise for fruit, vegetables and industrial table potatoes. Things turned around later and a few businesses tried their luck in the building, including a furniture store, but none of the alliances lasted long. The imposing building stood empty and fell into disrepair, punks made themselves at home, gave concerts and sprayed graffiti on the walls. But the time of the punks didn’t last forever either.
If the married couple Mathias and Birgit Mahnke from Heidelberg, who have a passion for industrial buildings, had not come across the dilapidated property in 2016, then the “Nudel”, as the people of Zeitz affectionately call the building, would probably have been demolished long ago. But this is how the building came to life. Handymen came, knocked down walls, put new ones in, repaired windows, installed plumbing, removed torn carpets and sanded floors. Today, lovers of unusual places can rent two lofts with meter-high ceilings, whose exposed pipes and walls exude industrial charm. They are the perfect places to retreat, quiet and blessed with a light that even in the most glorious sunshine you don’t want to go outside at all, but rather lie on the couch.
The Mahnkes rely on upcycling and recycling when converting and expanding the former factory. A number of items and pieces of furniture, chests of drawers, industrial clothes racks left behind by various previous tenants appear in new splendor. Torn-off blankets, for example, were partially transformed into tables. Whether an object is destined to be thrown away or has the potential to unfold its charm in a creatively designed room is a matter of imagination. And Birgit and Mathias Mahnke have this imagination.
The pasta factory is more than 11,000 square meters in size, an area that is gradually being renovated and modernized. This work will take many years, but nobody is in a hurry here, because the mega-project is all about coherence. Artist studios have also emerged in recent years. Bernhard Martin works in one of these studios. An exhibiting gallery once described him as a visually vagabond painter who fishes his motifs out of the flood of the internet, but also out of art history, in order to transform them spectacularly. The gigantic painting that Martin has been working on for a long time has already sold for a lot of money.
But companies and universities also appreciate this quiet place, which is why conferences and workshops take place here regularly. One advantage is that the participants escape the confines of an ordinary conference hotel, where you sit in sterile rooms in front of flipcharts and cannot avoid each other. The pasta factory, this place of constant transformation, where building rubble sometimes lies in a stairwell and you have to climb over the odd cable or two, celebrates sheer space. The unfinished belongs to the atmosphere.
Right next to the “Nudel” is the former polyclinic, and because Mathias Mahnke is very fond of East Modernism, he was able to convince his wife to buy this building as well. The building now houses individually designed single and double rooms, in which conference and workshop participants can stay, as well as a large common room with a kitchen. The Mahnke couple were awarded the Saxony-Anhalt Demography Prize in 2021 for their commitment in Zeitz, for the creation of these meeting places through careful conversion. The Mahnkes are mainly active in Leipzig. In 2013, Mathias Mahnke, who works as a management consultant, bought the former Dietzold factory in the west of the city, which was about to be demolished. He recognized an area of opportunity in the industrial wastelands, which he also tried to convince banks of. But the bankers he wanted to get on board did not believe the visionary that anything promising, i.e. lucrative, could be made from the Dietzold works. You were wrong. And Mahnke and his wife were well advised not to be discouraged by the bankers’ lack of imagination and their lack of a sense for trends.
Today around 75 artists and three gallery owners work in the Dietzold works. Mathias Mahnke says that companies keep coming to him who want to move into the building. The investor couple could ask these companies a multiple of the current rent, but they are not interested in maximum profit: “We don’t want a general store,” says Mahnke. The Dietzold works should remain an affordable place for artists. And if a company moves in, it has to fit into the concept like the film production company The Post Republic. As in Zeitz, the Mahnkes also rent lofts in Leipzig to vacationers and creative people who want to work on their projects in an inspiring environment. To people who are looking for a place that is not interchangeable.
Further information at www.urlaubsarchitektur.de.