The Alte Nikolaischule, or Old Nicolai School, is among the most valuable cultural monuments in Leipzig’s city centre, being its oldest secular edifice. In 1393, Pope Boniface IX gave permission to found a city school which was to teach its pupils grammar, simple sciences and the arts. Subsequently the private Schola Nicolaitana won privileges, and in 1512 the first citizen’s school, the Nikolaischule, moved into this building and began its work.
Famous students include the early philosophers of enlightenment Christian Thomasius and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, as well as writers and artists such as Johann Gottfried Seume and Richard Wagner.
Since the mid-19th century, the building has been used alternately as a storage site, for various enterprises, museums and schooling. In the early 20th century it served as the Royal Garrison’s main guard-house; after World War II as the University of Leipzig’s Leibniz-Haus.
The Leipzig Cultural Foundation, founded during the changeful years of 1989/90 to preserve landmarks and urban culture – with Prof. Kurt Masur as its founding president – restored, refurbished and modernized the building from 1991 to 1994, setting an example for the incipient restoration of old buildings and landmarks in the city. The Cultural Foundation received several architecture awards for its work, and it also conceived the new use of the buildings, running the Old Nicolai School as a house of culture in the heart of the city ever since.
One special feature is the vine at the Alte Nikolaischule. Planted in 1994, it recalls depictions of the school façade in the early 17th century, and the hardy grape variety “Mitschurinski” produces a harvest of sweet grates every year.
All its event locations are open not only to the interested public, but also to other users.
The building is home to the restaurant “Alte Nikolaischule” with the restored Main Auditorium of 1597, the University of Leipzig’s Museum of the Art of Antiquity, a floor dedicated to events featuring the Richard-Wagner-Aula – the reconstructed, late-classicistic school auditorium, which features not only a concert grand piano, but also a restored Broadwood piano dating to ca. 1827 and modern sound technology – and, since 2013, the Culture Foundation’s permanent exhibition The Young Richard Wagner, 1813 to 1834, located in the basement and recently fitted with an audio guide in six languages.
Taking turns with the City of Leipzig’s Architecture Award to Support Architectural Culture, every two years the Leipzig Cultural Foundation’s Hieronymus Lotter Prize for exemplary landmark preservation is presented to its winner at the Richard-Wagner-Aula.