After bidding adieu to most of the family, Nathanael, Braeden and I found ourselves having lunch in a bustling square in Freiburg, the first stop on our German adventure. Students filled the cafe-lined plaza and nearby beer garden, taking full advantage of the fact that this cheerful city is Germany’s warmest with 2000 hours of annual sunshine. Ready to say hello to Freiburg?
Freiburg (full name Freiburg im Breisgau) perfectly encapsulates that traditional-meets-new-age-innovation charm that I love about Germany. A lively university town founded in the 12th century, Freiburg is ideally seated as a starting point for exploring the Black Forest’s shaded paths. Whether it’s the social consciousness and activism of the city’s youth or the practical nature of German ingenuity, Freiburg is known for its well-earned eco-trailblazer status across Europe (we were hearing about it all the way in eastern Romania!). Freiburg generates nearly as much solar power as the whole of Britain, coupled with innovative eco-housing, car-free boulevards, and pervasive socially conscious attitude of the inhabitants it’s no wonder that everyone is happy in Freiburg. (Give this a read to hear more about one of the world’s “most liveable” cities!)
Trekking down the bustling main street leading away from the train station, we found ourselves almost immediately in Freiburg’s extensive pedestrian-only zone. Freiburg was one of the first cities in Germany to create a pedestrian-only oasis in its city centre. Originally intended as somewhat of an experiment, in 1973 (after much debate and preparation) almost all the main and side streets in the city centre were closed to vehicle traffic. It wasn’t until the mid-eighties, however, that the city fully committed to the idea and began redesigning and redecorating the centre into what we see today. Today streets of natural stone paving welcome citizen and visitor alike into the historical heart of Freiburg, and personalized mosaics of pretzels, shoes, and coffee cups invite customers into the local businesses.
Relaxing in Rathausplatz on a hot summers day you’re sure to see children playing in the bächle (small canals) running through the square. Side note, I was so distracted by the city hall that I almost lost a leg in what I thought was the biggest gutter I had ever seen. Yet these adorable water-filled runnels originally served as part of the city water supply and a fire-fighting resource. They came under scrutiny as “traffic obstacles” in the 1950’s, but fortunately this proved to be a non-issue in the city centre when it was declared a car-free zone in the 70’s. Today, people are happy to dip their toes in the refreshingly cool water on a sunny afternoon.
Immediately prior to almost taking a dunk in the bächle, I mentioned that I was checking out the town halls. I say “halls” because both the Altes und Neues Rathaus (Old and New Town Hall) can be found on the west side of Rathausplatz. The old town hall was born out of a few old homes in the mid-16th century and served the town administration faithfully for a few centuries before eventually turning to Freiburg visitors as the Tourist Information Centre. The new town hall was created at the turn of the 19th century from Renaissance-era town houses.
A few streets east of Rathausplatz and you’ll find yourself in the heart of Freiburg, Münsterplatz. And as the cherry on the Black Forest Cake, Freiburger Münster (Freiburg’s Gothic cathedral) sits tall and proud above the bustling square. If you’re lucky enough to have good weather (we weren’t lucky until we were leaving unfortunately), be sure to climb the cathedral tower for a spectacular bird’s eye view of the city. We did manage to catch the food markets though, and were treated to some delicious wurst-in-a-bun to help power us up the local hiking trails!
Other neat things to make sure you find: the bright red Historisches Kaufhaus (Historical Merchants’ Hall) in Münsterplatz, Martinstor (Martin’s Gate, keeping it real with McDonalds right next door), and Schwabentor (the Swabian Gate). Freiburg will certainly keep you busy, what with taking in the beautiful architecture, personalized street mosaics, and trying not to fall in the bächle!
You can’t talk about Freiburg without bringing up the Black Forest. The Black Forest is a forested mountain range in the state of Baden-Württemberg. While we weren’t going to dive too far into the forest, Freiburg serves as a starting point for most tourists as it provides easy access into the rest of the region. The Black Forest, or Schwarzwald, is a distinct cultural region of Germany, and a few of our/my favourites believed to have arisen in this area include Cuckoo Clocks, Black Forest Ham (a HUGE favourite of Nats), and Black Forest Cake (a HUGE favourite of Braeden and I). In the Black Forest hiking trails abound for the nature lover and, if Freiburg is any indication, the cities are filled with romance and charm to keep you wandering the streets even after a long day of hiking.
Last but not least, no visit to a German city is complete without visiting a local brewery. Feierling is loved by locals and visitors alike, and from the first sip it’s easy to see why! The house brew Inselhopf is light and fresh, made from organically grown ingredients, and just what we needed after a long day on foot. As a special touch, Feierling has seated their copper stills right in behind the bar, giving visitors a glimpse of goodness to come. With happy hearts we raised a toast to Freiburg, and it was on to the next stop of our Germany tour!