GERMANY BY TRAIN: FREIBURG IM BREISGAU.
The journey from Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof to Freiburg takes about two hours. One emerges at a modern train station, walks out, and sees beautiful green hills and forests all around. Freiburg, founded in 1120 as a free market town, is situated near the celebrated Black Forest in Baden-Wurtemberg. It has the reputation of the sunniest and warmest town in Germany, as well as one of its most beautiful. It is a great place to have your vacation in, be it winter or summer. Altstadt is mostly pedestrian, with town trams running smoothly everywhere. The two city gates, Martinstor and Schwabentor, mark the original town boundaries. They look identical, but one of them has a MacDonald’s by its side, while the other doesn’t, just so that you don’t get lost. The center of the town is its beautiful gothic cathedral, Munster, and the large square, with the old Kaufhof, Merchants Hall, built in 1520. Munster was begun circa 1200 and finished in 1513. It is huge, one can see it from any point in town. It is also possible to get on top, if you don’t mind climbing up the winding narrow stone stairway. You will be rewarded with breathtaking views of the town and the surrounding ares. If you are lucky, you may also have the unforgettable experience of having the main bell ring right above your head. For a few seconds, you will feel as if the whole sky fell down. Be sure not to fall down yourself, or drop your camera! There is a system of gutters, called Bachle, running all around town since the Middle Ages. The water from the mountain rivers and rains is very clean; the gurgling sound accompanies you everywhere on your walks. Freiburg boasts two Town Halls. The old Rathaus was built in 1559; it actually looks much better and is much lovelier than the new, more functional one. Freiburg University, one of the oldest in Germany, was founded in 1457. Today, it is a huge academic center which houses many international programs, as well as all the traditional faculties and departments. The University clinic is famous for its innovative research.
Freiburg is a great place for health fanatics. One can take a funicular railway to the top of Schlossberg Hill, and walk or run 4-5 km along the numerous Health & Fitness treks. Or one can walk leisurely, enjoying the views and taking pictures, and then relax in a restaurant which sits right on top of the hill, next to the tiny train station. Open from early morning till late night, the restaurant serves a full breakfast; during the day, one can get soups, snacks and salads; after 6P.M., one can get dinner, with a huge variety of courses. The desserts are served throughout the day. Schwarzwald (Black forest) cake can be found in any cafe and bakery, it is the traditional local dessert, strongly recommended. Surprisingly, the prices are the same as in the town cafes below. But one has to pay 5 euros for the funicular. Or walk in the park, then climb on top of the hill via a series of steep stairways.
We were fortunate to arrive in Freiburg on January 1, when not only the shops, but also practically all the cafes and restaurants were closed (including the one in our hotel). We walked all around Munster in the hopes that something must be open. Indeed, there was just one restaurant, full to the brim. A harassed waitress found two seats in a corner for us. We happily ordered duck with potatoes and salad dressing. The food was excellent. The main dish looked like duck and smelled like duck, but it tasted like very good German sausage! Well, hunger is the best sauce. Next morning, we found ourselves in a different town. The streets were full of families enjoying slow strolls, looking at amazing seasonal decorations. The shops were open, and there were plenty of welcoming cafes, restaurants, bakeries, snack bars on every corner. I think I discovered the secret to the town being so lovely and clean, in spite of its impressive age. Though there were no cars to speak of, the whole families would stop and wait patiently for the light to change before they crossed a street. I saw a child aged two or three who was jumping excitedly, holding his mother by the hand, and shouting, “Rote! Verboten! Gruene! Komm!” Now, if a toddler knows that “red” means “stop” and “green” means “go”, hopefully they will grow into responsible adults. It was a nice image.