To give it its full title, Freiburg im Breisgau is one of the famous old German university towns, was incorporated in the early twelfth century and developed into a major commercial, intellectual, and ecclesiastical centre of the upper Rhine region. Statistically it is the sunniest and warmest city in all of Germany but that certainly wasn’t the case today. As we parked the car and walked towards the city centre there was a steel grey sky, the pavements were wet and the colour was bleached out of the buildings and streets and after just a couple of minutes we knew that it was unlikely that we would be seeing the best of Freiburg today.
In the centre of the city in the cobbled Münsterplatz or Cathedral Square there was a small unhappy looking market where people were rushing past the stalls because it was too cold to stop (except for the fast food van that was doing brisk business and had a queue of people lining up for fasnacht doughnuts) and we did our best to find the cheerful bits of Freiburg’s largest square. The square is the site of Freiburg’s Münster, a gothic minster cathedral constructed of red sandstone, built between 1200 and 1530 and which is memorable for its towering needle like spire. We went inside and it was cheerful and warm with large stained glass windows and friezes on the walls that commemorated the various traditional trades of the city.
It didn’t take long to do a full internal circuit of the Münster and fairly soon we were back on the streets complete with the city’s unusual system of gutters, called Bächle, that run throughout the centre. These Bächle that were once used to provide water to fight fires and feed livestock are constantly flowing with water diverted from the River Dreisam. During the summer, the running water provides natural cooling of the air and offers a pleasant gurgling sound but we didn’t need cooling down today. There is a saying that if you fall or step accidentally into a Bächle, you will marry a Freiburger but I imagine there is a much greater chance of just breaking a leg.
From a an aerial photograph inside the Cathedral we had seen that Freiburg was heavily bombed during World War II and a raid by more than three hundred bombers of the RAF Bomber Command on 27th November 1944 destroyed most of the city center, with the notable and thankful exception of the Münster, which was only lightly damaged. After the war, the city was rebuilt on its original medieval plan and in the streets that ran off of the Münsterplatz we entered a world of colourful buildings that completely surrounded the modern new main shopping street running through the centre. We walked through streets of half timbered medieval buildings and but for the fact we knew that they had been rebuilt from the ruins of the war we could easily have been in the mid sixteen-hundreds.
We liked Freiburg and after our walking tour stayed long enough to finish the visit with a snack and a drink in a busy city centre café and then with the afternoon slipping away and with plans to see a Fasnacht carnival later on we left the city and walked back to the car. On the way out of the car park the ticket machine flashed the message ‘goot fahrt’, I thought ‘thanks very much and after that glass of gassy German Pils I just might.’