The Black Forest capitol is a university town with a network of narrow, winding streets lined with restaurants and shops, where fresh, clear water runs in narrow channels.
|Black Forest metropolis|
Though this old Freiburg saying that may be a bit of an exaggeration – "There are two kinds of people in this world; those who live in Freiburg, and those who wish they did" – after a few days in town, you may start to feel that way. At the very least, you won't want to leave.
Quite simply, the city is a joy to visit; relaxed but electric, calm but alive, a small city dressed in smaller-town clothes. It's German but with an almost Mediterranean climate and the ambiance and joie de vivre that goes with it. France, after all, is just 15 miles away. The Austrians, too, left their cultural fingerprint here, thanks to the city's 400 years under Habsburg rule.
Pride is expressed everywhere. The sidewalks are paved with dark pebbles from the Rhine. In front of each shop, quartz and other stones form mosaics of medieval trade symbols: a boot for a shoe store, a mortar and pestle for an apothecary, a bear in front of the Gasthaus Zum Roten Bären, and an ice cream cone with three scoops in front of an ice cream parlor. This is no easy task: Three men are employed full-time and each day can complete only a small area of sidewalk. The shops share the costs.
The Minster the city cathedral is further evidence of civic pride. For more than a century, its upkeep has been supported purely by donations. Scaffolding surrounds it, as it has for years and perhaps will for eternity, thanks to the fragility of the sandstone and extensive filigree. When one section is repaired, another awaits. As a local saying goes, When the scaffolding comes down, we'll know it's the end of the world. Just a few blocks away 13 stonemasons apply ancient techniques in recreating statues and intricate scrollwork (a wonder to watch).
The construction of the great church spanned four centuries and was supported in great part by local guilds, whose symbols are still seen in stained glass windows. Don't miss the gargoyles, including one that spouts water not from his hideous mouth but rather from his naked bottom. If your legs are sturdy and the weather's good, consider the 330-step climb up the spire for an outstanding view of the Old Town, the Black Forest and the Rhine plain.
Tradition is important in Freiburg. Farmers and craftspeople still sell their wares daily (except Sunday) on the Cathedral Square. On one side, farmers offer local fruit, vegetables, meats, cheeses, sausages and bread, as well as teas and spices. On the other, craftspeople peddle wooden toys, carvings and candles, many of them from the Black Forest. Most buyers are not tourists. As they have for centuries, Freiburg's residents come to the marketplace at least once a week, usually on Saturday, to shop, even though it may be less convenient or more expensive than a supermarket. They know where the goods came from; they have known the sellers for generations.
Retailing is by no means restricted to the market square. Freiburg is a shopper's city, with values in department stores along the Kaiser-Joseph-Strasse and high-end buys in boutiques and galleries on Kölnviktstrasse and Königstrasse. Young designers round out the mainstream stores with a trendy jewelry and clothing scene. Browsers will love the antique shops in the Insel (Island) District and along the Gerberau.
Water, water everywhere
Visitors to Freiburg quickly note a unique city feature, the so-called Bächle or little streams that flow in neat, narrow trenches through most streets. They were built nearly 600 years ago as a water supply and to fight fires. The Dreisam River, above the city, was split into multiple channels and follows a network through the Altstadt. The downstream flow is collected on the other side of town and eventually reaches the Rhine. A team of cleaners scrubs the stones and removes obstructions to ensure a steady flow of clean water.
Today, the Bächle is a way for tired backpackers to cool their feet, a race course for kids with rubber ducks and a challenge for inattentive visitors. Local tradition has it that any visitor who stumbles into the water must marry a Freiburger. The waters can also reflect a sense of renewal, as in the stream emerging from the Star of David statue at the new synagogue. There, the town has erected a plaque acknowledging its shame and sorrow for the Jewish community that was torn from Freiburg during Nazi times.
Architecturally, Freiburg doesn't follow any cookie-cutter image of an old German city. Unlike many towns its size, it has no castle standing watch from above; the French turned it to rubble nearly 200 years ago. And, except for a few barely visible exceptions, the defensive wall disappeared long ago, much of it replaced in the 18th century by the ring roads that encircle the Old City. Today, those same boulevards circulate automobile traffic away from the Altstadt, allowing for one of Germany's largest pedestrian zones.
Although Freiburg was damaged greatly during World War II, the city was rebuilt following its medieval layout. Builders used similar construction materials and styles, and even the modern structures within the Altstadt blend in beautifully.
With more than 30,000 students in a population of 200,000, a youthful spirit pervades the old city. There's an active pub and club scene, and cafés spread their tables across plazas and sidewalks until the wee hours (the Universitätstrasse has the liveliest concentration). When plays and concerts let out in the evening, the city gets a second wind. Live music is popular in the Platz, a popular student gathering ground. For music with a beer chaser, there's the Hausbruerei Feierling (Gerberau 46 (tel. 0761/2-66-78). The brewery/restaurant is on one side of the Augustiner Platz and pipes beer under the road to the beer garden across the street.
From the Black Forest to the Rhine
Local residents affectionately refer to Freiburg as the Metropolis of the Black Forest. Technically, geographers will tell you, Freiburg's Altstadt lies outside the Black Forest. However, cross one street on the eastern fringe of town–the Schlossbergring–onto the wooded Schlossberg hill, and you're in the Schwarzwald.
With a Freiburg region transit pass, guests can board streetcars or buses and quickly find themselves in the deepest Black Forest, on the rolling vineyards and farmland of the Breisgau or Markgräflerland, and even at the banks of the Upper Rhine. From Freiburg, it's just a few miles to the Breisgau Region and the rolling hills of the Tuniberg and Kaiserstuhl, an area increasingly known as German Tuscany, for its sultry and sunny climate, extensive wine-growing, and amiable populace.
A popular day trip within the city limits is the Schauinsland, Freiburg's 1,284-meter (4,213-foot) hometown mountain, where a cable car travels 15 minutes to the summit. The view from the cable car reaches far out over the Rhine plain, past the Tuniberg vineyards toward the French Vosges mountain range. From the summit, the view extends deep into the Black Forest and south to the Alps.
The worn remnants of long-extinct volcanoes bear lush vineyard landscapes that alternate with sprawling tobacco farmland and orchards. Red roofs and narrow steeples set off tiny villages at all compass points. Ivy drapes off the ruins of ancient castles.
Just across the Rhine, Neuf-Brisach (New Brisach) is an example of Alsatian charm and historic military architecture. Protected by massive octagonal walls, imposing gates and star-shaped fortifications, Neuf-Brisach was built by King Louis XIV as a fortress town. Today, its central square, church, officers' quarters, barracks, and private homes are still intact. Despite the proximity to Germany, Neuf-Brisach is fully Gallic in character with delightful French bakeries, Alsatian restaurants (try the fresh trout at Ville de Paris at 13 rue de Ble, +33/389/72/5355) and corner bistros.
Thanks to its soil and favorable weather, winemaking has been central to daily life in this part of Germany for at least 1,500 years. In September, town markets and produce stands burst with dozens of varieties of ripe grapes as well as plums, pears and apples.
Many vintners give tours. At the Weingut Felix and Kilian Hunn in Gottenheim, about midway between Freiburg and the Rhine, Kilian Hunn and wife Martina are proud to show off an operation which produces about 70,000 bottles annually. Guests can take a guided stroll through the vineyards and sample five wines for €3.50.
From your room at the Oberkirch, look on to the Cathedral and its busy square. Mornings you'll watch farmers set up their stalls in the marketplace. In the evening, listen to street musicians serenade guests at the cafés below. If you crane your neck out the window you'll see the hotels famous neighbor, the 16th-century Historic Merchant House with its four splendid arcades.
The Oberkirch has been in the same family since 1738 and carries a sense of tradition. Each of the 26 guestrooms is individually decorated with soft colors, rich wall coverings and dark wood furniture. Except for a handful designed as small singles, rooms are spacious. Although the hotel was last renovated in 1992, it feels more like 2002. Everything is spotless, with nary a smudge or scrape on the walls.
Ask for accommodations facing the Cathedral.
Daily Rates: Singles €56-107, doubles €126-147. Indoor parking garage €10.
Rating: Quality 15/20 Value 15/20
This is a straightforward travelers' stopover on Kölnviktstrasse, one of Freiburg's new hot-spot districts. The rooms are bright, cheery and spacious with showers. It's on the outskirts of the pedestrian district but a quick walk to any point within the Old City.
Daily Rates: Singles €60, doubles €90.
Rating: Quality 14/20 Value 16/20
Park Hotel Post
The reasonably priced four-star Park Hotel Post is midway (about 150 paces) between the train station and the pedestrian district overlooking peaceful Columbi Park. The hotel was built in early 1900s' Jugendstil (art nouveau) style, but the interior is modern. Guestrooms are large and creatively decorated with pastel colors and fabrics, wood trim and soft lighting.
The best chambers have balconies overlooking the park with the Cathedral steeple rising over the Altstadt. Families and friendly couples traveling together should consider the two- and three-room apartments.
Daily Rates: Singles €89-119, doubles €114-159, two-room apartments €199-249, three-room apartments €249-299. Garage €8.
Rating: Quality 15/20 Value 14/20
Without question, the Colombi is the city's most upscale hostelry. Built in the 1950s, it recently underwent renovations to eliminate all traces of that often less-than-stellar architectural period. Indeed, there's nothing 50s about this place anymore (certainly not the prices). Guests walk in under a glass-covered entry and ascend a sweeping marble staircase from the open lobby. A feeling of luxury dominates, not least of all in the spa area with its circular swimming pool, Roman steam bath and extensive beauty farm.
The 120 guestrooms feature subdued colors and elegant wood paneling, some with floor-to-ceiling windows and French doors opening to a balcony and overlooking the Old Town. (The views from the upper floors are quite stunning, especially at night.)
Daily Rates: Singles €175, doubles €230-260, suites €275-820. Breakfast is an additional €9. (Weekend rates are about 20% less). Garage €13.
Rating: Quality 17/20 Value 15/20
This privately owned haven is on a quiet side street one block from the train station and a few minutes walk from the pedestrian zone. It is small, just 22 rooms, but offers many of the services of a larger hotel. Erika and Armin Wahl and their team will arrange for theater tickets, wine tastings, gourmet dinners, excursions, sightseeing tours and visits to area spas. If you choose the hiking package, they'll prepare a picnic and lend you walking sticks and rain jackets. There's Internet service off the lobby. The comfortable rooms, many with balconies, offer the expected amenities.
Daily Rates: Singles €69-79, doubles €89-102, apartments €119-139.
Rating: Quality 15/20 Value 17/20
Thanks in great part to the young student population, an extensive offering of international cuisine complements Freiburg's regional and down-home restaurants and friendly beer gardens. Firmly in the Three-Country Corner of Germany, Switzerland and France, Freiburg also enjoys strong French and Alsatian influences. Wine plays an important role in both culture and cuisine, and restaurants make full use of local varieties on the table and in their cooking.
Two hilltop restaurants on the Schlossberg, afford superb views of the Old City and surrounding landscape: the Greiffenegg Castle and the Dattler Restaurant. Reach both on foot or by lift. On warm days, sit on the terrace.
In the countryside vineyards near Freiburg, you can also stop at a seasonal Strausswirtschaft and enjoy cooking straight from the kitchen. Since they're seasonal, ask your innkeeper for recommendations.
For quick, cheap and eclectic fare, the Freiburg Market Hall (Kaiser-Joseph-Strasse 233) is a must. There's a strong international focus – Afghan, Arabian, Chinese, Thai and Italian – and you can also buy fresh French bread, wines, fresh-ground coffee, fruits and vegetables, smoked fish and deli foods. Just note that the Market Hall closes at 7pm on weekdays, at 4pm on Saturdays and is closed on Sundays.
Zum Roten Bären
By most accounts, this is the longest continuously-run inn in Germany, in business since 1403. Peter Hansen, the Bären's 50th documented innkeeper, has greeted guests with his wife Monika since 1980. Today, there are 25 guestrooms and the dining area is bright and cheerful with a dash of elegance.
Ingredients are fresh, and the dishes are exquisitely prepared. The Bären employs its own herb professional, who grows them in the garden of a former monastery. This allows chefs (and guests) to try unique and subtle flavorings.
Salad straight from the Freiburg Marketplace is served with chanterelles from nearby woods, sautéed in cream with bread dumplings. There's lamb roasted with rosemary-shallot sauce and served with polenta; breast of duck glazed with mustard and honey; and medallions of venison in a choice of sauces with Spätzle. Wiener Schnitzel's listing as a regional dish is not a mistake but recognition that Freiburg was once part of the Habsburg dynasty. Most entrées range between €17-20.
Rating: Quality 17/20, Value 18/20
Restaurant Zur Traube
Other restaurants may offer greater choices or more elegance, but Zur Traube is recognized locally and beyond as Freiburg's leading restaurant. Its chef, Sven Messerschmidt, is the youngest in Germany to have earned a Michelin star.
The Traube (Grape) fuses regional and classical French cuisine with an eye toward inventive use of local wines. Entrées are creative: stuffed baby squid served on lemon risotto with mild curry sauce, carp with Brussels sprouts and caviar sauce, frogs legs in a chestnut crêpe, smoked eel with mussels. There's duck in two courses: breast with apples, chestnuts and mushroom dumplings followed by the leg glazed with honey and pepper and served on red cabbage and Spätzle. Or various preparations of lamb served together with sheep-cheese ravioli.
The restaurant, a national monument, received a facelift in 2002 under new innkeeper Doris Hunn with an eye toward historic charm. The dining area was reduced to eight tables (all antique wood), and a mural now displays a scene of the Cathedral market. A medieval tile oven from an Alsatian monastery literally and figuratively warms the room.
Entrées start around €25, and dinner for two can easily exceed €100. Within the same building and under the same management, the Restaurant Oberkirchs Weinstube offers lighter and less expensive choices.
Contact: Restaurant Zur Traube, Schusterstrasse 17, D-79098 Freiburg, tel. +49/761/32190, fax +49/761/26313
Rating: Quality 18/20 Value 16/20
This cheery and historic brewery welcomes guests at its outside garden (under spreading chestnut trees) and in its three-story restaurant. If you're hungry, enjoy the inexpensive entrées (all less than €10 ) such as smoked pork shoulder with sauerkraut, pork cutlet browned with cheese and herbs, sausage salad with fried potatoes, meat ravioli, and black bread baked with cheese, herbs and ham. Otherwise, the light Vesper menu will more than suffice with a variety of cheeses, dried meats and sausages for €5.
Contact: Hausbrauerei Feierling Gerberau 46, D-79098 Freiburg, tel. +49/761/243480, fax: 25688
Rating: Quality 15/20, Value 16/20
Prices current as of February 2003.