What’s Freiburg like?

After 2 months of waiting at home, I finally got to Freiburg this week. Since then, I’ve been exploring the city every chance I get. In this post, I’ll do my best to give some context for my later posts.

Freiburg is down in the southwest corner of Germany, in the Black Forest. From here, it’s fast and easy to take a train or bus to Switzerland (Basel or Lucerne) or France (Strasbourg). If you look out at the horizon around the city, there’s short, tree covered mountains in every direction: the Black Forest.

The altstadt (historic district) is dominated by the Freiburger Münster. When I got lost on my first day, I re-oriented myself by looking for its tall spire and heading towards it.

The Freiburger Münster. The trucks parked in front of it are there for the farmer’s market that assembles in the square around the church almost every day of the week.

Across from the Munster is the old Kaufhaus, which is something like a commerce building.


The Kaufhaus. On the end, you can see a crest with a two-headed eagle, which is the sign of the Habsburgs. This ruling family once controlled Freiburg, and the crest is on many of the historic buildings. The statues in front of the building are of kings.

On the main street, Kaiser Strasse, there’s many stores and restaurants. It’s a pedestrian zone, which means that cars and bikes aren’t allowed to drive in that area of the city. The S-Bahn (street cars/trams) still run through, so you have to still be careful crossing the street.

All of the streets in the altstadt are cobblestone and have bächle in them, which makes this part of the city even more perilous to walk- you have to watch your step as well as the traffic. Bächle comes from the German word for “small brook”, and refers to the unique little channels of water that run through the streets of Freiburg. These were once used for fire fighting, irrigation, and drinking water.

A bächle in Freiburg’s historic district. According to local legend, if you fall into a bächle, that means you’re destined to marry someone from Freiburg. Right now, there’s no water running through the bächle because it’s winter. Once it warms up, though, there will be water.

Two large gates mark two of the entrances to the altstadt. There used to be more, but the centuries and the Second World War have destroyed the others. The two that remain, Martinstor (St. Martin’s Gate) and Schwabentor (Swabian Gate), have been adapted to the modern world. They were raised so that the S-Bahn could run under them, and Martinstor has a McDonald’s under it.

St. Martin’s Gate. You can also see some of the many bikes that populate Freiburg’s streets. You have to be quite careful around here, because bikers are everywhere and ride very quickly.
St. Martin’s Gate has had a McDonald’s sign on it for decades now, but it still looks absolutely anachronistic. You can also see the S-Bahn tracks running under the arches.
Swabian Gate, named after a nearby region of Germany, looks quite similar to St. Martin’s Gate, but it has a painting of St. George and the slain dragon on it. This painting was actually only done in 1903.



On the back of the Swabian Gate, there’s a mural depicting a local legend. The story goes that a rich, arrogant Swabian came to Freiburg with barrels of gold, because he has decided that he fancied to buy the city. However, when he opened his barrels, there was nothing in them except rocks, because his wife, who didn’t support his plan, had replaced all the gold with stones behind his back. Freiburg is in Baden, which is the next kingdom over from Swabia- hence the unflattering story, which shows the Swabians as arrogant and foolish.

Another integral part of the city is the Freiburg University. It was founded in 1457, and today has over 25,000 students. On the front of it’s main building, in gold letters, is the motto “Die Wahrheit wird euch frei machen” (The truth will set you free), from the Gospel of John. The historic buildings of the university are all in red stone, as are the old churches. The library, however, is quite modern and mostly glass.

The red stone of an older university building gives way to the bright glass of the library.
The Freiburg University library building. At the bottom of the photo, you can see the Old Synagogue Memorial pool. It’s empty right now, because it’s winter, but in the summer it’s a shallow pool of water in the shape of the foundation of the old synagogue. The Nazis destroyed the synagogue during their reign.

I don’t live in the altstadt, but the IES Freiburg offices and classrooms are here, so I’ve spent most of my time in this area. It’s a great area, with lots of stores, cafes, restaurants, and historic sites. The buildings are much more colorful than in America, which you can see in the photos. There’s lots of yellows, blues, reds, greens, and whites.

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