Stepping out in fabulous Freiburg.
Shortly after touching down at Frankfurt Airport, the integrated ingenuity of German transportation soon had me slicing through autumn’s golden fields in late harvest, on a two hour train ride south to Freiburg, writes Mike Yardley.
Not only is Freiburg is the gateway to the southern Black Forest, but you’ve got a stack of top tier destinations in very easy reach, like Strasbourg and Basel. For a stress-free start to a playful European holiday, attraction-packed Freiburg is a strikingly good base.The locals are very proud about their “Green City” credentials. This was the world’s pioneering eco-city, the birthplace of renewable energy, boasting a public transport network that’s so efficient and sophisticated, fewer than five per cent residents bother using a car. Amongst the slew of experimental eco-designs, I made a quick diversion to the solar settlement, which has led the charge making solar power a viable option. One of their prototypes is the Heliotrop: a rotating solar house which follows the sun’s path.Despite being smashed up in World War Two, the town centre’s wraparound medieval atmosphere has been impeccably restored and it instantly casts you under its spell.
Park Hotel Post
My Freiburg roost was Park Hotel Post is a gorgeous boutique getaway, just a five minute walk from the railway station. Greeted with a drink on arrival, the surprises keep coming, with local snacks and fresh fruit laid out around the lobby, on a help-yourself-basis.Culture and literature is central to the hotel’s ethos, with a vast library of books at your disposal, many of which were authored by previous hotel guests, while the hallways are adorned with local paintings from the Black Forest region.
Comfortable accommodations, a delicious breakfast and the e-bikes for hire all make for a winning stay. Park Hotel Post website.The occasional motorist certainly knows their place in their pecking order, it’s this pedestrian-centric space. So grab a town map and soak up all the knock-out architectural gems, with a free-roaming frolic on foot. My Old Town exploratory began by the Old Town Hall, a series of houses constructed in the mid-1500s that were converted into a municipal meeting place. Overlooking Rathausplatz which was buzzing with inventive street theatre, I admired the 14th century former Franciscan Monastery, painstakingly restored after WWII. The square’s fountain depicts the “inventor of gunpowder”, Berthold Schwarz.In Franziskanergasse, I gazed at the intricate late-Gothic beauty of the House of the Whale. It was commissioned by the chancellor of the exchequer under Hapsburg Emperor Maximilian I in 1514. Wending my way through the narrow lanes, the glittering jewel of Munsterplatz swept me up with its daily frenzy of market colour. Apart from Sunday, the cathedral square plays host to a bustling farmers’ market, heaving with produce, guided by the seasons.It’s been a Freiburg fixture ever since the city was given market rights in 1120 and the ordered division of the market is still observed today. On the south side of the Munster, it’s all about culinary treats and specialties, spanning antipasti, aromatic spices and nougat. Local handicrafts, original ceramics and woodwork also do a brisk trade on the south side. In late autumn, the beautiful northern hemisphere tradition of florales wreaths were a hot-seller.The north side is devoted to local and seasonal home-grown crops from the beautiful farmlands around Freiburg. Alongside the bounty of local fruit and vegetables, regional meat, fish, cheeses and breads completes the platter of temptations. You can interact with the producers and purveyors – many who hail from families who have sold their goods at this market for centuries. It’s also a perfect opportunity to sample some regional delicacies, like Freiburg’s signature bratwurst, the “Lange Rote” and Stefan’s Cheesecake. Look all good German towns, the local pastries and cakes are obscenely irresistible.I gouged my way through far too many nusshornchens, puddingbrezels, kirchtasche and mandelstangens. What I love about this market is its wide-embrace by Freiburg’s residents, whether they be students, professors or priests, all out shopping, noshing and gossiping.
The square is lined by a splendid collection of townhouses and buildings traversing Gothic to Rococo style, from where vibrant al fresco cafes spill across the cobbles. The five hundred year old Kornhaus, was lovingly reconstructed in 1970.Similarly, the Kaufhaus, the original merchants hall, boasts richly adorned gables and ground-floor arcades. Next door, the imposing baroque palace of medieval knights, which later became the Archbishop’s Palace. Today it’s home to the cathedral choir school. Wandering out of the square, many of the old narrow lanes also served as fast-flowing canals, draining excess surface water, providing a trusty source of water for animals, but above all for fire protection. In the Middle Ages, Freiburg was frequently wracked by fire. The main channel for these old canals can be seen in Herrenstrasse.Another must-see street is Konviktstrasse, an award-winning example of civic restoration, with a mix of new and old townhouses preserving their original facades which forms a heart-stealing ensemble. Verdant garlands of leafy vines leap across the lane from the top-storeys of the townhouses. Many of them house glamorous boutiques, exclusive antiques and gorgeous homeware stores. Pint-sized independent shops are a hallmark of Freiburg’s retail mix.At the end of Konviktstrasse, I admired the decorative exterior of the Roten Baren. This is Germany’s oldest guesthouse, continuously welcoming its doors to the world since 1387. Freiburg’s 13th century fortifications have all but been dismantled, apart from some prominent fangs, like St. Martin’s Gate, which was spectacularly revitalised in 1900. The other notable fortification gate is the Schwabentor, built in 1200, just down from Roten Baren. A large painting of the city’s patron saint, St. George, adorns the tower.
When in Freiburg, purchase an access-all-areas Schwarzwald Card providing free entry to over 135 exciting attractions across the Schwarzwald region of the Black Forest. www.schwarzwald-tourismus.info
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By Mike Yardley. (December 1, 2016.) More regional exploring? Delving into the Black Forest.