We were determined to have one ‘real’ adventure over vacation and Freiburg was it.
We had planned on stopping in at Freiburg on the way home from Baden Baden some months ago and ran out of time. Since it is only 2 hours away, we decided we could do it as a day trip.
We got a bit lost heading into town and ended up driving on the tramway – shown at right – absolutely verboten! Luckily we didn’t get a ticket….
We found a garage to park in and headed out to see the town. We were immediately greeted by one of the old towers for the city gates. There are two of these and they are all that remain of the former fortifications of Freiburg. Of course, these days, even remnants of the past have been melded into modern times… as evidenced by the McDonalds hovering over the arch… if you look closely, the iconic double arches are cast in brick. This town is right on the western border of Germany and has a long history of being free, particularly from around the 1300’s until the Reformation (hence the name Freiburg). During the Reformation, Freiburg remained Catholic and many persecuted Catholics settled there. After the Reformation, the city changed hands many times with Austria, France, Sweden, Spain and various members of the German Confederacy all laying claim to the city at some point. Results of this hodge podge are apparent in the multicultural nature of Freiburg today. This international culture was easy to see in the variety of languages spoken and used on signs here. The train Griffin is sitting on was named the Santa Fe Express (American) but was labeled 1er (French shorthand for premier or first) and the coin slot was marked 1 Fahrt (clearly German!). Even the shops seemed to be owned by different nationalities. A bakery we stopped in was clearly Italian.
It was not until 1805 that Freiburg was finally and permanently incorporated into the German state of Baden. Besancon, our home city, was also independent for a good many years and I thought it was interesting that these two cities have been ‘sisters’ since 1959. I said to André that this city felt more American to me than many of the French ones we had visited. The crowd was racially homogenous, but many of the shops came from the US. Besides McDonalds, I saw Burger King, Subway, The Body Shop, a Claire’s, lots of pizza joints and a Haagen Daz (OK, I think that one might not be American in origin – but it still felt a lot closer to home).
We headed straight for the main plaza – Munsterplatz – where the Freiburg Cathedral is located. It is also known as The Church of Our Lady and is right in the center of town with the local market happening all around it. This made it hard to fit into my camera lens…. I tried to stack the pieces up for you at right, so hopefully your browser does that too and you can get the idea! We went in and wandered around for about half an hour. I was most impressed by the ancient pews and the amazing carving in wood that was everywhere in this edifice. I love German doors in particular and this cathedral was fun since common visitors still got a chance to use the giant entry door. The area behind the narthex was also remarkably well preserved (or even, perhaps, recently restored?) with brilliant paint colors and carved detailing. Here are some more shots….
Then we headed around the corner, mounted 207 steps to (you’ve guessed it) climb to the top of yet another cathedral. This one was cheap (only 4 Euros for all of us) and the views were predictably gorgeous. Also, we got a chance to climb into the bell tower as well – I thought it was amazing to see how snow had drifted in to the building and lay on the bells.
I also enjoyed, on the way down, seeing the bustling market so far below…
And then, from the ground, a true treat – we got to see the water that came from the melting snow actually pouring out of stone gargoyles! It is hard to believe, but, in all our cathedralling so far, we had yet to have the experience of seeing those fantastical gutters in action. I’m here to tell you - they are more than just ugly stone demons – they funnel water pretty efficiently as well – see below.
Then, of course, we had to wander through the market. We like German stuff! We bought some muesli and dried fruit for André and some German cheeses. One to make spaetzle with and another we just liked. It was a really fun town to just wander around in. Lots of funky shops and almost no vehicles to worry about. In fact, Freiburg is known as one of the most eco-friendly cities in Europe and many people don’t own cars at all. In other parts of the community, 4 or 5 families will share one vehicle. There were snowy bikes everywhere and the tram was obviously in heavy use. Another awesome thing lining the streets of Freiburg is the Bachle. Up and down many of the main streets are these small canals, they are coming right off of the Dreisam river and have been in use since Medieval times. Freiburg has the warmest climate in all of Germany and these streams cool the town. This was always their purpose and, in fact, harsh penalties were meted out in ancient times to those unfortunate enough to sully the waters. Legend has it that if you fall into the Bachle, you will marry a Freiburger. I guess I will be returning for 3 weddings someday since all the kids stomped in this thing more than once. We are hoping it doesn’t count if it’s frozen, or if you do it on purpose…
Our next stop was to be the Augustiner Museum. This is one of the most extensive museums of ancient religious artifacts in Europe, and, hip, hip, hooray, it’s free. It’s also currently closed for renovations (rats!). We wandered around a small visitor’s center they had in place of the museum for a few minutes to warm up and learned a bit about the history of print making. Other visitors had made prints before us and I told the kids we could try to make simple prints using this method ourselves – I took a photo so I wouldn’t forget!
We stopped in a bakery for a potty break and had some amazing little star cookies with the jam in between the layers (linzer tarts?) and then headed for lunch in a place recommended by my Old Faithful when it comes to visiting new towns… Tripadvisor.com. The name of the place was Sichelschmiede and was located at Insel 1, Freiburg im Breisgau. It was a bit of a challenge to find it, we had to ask several people (thanks to André’s German), and wound up near the other set of remaining city gates (very impressive). In the end, it was worth it. We started with a velvety tomato cream soup that everyone eagerly shared and then an amazing salad – the vinegary dressing was to die for – it reminded me a bit of fresh cole slaw. The kids then had German sausage while André and I shared creamy homemade spaetzle and a leek and onions casserole. The leek and onion casserole had peas and carrots in it that tasted like they were just picked in a garden – delicious! We then hung around for about half an hour waiting for the waitress to notice us but she never did so we flagged her down. (Turns out this is standard practice for German restaurants). Best of all was the price for the whole meal (including 6 Euros worth of bottled water – they don’t do tap water in Germany) was only 36 Euros. In fact, this was, as a whole, the best restaurant I think we’ve eaten at in our travels and you should go – if you are ever in Freiburg! The atmospheric old building was great as well – see photos.
We wandered through the city back towards our car enjoying the crocodile in the canal and doing our usual window shopping. They had amazing wooden kids’ toys here – Germans seem to really appreciate wood craft. There were lots of post holiday sales on and I found it interesting that the shops with sales hung up giant percentage signs – no numbers attached. We passed a Christmas tree display that was footed by a giant umbrella since it had a continual flow of tiny Styrofoam balls snowing on it. The kids were enchanted and want one like that for next year.
I also learned the word ‘schmuck’ is not just Yiddish for penis! It means jewelry in German. I saw it naming lots of stores that featured jewelry. I am showing two highlights, below, Schmuck Stuck and Schmuckwerk. Hmm….. I’m wondering if there is some sort of linguistic link here. I mean, traditional wisdom does insist that if a woman treats a schmuck well she may get lots of jewelry, right? I also include below the incredible door handle to the natural history museum and the giant sign hung on one of the University of Freiburg buildings. We think it means: “Don’t sell your brain.” I knew some organs were marketable, but brains???
The sidewalks of Freiburg are noteworthy as well. They are all cobblestone and, around every 20 feet or so, feature a mosaic in stone. These are usually related to the store they are in front of. A beer stein in front of a brewery, a caduceus in front of a pharmacy, a Buddha in front of a Tibetan shop, etc….. Below, left, you can see one of the symbols of the city – it was in front of a government office. The other photos show how, in one instance, the ornate ironwork on the door is replicated in the sidewalk mosaic that fronts it – beautiful.
OK – I said I took too many photos, didn’t I???? We are not done yet!
We had more than a bit of trouble finding our way back to the entrance to the car garage. While André was scouting around the garage, the kids were playing and being silly. See below…
It was only 2 pm and, since the Augistener was closed, we were ahead of schedule. We had some trouble escaping the car garage. I thought I was following exit signs but they just seemed to keep contradicting each other. André eventually figured out that there was a method to the madness. We should only have been following “Ausfahrt” (exit by driving) and ignoring the “Ausgang” (exit by foot) ones. Who knew? Finally free, we headed for our next stop, Schlossberg Mountain. This hill, right at the edge of town, is the beginning of the Black Forest. We were hoping to reach Schlossberg Lookout Tower which has views of the city and is built on the top of the ruins of a medieval fort. We tried finding our way up there driving but got a bit lost and confused, although we saw a beautiful view. The roads were not the best up the hill either, in fact, they were basically covered in ice. Have I mentioned that Mr. Liberty does not currently have on snow tires? So, we stopped tempting fate and pulled over into a parking lot to head out walking. We didn’t have snow pants but all of us (except André) were wearing boots and it was really fun to walk through the snow.
It’s clear that Germans are really into hiking. There were well trodden trails all over the mountain and we saw lots of people. We saw exercisers and families of locals and tourists. Interestingly,many of the people we saw were alone and in business style clothing or on bikes – obviously commuters! Indeed, I would say that the town and tourist attractions had not been as populated as the forest was. We walked through some smaller trails to reach a main pathway where we saw a sign for the lookout tower, only 1.2 km away. The recent snow must been quite wet and all the trees were coated in a layer of frozen water. The sun was strong and, when it shone through the trees, they were illuminated. Have you ever been lucky enough to see a spider web, on a misty morning, covered in dew drops? Do you know how that looks when the sun shines through it? Well, magnify that experience by about infinity and you can sort of imagine what this fairy forest was like. Each branch was as if it was made of the finest crystal, and they were all around us. We were in the center of a web of sparkling radiance. I’ve never seen anything like it. Of course, our photos don’t do it justice.
So, 1.2 km right? Usually we could do that without a problem but the snow and cold slowed everyone down and we really didn’t want to navigate the snowy trails back in the dark. We turned around at 4pm and headed for the car.
Even though we didn’t make 2 out of the 4 attractions on our list, Freiburg was a worthwhile stop. We read The Horse and His Boy on the way home (This is the fifth book in the CS Lewis series, but we are reading it third, since that is chronological). We had time to stop at a pull off to eat the picnic dinner I had packed early that morning and still be home by about 7pm. André and I even had enough energy left to scrapbook for a Buffy episode. We are in early 2006 in the world of scrapbook – only 2 more years to catch up on. We are determined to catch up before we head back to the states but we just take so many photos – even when we cut 80% there is still tons left to glue, paste and cut.
We rested on Sunday and then life began again. I wouldn’t say this vacation was the best one I’ve ever had, but hey, I did get to spend a day in Germany….