Freiburg im Breisgau, or simply Freiburg, is a lovely German city near the Black forest, famous natural sight with mountains and rivers frequently associated with the fairytales of Grimm Brothers and the Bollenhut, traditional hat with 14 large pom poms.
I’m sure you’ve heard about the Black Forest cake, or Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, – well, it obviously was inspired by this hat as it has red cherries aka the pompoms on the top! Another speciality of the region are the cuckoo clocks.
It’s an old city dating back to the 12th century and it was in a middle of many major European events. It’s also worth noting that Freiburg was bombed a few times during the WWII, and many buildings you see now are restored versions of the historical buildings.
First time, German Luftwaffe bombed its own city by mistake and announced that the attack was done by French, then a few small bombing by the Allies followed in 1943 and 1944 and ultimately, the Royal Air Force massively bombed the city on the 27th Nov 1944 during the operation called Tigerfish).
We came to Freiburg by train from Basel and stayed there for a day (it’s only the fourth German city I’ve been to so far – other beings Berlin, Cologne and Munich). And let me share what to see in Freiburg im Breisgau if you’re planning to visit it too!
Minster Square is the pedestrianised area in the old city centre which, unfortunately, was almost completely destroyed during WWII: only the Cathedral and Wentzingerhaus, now a home to the city museum, stayed strong. Head here to have lunch – there are many nice restaurants with local food, stalls of Münstermarkt farmer’s market (sadly, we missed that), and shops with souvenirs!
The city library and the Kornhaus (the late 15th century Grain House that was built as the dance hall and guild, then transformed into the theatre and later used as a grain storage) are also located there as well as the Historical Merchants’ Hall (see below).
2. Freiburg Minster
Freiburg Minster is probably the main landmark of the city. Its construction started around the 1200s and continued for three centuries! The cathedral’s spire is 116 m high, and the tower houses the 750 year old bell nicknamed Hosanna.
Make sure you spend some time exploring the interior and exterior of this beautiful building with magnificent stained glass, Hans Baldung’s eleven-panel Renaissance altarpiece and gargoyles on the outside.
You can also climb the tower, however we missed that opportunity as we were with the stroller, and there was no elevator.
3. Historical Merchants’ Hall
Another gem located on Munster Square is the brightly red Historical Merchants’ Hall, or the Historisches Kaufhaus. Its construction dates to the 16ht century, and you’ll be charmed by its turrets and arcades.
Four figures on the facade are Maximilian I, Charles V and Ferdinand I, three Holy Roman Emperors, and the son of Maximilian I Philip I of Castile, who died before he became an Emperor.
Inside there are the fireplace room, a spiral staircase, the Emperors’ Hall, the Rococo Room, and the inner courtyard that are worth your attention.
The magnificent Martinstor, or the Martin’s Gate, is one of the five old city towers (only two survive up to date) that used to be known as Norsinger Tor. It dates back to the first half of the 13th century. The lower part of the gate dates to the mediaeval period while the upper part is more modern: in total, the tower is 63 metre tall.
There’s also a plaque dedicated to the witch hunt: three women – widows of city councillors, Anna Wohlffartin, Catharina Stadelmennin and Margaretha Mößmerin – that were beheaded and then burnt as witches in 1599. You can’t enter the tower but it’s a great photographic spot!
The Schwabentor, or Swabian Gate, is the younger of two surviving towers built in the Middle Ages. It was built as a city gate around 1250. This year it’s been suggested to be enlisted as a World Heritage site.
In the 16th century a painting by Matthias Schwäri was added to it: it shows a man with a cart. Later on, it sparked a story of a Swabian man who wanted to buy Freiburg with gold but his wife secretly changed the gold in his barrels with pebbles and the citizens laughed at him – and this is how the gate got its name.
You can also notice an ancient Boy with Thorn image with the reference to the Hellenistic heritage and a mural of St George, the patron of the city, slaying the dragon.
6. New Town Hall and Old Town Hall
Come and see both Freiburg town halls at once as they are both located near the Rathausplatz. The Old Town Hall originally dates to the 16th century (and had to be massively reconstructed after WWII), and the New Town Hall is actually even older and occupies two interconnected historical Renaissance houses (the latest major architectural changes were made in the 19th century).
And to add on to the story, the oldest Town Hall of Freiburg is another building called the Gerichtslaube, or ‘Old Court House’!
7. Whale House
Another gorgeous building to see in Freiburg is the red Whale house, or Haus zum Walfisch. dating back to the early 16ht century and once owned by Jakob Villinger von Schönenberg, the Grand Treasurer of the Holy Roman Emperor. It was also visited by famous philosopher and humanist Erasmus in 1529-1531!
Only parts of the building survived WWII but it’s all fully restored. The owner is the bank Sparkasse Freiburg-Nördlicher Breisgau. Make sure you visit not only its facade but also the back with the gates part opening to the Kartoffelmarkt – it looks even more gorgeous up to my taste!
8. Old Synagogue Square
Old Synagogue Square, or Platz der Alten Synagogue, is a large square in Freiburg where there is no synagogue right now. The synagogue that used to be on this site was destroyed during the Kristallnacht, or the Night of the Broken Glass, in 1938 which was the beginning of the Holocaust.
Now on the same site as the Synagogue once stood you can see the memorial fountain. Another highlight of the square is the modern building of the University library: you won’t miss it, it’s black and dominates the area.
9. Adelhauser Convent
In a short walk from the main city square, there is another bloody red Baroque building: this is Adelhauser Convent. It was founded as an aftermath of the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) during which Freiburg was seized by the French.
Four women convents – of Mariä Verkündigung, St. Katharina, St. Agnes and of St. Magdalena were destroyed during the war, and a new building with a prominent French architectural influence was built 1687 to accommodate them all in four different wings. Since 1867, the building has been owned by the city.
10. Bächle streams
Bächle streams are one of the most special things about Freiburg: those are open tunnels with clean water running through the city streets everywhere in the city.
Once they were used for drainage but now they are regarded more like the city heritage dating back to the 13th century. According to the local legend, if you accidentally step into the Bächle waterway, you’ll marry someone from Freiburg!
We admired Herz-Jesu-Kirche catholic church dating back to the 19th century only from the outside – however it’s impossible not to mention this gorgeous building with two towers standing at the end of Wiwilí Bridge.
The round mosaics made of coloured cobblestones are one of the features of Freiburg I loved the most! Just look where you step in the city centre: the mosaics are everywhere. Their history dates back to the mid-19th century when the first of the mosaics were introduced by Alois Krems.
Best places to see them are probably the area around the Town Halls and The Kaiser-Joseph-Straße, the main shopping street of the city.
What else can you do in Freiburg?
If you want to explore more of this area of Germany, you can pop into the Augustiner Museum and Archaeological museum (you’ll pas it if you walk from the train station) to see the artefacts from the glorified past of Freiburg, take Schauinslandbahn cable car, the longest in the country, to see some scenery, explore Schlossberg, or visit Mundenhof animal sanctuary.
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Hope you enjoyed my blog!