Situated at the edge of the Black Forest, Freiburg is a vibrant university town in southwestern Germany. With a temperate climate, old world charm, a large farmers market, and culinary treats, this city is becoming known as one of the best offbeat tourist destinations.
Part of the portfolio of alternative historic German towns, Freiburg was founded during medieval times in 1120 C.E. The fourteenth century cathedral towers over the city and is its most recognizable landmark. A mix of both Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles, its unique open spire design has been called “the most beautiful in Christendom.”
Sometimes known as the capital of the Black Forest, Freiburg sits right on the western edge of this massive outdoor playground. Day trips might include nature hikes, cycling, shopping for cuckoo clocks, visiting picturesque small villages, and trying locally produced foods.
One thing that you will notice in the old city is that many streets and alleys have small streams (or bächle) running through them for a total distance of about nine miles. These are a revitalized leftover from medieval times when the flowing water could be used to fight fires for the mostly wooden structures that were used for construction.
Today, these narrow waterways and the larger canals might remind you of Venice, Italy. Local tradition says that if you fall into one of these small streams, you have to marry somebody from Freiburg. (I didn’t test it out.)
Having the warmest climate in the country means that Freiburg is a sought-after destination for many tourists and German citizens alike, including students. Albert Ludwig University, whose academic programs have produced 32 Nobel Prize winners, has more than 24,000 students. On any given afternoon, you can find locals and visitors mingling together at the many beer gardens and open squares throughout the city.
Freiburg combines some of the best elements of the past with modern technologies. Walking around town, you will see mosaics on the sidewalks with colorful embedded designs. These are meant to show the type of businesses that once occupied the buildings. At the same time, Freiburg is considered the birthplace of the green, renewable energy movement. Examples of this are everywhere — from the solar panels at the railway station, to public bike rentals, to a commercial building powered by the sun (called the Sun Ship). The residents are serious about sustainable practices in their everyday lives.
Any visitor will invariably end up at the Münsterplatz (Cathedral Square) for one of the largest farmers markets you are likely to encounter in Europe. Tracing its operation back 900 years, this gigantic extravaganza can get pretty crowded (sometimes shoulder-to-shoulder) with locals and tourists buying flowers, vegetables, jams, Black Forest ham, bread, and handicrafts.
The side nearest the cathedral is where you will find hungry patrons looking for what has to be one of the best selections of sausages this side of, well, sausage heaven. You can find one stand after another offering bratwurst and other meats of various lengths, colors, and textures — all sizzling away on a grill. The specialty here is lange rote (long red), so large that the vendor has to bend it twice to fit it into a bun.
While at the market, be sure to try another local delicacy: Stephan’s Cheesecakes. This rich and creamy handmade confection is something of an institution, and their small stand sells out quite frequently. They have small and large sizes and several flavors, including classic, cherry, raisin, poppy seed, and apricot for about €4-9. Don’t wait until you get back to your hotel to dig in, though. Just have them cut it into slices and find an open bench or corner to enjoy its deliciousness.
Early afternoons are meant to enjoy kaffee und kuchen (“coffee and cake”). Cakes in Germany, unlike the United States, tend to be moister, lighter, and filled with more real whipped cream — something I personally love. So take a break from sightseeing and head over to Café Schmidt Konditorei in the heart of the city for a slice of — what else? — Black Forest cake.
As you stroll around the city, you will, no doubt, come across an old-style red building whose façade is laden with murals, flower boxes, and a shiny bear over the entrance. This is Zum Roten Bären (“The Red Bear”), which is considered the oldest hotel in Germany (circa. 1120). If you ask to see the basement, you can see where the original street level of the city used to be.
Serene little oases can also be found in Freiburg, one of these being the Adelhauser Church at Adelhauser Klosterplatz. This beautiful red church, not well-known to tourists, is situated in a little square with a serene fountain. It is a perfect place to relax, reflect, and enjoy the natural beauty of the city under the shade of chestnut trees.
While there are many places to enjoy a nice dinner, Waldrestaurant Zähringer Burg is one of the best for an authentic taste of Swiss, French, and German cuisines. This Black Forest restaurant was built in 1655 on the site of a castle constructed in 1078 C.E. and originally owned by the former armorsmith of the dukes of Zähringen. The food has been influenced by this area’s close proximity to Switzerland as well as the Alsace region of France.
The fondue is a local favorite, especially in cold weather and during festivals. You can sit on their terrace or inside while savoring tasty melted Emmental and mountain cheese with crusty bread, vegetables, and meats.
Travelers might make the mistake of missing this charming town in favor of larger cities — a pity as Freiburg offers some of Germany’s best foods, markets, and historical sites in a relaxed, inviting atmosphere.
Where to stay:
This modern hotel is centrally located a short distance from the main train station as well as the Freiburg Cathedral. It is clean, comfortable, and has all the amenities you need. A nice breakfast in their downstairs restaurant is included with your stay.
This was a sponsored visit, however, all opinions herein are the author’s.