In the southwest of Germany, not far from the three-country point with France and Switzerland, lies a pleasant student city called Freiburg. It’s about the size of Ghent and has a university right in the centre. It is also a lively market town full of charming squares and traffic-free streets, where you can literally step into the Black Forest from the old city centre. Freiburg is also the capital of one of the most important wine regions in the country, which makes it just about the only place in Germany where you are more likely to find men in bars with a glass of wine in their hand than with a pint of Weizenbier in front of them, although the latter is also in plentiful supply. But what has really made Freiburg internationally famous is the city's radically green image. Freiburg is the leader in Europe when it comes to energy-efficient building, living and public transport, with its flagship futuristic new housing estates full of self-sustaining passive houses.
The Altstadt of Freiburg has a typically German, almost cosy atmosphere. Medieval houses in brown sandstone lean against cheerful squares, where fragrant sausage stands are steaming. A pointed, Gothic cathedral (the Münster) rises proudly into the sky, with a densely wooded hill in the background. Old 'stubes' lie side by side with noisy student cafes, restaurants and original stores. The mosaic-cobblestone lined alleyways are lined with deep, rectangular gutters (Bächle) full of murmuring forest water, in which the students enjoy cooling their tired feet. There are theatres, museums and parks, and the centre (especially the "Bermuda Triangle" around the central Münsterplatz) has been traffic-free since 1973. In short, in Freiburg life is 'gemütlich'.
Food and Drink
The university takes a big bite out of the southwest corner of the Altstadt. The new and old university buildings lie right next to each other there, near the Martinstor on the central Kaiser-Joseph-Strasse, a landmark in the city. The concentration of student bars (Kneipe) and cheap eateries is also highest here. Those who want to make a real tour of other student pubs will find more beer than their stomachs can handle on the other side of the union, in Belfortstrasse and Moltkestrasse. However, we have found a place where it is even cosier than in the student area. In the Markthalle, which you reach through a somewhat hidden gate in Grünwälderstrasse, you'll find about twenty cheap, international food stalls, from Indian and Argentinean to Afghan and Persian to Chinese, Alsatian and, of course, German. Order and pay for your food and then sit down with your plate at any of the three large counters where you can order a Baden wine or a large pot of beer. At lunchtime, the place is buzzing with life. In the evening it is a little less - on weekdays the hall closes at 8 pm - except on Friday and Saturday evenings. Then there is live entertainment on the central stage. More dining tips: order a Flammkuche (a square tarte flambée) in the student-oriented café Schlappen, munch on a portion of Spätzle (the missing link between pasta and poffertjes) in a traditional eatery somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle or take a bite of a Lange Rote, the traditional crispy frankfurters that are thrown onto the grill every afternoon on Münsterplatz. Thirsty? The local wines are outstanding, the beer from the local brewery Ganter excellent and the herbal liqueur Schwarzwaldteufel, served in cute jugs, decidedly fiery. The best beer in town can be found at Hausbrauerei Feierling in the Gerberau, where the brew kettles buzz behind the bar.
The Black Forest
So, the inner man has been fortified, so it's time for a dash of culture and nature. Freiburg is not Berlin, so you need not expect gargantuan museums. However, the Augustiner Museum is certainly worth a visit, if only for the five-meter-high sandstone prophet statues and grim gargoyles that stood on the tower of the Münster and were brought inside, in an impressive display. The nice thing is that your ticket to the Augustinian Museum also allows you to enter the other city museums on the same day. We recommend the Archäologisches Museum, in a beautiful little castle in Colombipark. There you can see material from the ancient tribes that have populated this part of Germany over the centuries.
Not a museum lover? Then take the Schlossbergbahn up the mountain (3 minutes) and continue to climb the Schlossberg, a magnificent Black Forest spur that towers above the Altstadt. At the top, you'll find a few enigmatic ruins and a modern, dizzying observation tower that rises above the treetops. If you find the Schlossberg just a little faint, you can also take a tram and bus to the nearby and much higher Schauinslandberg, where you can take an expensive but spectacular ride on a cable car.
Green residential areas
You can't leave Freiburg without taking a look at the eco-neighbourhoods on the outskirts of the city. Vauban is the best known, a ten-minute tram ride from the centre. This used to be a military base of the French, but in the 1990s a radically ecological residential district was built there, following the most progressive building principles. The military barracks have not completely disappeared: a few of them have been converted into - you'll never believe it - student residences. For the rest Vauban consists of solar-powered, ultramodern family homes in low-traffic residential areas on both sides of a central boulevard with a tram line. About five thousand people live in this futuristic, almost utopian suburb. The first thing you notice when you get off the streetcar is the silence: few or no cars and greenery everywhere. Children are out and about with their nannies while their parents work in the city. And everywhere there are spectacular new three-story buildings, with thick walls and triple glazing, sloping roofs full of solar panels and overgrown steel balconies. To be honest, it's also a bit boring: apart from a modest pita bar, a rather dead café-restaurant in the former town hall, a few bioshops and a veggie snack bar, there isn't much more for the visitor to do than stroll around and look around. In any case, Vauban is a radically green and progressive residential area, a glimpse into the future.
Less fundi, larger and a lot livelier is the Rieselfeld district, also easily accessible by tram. Here you will find stores and cafes, and a church that looks like a concrete bunker they forgot to blow up during the war. The contrast with the lovely old town of Freiburg is also remarkable in Rieselfeld: everything you see is new, ecologically sound and tightly organized. Freiburg is proud of its green pioneering role. And rightly so.
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