Germany: Around Freiburg

30 09 2008

Besides the Black Forest, there are several towns and splendid countryside surrounding the city of Freiburg that are worth exploring.  Much of southwestern Germany is covered in vineyards and cultivated land that provide fresh, seasonal food and drink to cities and towns in the area.  Most areas are within a 20-30 minute car ride of Freiburg and well worth the trip.

Quaint towns like Ihringen that specialize in wine production are part of the fertile countryside in the Freiburg area. Ihringen is located on the southern tip of Kaiserstuhl on top of an old volcano that was transformed into vineyards, in between the Winklerberg and Fohrenberg appellations (wine regions).  This small town is full of wineries, restaurants, pubs and guesthouses that are surrounded by vineyards and orchards.  Just like the meticulous vineyards, the town itself is beautifully maintained.

An inviting restaurant/pub overflowing with flower boxes in Ihringen.

A winery

A guesthouse/restaurant

Pretty window boxes are the norm here.

Vineyards and orchards are just outside of town

Picturesque town like Ihringen dot the countryside in this area.  In fact, we drove through 2 or 3 just going to Ihringen.

Vineyards and farms take up the spaces in between these towns.

One of the delights of the Freiburg area are the numerous seasonal dining establishments called Strauße that serve traditional food from the region.  The word Strausse, or ostrich in German, is related to the use of brooms that traditionally indicated that the venues were open.  These are not restaurants, but rather the dining rooms attached to farms and wineries that enjoy a special tax status if they follow a strict code.  These strausse must only serve food and wine of their own production, be open 16 weeks a year, and have 40 seats maximum.  To find a list of these establishments, you can buy a brochure listing these “Strausse” from certain shops and bookstores in Freiburg.

A few tips on these brochures:
1) Ask the cashier for help in finding this brochure and if the store doesn’t carry it, ask who does.  Most Germans, especially University educated Germans, speak English so it will not be hard to ask.
2) Make sure to call the kitchens before you go because the days they are open shift around every year.

On our visit, we were able to visit 2 different Strausse, which were both very good.  L and M wanted to take us to their favorite one but unfortunately they were closed on the days we were in the Freiburg area.  That’s why it’s so important to call beforehand for hours, directions, and if a reservation is needed.

Burg Cafe, Landeck

If you are looking to dine on traditional and fresh German food in the shadow of a ruined castle overlooking beautiful countryside, I would highly recommend the Burg Cafe in Landeck.  The food was good and fresh, and the views were even better.

Burg Cafe

We ate in the shadow of the ruined Burg Landeck.

The view from our table at Burg Cafe, looking away from the castle.

After we finished our meal at Burg Cafe, we took the stone steps up to the ruined castle.  It is literally across the road from the cafe and is a perfect after dinner walk.  Just climb up the stairs!

After seeing the ruined castle itself (you can no longer actually climb up the castle), be sure to explore the grassy area to the left.  You will be rewarded with these magnificent views.

Can you just imagine this scene:
King of Swamp Castle: One day, lad, all this will be yours.
Prince Herbert: What, the curtains?
King of Swamp Castle: No, not the curtains, lad, all that you can see stretched out over the valleys and the hills! That’ll be your kingdom, lad.
Quotation from Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail.

Burkles Winzerhof

On another night, we decided to try a seasonal winery L and M had never visited before since their original choice was closed.  Burkles Weinlaube turned out to be one of the nicer dining rooms with good solid German food. The wine and drinks were very good.  Besides the house wine, these Strausse also always have homemade apple soda and/or grape soda made from wine grapes if you would rather enjoy non-alcoholic beverages.  

You can’t see from my pictures, but if the kitchen is open, you will see a ceremonial broom with bristles over their door.

If you go to any regional kitchen, you MUST try their Flammenkuchen (onion and bacon tart).  It’s like a pizza, but better.


Garden Salad with shredded pickled vegetables

Fried steak with friend potatoes

A german ham salad

As you can see from the numerous posts on Freiburg and its environs, this area of southwestern Germany is full of natural beauty, interesting food and wine culture, and medieval history.  Even though I was able to spend a few days here, I wish I could have stayed longer.  There is so much to see and do here – I haven’t even started to scratch the surface.


Germany: Freiburg Part 2

24 09 2008

This post about Freiburg is continued from Germany: Freiburg Part 1.

After circling the market square, go back to your entrance point and head away from (south of) the Munsterplatz on Eisenstraße.  Then turn left onto Schusterstraße.  Go down about a block and then turn right onto Augustinergasse.  Continue on this street until you reach Augustinerplatz.

If you would like a coffee or need a clean bathroom, stop by Aran Cafe just before you reach Augustinerplatz.

Aran Cafe, with Augustinerplatz in the background.

Some yummy coffee drinks and hot chocolate from nearby Aran cafe on the Augustinerplatz.

Augustinerplatz is a large cobblestone square in the middle of the old city that is surrounded by shops and cafes.  It was so clean and pretty it looked like it came straight out of the nearest Disney movie!  The former site of an Augustine monastery, Augustinerplatz is popular with tourists, students, and locals alike.


A courtyard of one of the many quaint shops in the Augustinerplatz.

After visiting Augustinerplatz, backtrack a little and turn right onto Salzstraße.  Stroll all the way down this pretty street until you reach the end of the road at the Schwabentor, the Swabian Gate.


A view of the Schwabentor and the Hotel Bären.

The pink building in the above photo on the right contains the oldest restaurant in Germany, now part of the Hotel Bären.  There has been a restaurant in this location since the 1100s.  The elaborate sign with the golden bear proclaims this is the oldest restaurant in Germany.

Once you arrive at the Schwabentor, look for a staircase just to the left.  Take these stairs and proceed across the wooden bridge.  From here it is just a short vertical hike to the Schlossberg where you can see some magnificent views of the city.  Just follow the trail/crowd.  For those who are tired, if you go straight right after the bridge, there is an elevator inside the cave that takes you about 1/3 way up to the beer garden that overlooks the city.   By the way, this is a good beer garden according to M.

Another view of the Schwabentor.

Bridge to the Schlossberg, facing the city.

View of Freiburg from the Schlossberg.

Closeup of some houses.

The city of Freiburg is surrounded by the Black Forest.

There are a lot of paths on the Schlossberg if you like to bike or hike.  Lots of locals come here because it’s easy access to the Black Forest.

One of the many paths on the Schlossberg.   We took this one to get down the hill.

After returning from the Schlossberg, take the first road/alley on the right called Konviktstraße after you come back down the stairs.  This is, in all of our opinions, the cutest and most picturesque street in Freiburg. It is a very small pedestrian only street that features boutiques and cafes that has ivy strung between the buildings. Although it’s not on our way to the next destination, it is worth the detour to walk down this street.

After you reach the little square at the end of Konviktstraße, take a left onto Münzgasse, which turns into Schusterstraße.  Turn left onto Augustinergasse, where you will then go through Augustinerplatz again.  This time, turn right at the end of Augustinerplatz onto Gerberau.  Walk about a block and turn left onto Gerbersteg.  Then make an immediate right onto Fischerau.

This is a little street that is almost an alley that has a small river running through it.

The houses come right up to the little river.

The house below has a little fountain emptying into this stream.

This house is decorated in a very interesting way with the vines.

Just before the end of this street on the left is a gourmet honey shop that sells the best honey in Germany.  You can go in and try over 30 varieties of honey.  They were very good and we got several jars of honey to take home.  They also honey soap, candy, and candles, among other things.

Once you reach the end of this street, it empties you onto Kaiser-Joseph-Straße and you will see the Martinstor to your right.

The famous Martinstor, one of the original city gates of the walled city of Freiburg.

Notice the fancy McDonald’s sign.  This is the beginning of the pedestrian zone.  From here, the university is to your left and there is a Citibank to your right.  There is also great coffeeshop with a small bakery located under the arch.

This is the end of my Google maps tour, but if you want to make a full loop back to the university like we did, just take the street you see straight ahead when you come out of the alley with the river.  Or if you are facing Martinstor, it is the street to the left of you.

Assembly/Lecture Hall at the University of Freiburg.

Freiburg was my favorite city of all the ones I visited.  As you can see, it has a little bit of everything I love about Germany, from the medieval town center, to the tidy streets, to the unique features like the Bächle, to the University, and of course to its location on the edge of the Black Forest.  I am glad that L has found such a wonderful temporary home while she is in school.  I hope to come back to visit soon!

Germany: Freiburg Part 1

22 09 2008

A visit to the Black Forest is not complete without a stop in the city of Freiburg, located on the western edge of the Black Forest in southwestern Germany.  Freiburg was one of the highlights of my visit because it is such a unique blend of medieval market town, university village, and modern city.

A view of Freiburg and Münster Cathedral from the Schlossberg.

As reflected in its name, Freiburg was founded in 1120 as a free market town located at an important crossroads between the Mediterranean Sea and the Danube and Rhine Rivers.  Because of this distinction, power struggles over the city’s control were common throughout the middle ages.  Although the city was bombed in WWII, the damaged areas in the city center were rebuilt in the medieval plan.  Freiburg is known primarily for the well respected Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg and as the regional hub for tourism in the Black Forest area.  Freiburg is also considered an environmentally friendly city whose citizens are known for their affinity for cycling and recycling.  The Guardian has an article about just how eco-friendly Freiburg is here.

The best way to see Freiburg’s medieval town center is by foot.  Reflecting both its medieval roots and penchant for eco-friendliness, the city center is a pedestrian- and tram-only zone.  Below is a map of our meandering route through the city center, which includes all the must-sees as well as our favorite cobblestone streets and alleys.  Be sure to click on the “View Larger Map” link, which takes you to the interactive Google map.

View Larger Map

We began our tour of Freiburg at the University, where L is just finishing up her graduate studies and where M graduated a few years ago.  Since we live on different continents, it was great for me to see where L spends all her time.  I actually visited Freiburg twice during my trip, so the photos and tour here are a compilation of both visits.

Main Lecture Hall at the University of Freiburg, located in the Platz der alten Synagoge, across the street from the Stadttheater (A on map).


While facing the main lecture hall, take the street on the left called Bertoldstraße and head east until you get to Cafe Schmidt, a wonderful bakery well known for its marzipan potatoes.

After drooling over the baked goods and chocolate,  turn right onto Niemensstraße, a tiny street that is full of student hangouts, including a yummy kebab place.  Take this street all the way to the very large Kaiser-Joseph-Straße and then turn left.  Kaiser Joseph Strasse is the main shopping street in Freiburg’s city center and includes all the large German chain stores as well as everything a college student or Freiburger needs.  Watch out for the trams!

People share the street with trams and the Bächle in Freiburg. This photo was taken on Salzstraße.

At this point, you will probably notice the very small and neat gutters (see photo above) running up and down the streets all around this part of Freiburg.  This system of gutters, called Bächle, has constantly flowing water from the Dreisam and was used in the olden days to fight fires and feed livestock.  The Bächle was never used for sewage (under penalty) and you will often see kids playing in them these days.  During the summer, the Bächle also helps keep the city cool.  There is a saying in Freiburg that if you step in a Bächle, you will marry a Freiburger.

Keep going on Kaiser Joseph Strasse for a few blocks north and then turn right onto Münsterstraße.  Head towards the Münster Cathedral (B on map).

Münster Cathedral is located in the Münsterplatz.

Step into the cathedral (free to the public) for views of beautiful stained glass.

If you go to the Münsterplatz on a Saturday before noon, you will be greeted with one of the best outdoor markets in Germany.

A view of the Saturday Markt in Freiburg, looking to the left of Münster Cathedral.

All the fruits and vegetables here are locally grown.  I have found that the produce in Germany has been some of the highest quality I’ve ever had.

Look at all that beautiful squash!

There are several flower vendors, with blossoms each brighter and more colorful than the next.

A market is not complete without the encased meat and butcher wagon.

There are also several bratwurst stands at the market.  Apparently, curry on bratwurst is very popular among Germans.  Who would have thought?  We had some bratwurst for breakfast.  Yum!

We went to Germany just at the end of their strawberry season.  These were some of the sweetest and juiciest strawberries I’ve ever had.  The fruit that look like small red grapes are johannesberries.  Most berry vendors also sell homemade jam.

The market on the other side of the cathedral was filled with craft stands.

The Historisches Kaufhaus (Historic Marketplace) is the red building.

Cafes spilled out from the buildings into the market.

Next: Germany: Freiburg Part 2

In Part 2, we will continue onto Augustinerplatz, the Schwabentor Gate, and Martinstor.

Germany: The Black Forest

18 09 2008

As I mentioned earlier, one of the things that really impressed me about Germany was its beautiful and dramatic countryside.  Just looking out the window of the car was a treat since we would often pass by pastoral vignettes of quaint villages with red roofs (always with a church steeple at the highest point) and farms with content cows grazing on the green and hilly pastures.

A blurry photo of a town nestled in a valley on the way to Freiburg.

Cows grazing on a hill above a farm as seen from the highway.

Cows on a hilly pasture outside of Freiburg.

However, the Black Forest was another category altogether. I had, of course, heard of the famous Black Forest of Germany.  Having only seen the woods of the East Coast and Midwest of the US and lived in and around cities my whole life, however, I was a skeptical of why it was such a big deal. I caught my first glimpses of the Black Forest while we were driving to Freiburg and it literally took my breath away. Even from a car window, I could see why the Black Forest has earned such a reputation. It was magnificent.

The Black Forest is situated on a mountain range in an area that is 120 miles long and 37 miles wide in the Southwest region of Germany.  Picture huge swaths of thick dark forest filled with unimaginably tall trees set upon mountains, stretching for miles and miles. While the clearings were bright green and welcoming, the forest itself was as mysterious as the fairy tales and legends that are set in it. It was easy to imagine elves running or knights galloping through these trees.

My photos only give a hint of how magnificent it is in real life.  Among other limitations, you cannot see how deep the valleys are and the magnitude of these trees.  Driving to Freiburg, we were literally surrounded by these thick forests and mountains and at times it was as if we were in complete wilderness.

The famous Hirschsprung (Deer Leap) statue.

The amazing thing is that this stunning wilderness has existed for so long in such a small area as Europe. Although logging has always existed here, the forest is so huge that there is still a lot left even though it is a much smaller area than it used to be.

As we get nearer to Freiburg, the forest becomes less dominant and lush meadows emerge.

Visitors can experience the Black Forest in a multitude of ways, including driving around the countryside (an easy must do), visiting the historical open air museum in Gutach, tasting Black Forest cake (available everywhere), eating from the numerous seasonal restaurants called Strasse, enjoying the local wine, boating at Titisee, and perusing cuckoo clocks, not to mention hiking and skiing (including long jumping).

Most visitors to the Black Forest make their stops in the cities of Baden Baden and Freiburg, both on the Western edge of the Black Forest. Baden Baden is best known for the natural springs and baths the old European aristocracy frequented.  Today it’s a big tourist destination for Europeans and foreigners alike.  Rick Steves has a lot of great information on Baden Baden, which you can read here.   Freiburg is a city in its own right that also serves as a hub for regional tourism and is home to Freiburg University.

Next Post: Freiburg

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