Freiburg is not one of those places in Germany that comes immediately to mind. Situated at the far southwest, just below the Black Forest, it is out of the way when compared with Germany's more familiar destinations. Also, because it was heavily destroyed and subsequently rebuilt, much of its old character has a new look, which doesn't necessarily endear it to the tourists wanting 'authentic' castles and fortresses. But for those looking for somewhere different to go, Freiburg kept plenty of its authentic character to become one of the largest and most colorful cities in Baden-Württemburg. It is also easily accessible by train or road, as Freiburg is one of the last stops before hitting Switzerland. It's worth a look.
I had the fortune of hitting Freiburg, quite by accident, on the day it hosting a major festival celebrating 'openness'. The festival was designed to further several noble causes, world peace, feeding the hunger, protecting the environment. With this having been less than ten days before the German elections in 2002, it served as a rallying point for a number of political parties. The affair was very well attended, so I got lots of pictures with plenty of people in them. The downtown was crowded all day, filled with live music and activities.
(On the downside, it also served as a popular destination among Germany's activist crowd -- i.e. those of an anarchist bent -- and thus the polizei were out in large numbers, probably five hundred to a thousand, keeping security.)
Despite the festival, there were plenty of locals outside enjoying the day, which told me that Freiburg is pretty active year round. And the colors and character of Freiburg were what I enjoyed most. Certainly due to its proximity to Switzerland, the architecture had quite a lot in common with nearby Basel, but I liked Freiburg much better. The old city was much bigger and more pure -- less obviously 'spoiled' by modernity, and very clean. Take the first two photos, for example, showing the Muenster (Cathedral) and the Rathaus, respectively. The Muenster is still undergoing renovations but when it was rebuilt after World War II, it wasn't 'updated', it was restored to its original form. The Rathaus was similarly rebuilt.
An added bonus for the Rathaus is that it has two parts. The part you see is the Badischer part, with the traditional southern German white walls and intricate dark-wooden decor. The part that's partially hidden by the trees at right is the red standstone part that is almost identical in style to the Rathaus in Basel.
The Rathausplatz also hosts the Jesuitenkirche, off the photo to the right. On this day, a small stage blocked any view of the church. Upon it were exotic acts, such as Turkish belly dancing, to entertain the very tightly-packed crowd.
Freiburg is loaded with attractive buildings. Its two towers, the Martinstor and Schwabentor, are both work checking out. The Schwabentor (shown in the third photo), points to the East and is decorated with a commonly-seen figure of a crusader on its outer wall. The Martinstor is to the southwest and has a different character altogether -- made of dark stone and green trim. Otherwise, there's little else left standing from the original city wall.
I thoroughly enjoyed wandering the alleys of the old town. The southern part of Freiburg was a virtual maze, with hidden biergartens and gasthauses. As overcrowded as much of the town was, there were still plenty of quiet places to get away. Since the crowd as those places was noticeably more innocuous compared to the festival attendees, I figured those were the locals.
The regular Saturday markets went on as usual, also attended mostly by the local crowd. The biggest and most colorful market took place at the Muensterplatz (fourth photo). The Muensterplatz is the largest square in Freiburg, surrounded by freshly painted facades of inns and cafes. By far the most colorful of these was the Kaufhaus (fifth photo). The Kaufhaus is very similar in style to the 'Swiss' half of the Rathaus -- with its bright red exterior and intricate gold and blue trim. The hotels next to it were colorful as well, and I found them gracing a few postcards.
I also enjoyed visiting Freiburg's other attractions -- its parks and monuments. The Stadtsgarten to the northeast and the Colombipark to the west. The Colombipark hosted a very pretty fountain and city museum, along with a garden that contained about two dozen varieties of wine grape common to the region.
As monuments went, there were two I noted. One was the Siegesdenkmal, which was the more traditional type of monument that celebrates victory. It was a very impressive monument, despite being rather tucked away. But the one that grabbed my attention was an innocent and out-of-place street sign labelled "Gurs 1027km". A plaque underneath explained that Gurs was the concentration camp that a number of Freiburger Jews were sent under the Nazi regime.
One thing I found unique about Freiburg was not in the towers and sights above, but below. The sixth photo shows one example of Freiburg's many elaborately decorated and colorful alleys. Nearly the entire altstadt is made of roads such as this, with carefully shaved pebbles laid in exquisite patterns. No question these took a lot of time and effort to make. The Rathausplatz takes this to a greater extreme. The twelve partner cities of Freiburg are represented in cobblestone crests laid in rings of four within the cobblestone.
Another Freiburg trademark are the tiny open canals that run through the streets. These canals were only a few inches wide, but they were constantly running with water. You can see it in the fourth photo running underneath the white sign at left. It struck me as odd that these would be in the open as the huge crowds were constantly having to watch their step as they milled about.
There are several other very picturesque churches I noted, most notably the Herz-Jesu Kirche that stands above the trees as you leave the railway station. It's a beautiful building -- with its polished red and beige exterior and bright green roofing.
Freiburg may not be well-known to the usual tourist crowd, but it certainly seemed popular on the day I went. That said, I found plenty of reasons to want to go back. The architecture is beautiful, the streets are unique and colorful, and it's loaded with activity.
Trip taken 14 September 2002 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2002 Tom Galvin