Natasha Graves takes us through the charming city of Freiburg, her Year Abroad home.
Germany may not be an overwhelmingly popular destination for British travellers: we don’t seem to view the country through the same romanticised lens as some of its continental counterparts such as France, Italy and Spain. This is good news for student and budget travellers however, as it keeps flight and hostel prices low even in peak travel season. I don’t need to suggest to you the student travel meccas of Berlin and Munich – these are well established travel hotspots. Instead, after spending ten months in a city that I have grown to adore and now consider to be the hidden student travel gem of Europe, I’m going to let you know why the city of Freiburg should not be overlooked when making your next travel plans.
The hottest and sunniest spot in the whole of Germany
If you opt to make your trip in the summer months you can take advantage of Freiburg’s surprisingly warm climate. With an average high of 26.8 °C in July, you will receive all the sun and heat you could ask for in a summer holiday destination. If it gets a little too hot, Freiburg has you sorted, just journey up into the mountains where the temperature drops nicely or take a dip in one of the many public swimming lakes scattered around the city. Don’t forget to sample the town’s ample array of ‘Eis Cafes’, where you can pick up a scoop of ice cream for as little as €1. My personal favourite is Hof-Eis, who use 100% natural ingredients sourced from the Black Forest – try the vegan hazelnut as an indulgent treat.
The Old Town’s medieval aesthetic
Despite losing more than 85% of the historical town centre in World War II, the town managed to painstakingly rebuild itself according to its original medieval design. This means that most of the streets in the Old Town are lined with little streams called ‘Bachle’ which are not just there for aesthetic appeal, but rather to cool the air of the town in the summer months and are host to an annual miniature boat race! Of course, there is more to Freiburg’s medieval architecture than just Bachle. Many of the pavements are built in the tradition style with stones from the Rhine. Not to mention that Freiburg, as a Catholic city, is host to an impressive gothic Munster (cathedral), which is free to enter. The Munster Platz also hosts a daily Farmers’ Market from 10-13:30 with delicious local produce on the left hand-side of the Square and merchants selling everything from hand-crafted kitchen tools to vegan curry-wurst. Indeed, Freiburg’s Old Town is perhaps one of the most Instagram-worthy city centres I have ever encountered – check it out!
A green-thinking haven
Freiburg is known as one of the greenest cities on earth. This quiet city in the middle of the Black Forest is home to 10,000 jobs in the environmental sector and Europe’s leading solar energy research centre: Fraunhofer ISE. The Vauban district (Freiburg’s newest residential development) was the site of the first ever passive apartment block. This means there is no central heating and that the entire building is kitted out with the latest energy-saving technology, meaning it can be -5°C outside and perfectly comfortable inside without residents having to even touch the thermostat. The green way of living makes Freiburg a wonderful student travel destination; with everyone cycling around the city and using the well-equipped tram network, you don’t have to worry about cars sprawled all over the city centre when walking around and enjoying the sites. Furthermore, it means you can sample some of the local and organic produce from one the many markets without feeling guilty about air-miles and pesticides.
The Black Forest on your doorstep
Mountains, lakes, rivers and dense forest make Freiburg a nature-lover’s dream. What better way to enjoy the temperate climate than by taking a hike up one of the many peaks surrounding Freiburg. The Schauinsland, for example, is within biking distance from the city centre. This mountain stands 1000 metres above sea-level and is host to the longest cable-car in Germany (if you don’t fancy walking up). At the top there is a café, solar observatory and a museum. If you are lucky enough to visit in winter, then you can enjoy strolling amongst the snowy trees or even go skiing at Feldberg (the closest skiing resort). If hills aren’t your thing, you can also take a bike ride along the beautiful Dreisam river, in a north-western direction from the city-centre to enjoy the flat terrain. There are also vast lakes open for public swimming which are reachable via train or bus such as Titisee.
Amazing days out (including a free zoo and the largest theme park in Germany)
If you want to have a bit of an alternative day out without spending any money, why not take a picnic to Freiburg’s free zoo! That’s right Mudenhof is 100% free and open 24 hours of the day, 365 days of the year. At Mudenhof you can see a range of animals living the Black Forest lifestyle in wide open terrains of lands – some of their more exotic creatures include monkeys, llamas, ostriches and nandus (a flightless bird native to South America). Alternatively, you can take a bus or a train to Germany’s largest park; Europa Park. Although a pricier day out, you gain a lot for your money in Europa Park. German efficiency means queue times are kept low; when I visited in mid-summer I never waited longer than 35 minutes to ride even the most popular rollercoasters.
Practice your German
Unlike tourist hotspots such as Berlin or Munich, you won’t hear too much English being spoken on the streets of Freiburg. This means if you walk into a bar and say, ‘Ein Bier bitte’ you will be unlikely to receive the dreaded reply of ‘sure, that’ll be 3 euros’. This means you are actually afforded the opportunity to practice your German in Freiburg. Equally, many Germans are highly proficient in English so if you do run into trouble, there will almost certainly always be someone around to help you bridge the language barrier.
Festivals and festivities (we’re talking more than just Christmas Markets)
Since living in Germany, I have come to understand just how important ‘Feiretage’ are. These are ‘holiday days’ that seem to happen just about all the time. We are talking two days off at Halloween, not actually for Halloween, but for Reformationstag (Reformations day) and Allerheiligen (All Saints day). Added to that are some random days speckled across the entire year including the late Christmas present that is Three Kings Day (an early January holiday that we could all do with). Don’t forget Germany is the land of Karneval, Fasching, or Fasnacht depending on where you are from. This is a time where everyone dons their weirdest outfits from the back of their closets and drinks from roughly 10am onwards (so a pretty good holiday). And if that isn’t enough for you, Germany is of course the home to the Oktoberfest, but I don’t think this one needs any further explanation.
To top it all off, flights to Freiburg are cheap, one of my flights was only £8. Basel airport is covered by both easyJet and Ryanair, meaning you can bag those low-cost deals to your heart’s content. Although the airport is a bit confusing (it technically resides in both France and Switzerland, so you have to make sure you exit on the French side if you want to get the bus to Freiburg), it’s a pretty cool place for a getaway since you can easily visit three countries in just one trip, with buses from the airport regularly running to both Basel, Mullhouse and Freiburg.
So there are my reasons for you to pay this traditional yet uber-trendy and green gem a visit. See you at the airport.