Freiburg, the Black Forest’s cultural capital

Freiburg, the Black Forest’s cultural capital

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

Contemplating your upcoming Black Forest holiday, certain images inevitably spring to mind. Hikes through dense pine forests and past thundering waterfalls. Buying a cuckoo clock from the very craftsman who carved the piece. Feasting on a certain luscious and creamy cherry-chocolate cake.

While it’s true that such cliché experiences await the lucky traveler bound to this famous vacation destination in southwest Germany, the area features a sophisticated, urban side too. To experience this, a trip to Freiburg is the order of the day.

Freiburg, or Freiburg im Breisgau as it is properly known, is a city of some 230,000 in the heart of the Black Forest and the Baden wine-growing region. Brimming with stately medieval architecture within and hugged by green and rolling hills, even the weather gods smile upon this thriving town: it’s the city known to receive the most sunlight in Germany. Proximity to the French and Swiss borders lends it an international flair.

As is the case with many of Germany’s most stunning and history-rich towns, Freiburg benefits from a sizeable student population. The University of Freiburg, established in 1457, educates over 24,000 students who study business, law, medicine, philosophy and other academic fields. Good jobs tend to keep professionals in place, and with major companies including SAP, Daimler and Robert Bosch headquartered here, these aren’t impossible to find.

As one might expect from a town so richly blessed with positives, tourism is another important economic sector. The best bits of this delightful city can be easily discovered within the space of an afternoon by means of a relaxed walking tour. Here are a handful of highlights not to be missed.

Münster: Construction of Freiburg’s medieval cathedral began around 1200 and continued for centuries. Its Gothic church tower, completed in 1330, has managed to survive to this day, even withstanding the WWII bombing raids that destroyed much of the neighborhood. The strenuous climb to the top rewards with bird’s-eye views of the rooftops of the Old Town. Inside the church, admire the altarpieces and 14th-century stained glass artwork. Take note of the windows in the nave, which feature symbols representing the guilds (a form of early trade union) who donated them.

Münsterplatz: Back outside, marvel at the meticulously restored medieval square. The stately red building with turrets, stepped gables and arcades is the circa-1532 Merchants’ Hall, formerly used for the storage of goods and the issuing of customs clearances. An open-air market offers fruit, vegetables, regional specialties and handicrafts. The market is set up every morning, save for Sundays.

City gates: Of the five city gates in a wall that once kept the inner city safe from invaders, two still stand watch. The Martinstor, or St. Martin’s Gate, soars nearly 200 feet above the town as busses and trams pass beneath its arch. A stone tablet remembers three townswomen burned as witches back in 1599. Atop the 13th-century Schwabentor, or Swabian Gate, a grotesque figure grimaces as he pulls a thorn from his foot, a reminder of the consequences of straying from the right path. The painting on the gate’s exterior depicts St. George the Dragon Slayer, the city’s patron saint.

Bächle: Amongst the city’s most beguiling features are the little streams running parallel to the narrow streets of the Old Town. The waters of the Dreisam River are channeled through a series of flat, paved gutters that once supplied the town with its drinking water. On hot days, locals and visitors of all ages enjoy dipping their toes in the trickling waters.

Schlossbergbahn: For another perspective of the town, board the funicular railway and ascend the 1,500-foot Schlossberg. From there, it’s free of charge to climb the 251 spiraling steps to the top of the viewing tower. On clear days, views as far off as the Vosges mountain range in France can be taken in. The Dattler restaurant is just the place to linger over the pleasing panorama.

Eating and drinking: The city’s signature sausage, the “Lange Rote,” is a 14-inch grilled sausage served with fried onions that’s been sold at the daily market since 1945. Look for Black Forest trout, which thrive in the area’s cool clear streams, on restaurant menus. Wine lovers can drop by the Alte Wache to taste Baden’s best drops. The crisp white Gutedel is typical to the region.

A thriving beer scene: Beer lovers are spoiled for choice in Freiburg. Two traditional breweries, Ganter and Feierling, offer guided tours, while eight craft beer breweries make it one of Germany’s best places for sampling all that’s new on the scene. Freiburg’s annual craft beer festival known as the Craftival takes place in mid-June. For two days, the spotlight shines on the tasty brews of the breweries of Freiburg and the surrounding region.

Other great times of the year to visit Freiburg include February for Fasnet carnival celebrations, July for the huge wine festival held on the cathedral square or December, when the Christmas market is in full swing. But there’s really no bad time to experience Freiburg’s wonderful medieval and modern mélange.

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