I guarantee you this: you will never see a more charming drainage system than that of Freiburg. In this leafy university city, each little street comes fully equipped with its own tiny waterway, irresistible to toddlers and doggos alike. And, on a hot day (of which there are many), adults too find the lure of shedding shoes and going for a quick paddle simply too much to cope with. Apparently, these trickling channels – known as the Freiburg Bächle – were first put in place to help out the fire brigade. Over the years they also came in handy for drinking water, irrigation and flood prevention. Whatever their true purpose, when in Freiburg, do as the Freiburgers do, and bring your flip-flops.
But there’s much more to this Black Forest gem than tiny urban streams. Here’s my account of very easily filling a late-July week there, with no car, and lots of sun cream.
Freiburg doesn’t have its own airport, but there are plenty of nearby options. Frankfurt, Strasbourg, Zurich and Stuttgart are all within a fairly simple public transport hop away. We opted for Basel EuroAirport, which isn’t actually in Basel at all but is smack on the border between France, Switzerland and Germany. From there it’s an easy hour-ish coach trip to Freiburg’s bus station. (Book ahead on Flixbus to guarantee your seat, and download the Flixbus app to keep track of your booking.)
We stayed at the Alex Hotel, the location of which is pretty hard to beat. Even when dragging suitcases along it’s less than 10 minutes’ walk from the coach and train stations, and another 10 minutes or so from the main town centre. The hotel itself is fairly small, with rooms on the tiny side and limited breakfast options, but it’s clean, modern and welcoming, and the area feels quiet and safe.
Priority number one after checking in was lunch, so we wandered in the direction of town and soon stumbled upon Tom’s, a German-slash-American diner with a confusing menu but good food. We tucked into crispy fried chicken, tangy potato salad, and an odd (but delicious) concoction of beef ragu wrapped in filo pastry.
Bellies full, we braved the scorching heat (the temperature was north of 40C at this point) to explore the town centre. If you’re the type who prefers high street chains to tourist tat, Freiburg will probably appeal. Its main shopping streets are crammed full of the familiar names you’ll see in any major European city, with H&M, Foot Locker and Super Dry among those that have pitched up. But the shop I had my eyes on was a little more unique: the SC Freiburg official club store. The local team might not be the biggest in the Bundesliga, but they’ve no shortage of merch and I couldn’t resist squandering my euros on a club polo shirt that I haven’t worn since. (Note for fellow lovers of football shirts: there’s also a football shop inside the train station where, among other rarities, they were selling Hummel’s legendary UD Ibiza shirt. I’m too old to pull it off, but I was tempted. You’ll find the shop on the station’s lower floor).
Then it was on to the downright incredible Hof Eis ice cream bar for some much-needed icy refreshment, before a wander round Colombipark and its small vineyard trail. Day one was rounded off with a quick snack of way-too-salty fries at UC Cafe, and a lot of radler (that’s German for shandy). Time for an early night.
This is where our step count really did us proud. First up: off to the uni’s botanic gardens, where there are bug hotels, bee hives and croaking frogs (yes, actual croakers). Then: the Hauptfriedhof, a beautiful, sprawling cemetery with an eerie dried-up lake and sombre war memorial. Next: back into town for the English-language walking tour, which included a look around the Münster (cathedral) and the blessed relief of some shade (tour tickets can be bought from the tourist information centre on Rathausplatz).
An early dinner was had at Tacheles, the city’s self-proclaimed schnitzel haven. Imagine any sauce, and any side, and they probably have it here plonked next to some schnitzel. Schnitzel munched, it was time to hit the road again, this time to Seepark. At this point, I’ll level with you: Seepark turned out to be a lot further from town than we’d realised, and we really shouldn’t have walked it in that heat, but hey – we were closing in on 25,000 steps for the day and that’s not something you can just turn your back on.
The reason for our hike to Seepark was Seefest, a free music festival next to the lake in picture postcard surroundings (provided you like postcards featuring huge crowds of people and clusters of food and drink stalls). Entertainment for the night was provided by a covers band whose setlist read like a who’s who of Europop royalty: Haddaway, Dr Alban, Snap, Mr President – they all got a run-out. And it turns out you haven’t known awkwardness until you’ve heard an otherwise enthusiastic German frontman suddenly start mumbling uncomfortably into the mic upon reaching the line “I’m as serious as cancer when I say rhythm is a dancer.” It was almost as if he hadn’t known it was coming.
This unflinchingly fun night’s entertainment was seriously embraced by the locals, who turned out en masse to dance the night away before enjoying the climactic fireworks display above the lake. Knackered, there was just one thing left for us to do: walk all the way back to our hotel and celebrate smashing the hallowed 30,000-step barrier.
As glorious a city as this is, a trip to the Black Forest is all about getting away from the buildings and experiencing the countryside, so that was what we did on Day 3. One of the most appealing things about Freiburg is that, from a starting point of the town centre, you can find yourself in a pretty rural setting, on foot, in less than half an hour. We’d heard that one of the best ways to do this is to go to the river and follow it east, so we gave it a try. After a couple of false starts (bits of the river path were blocked off by construction work so we had to find our own detours), we finally made our way out into open country.
This is a popular walk, with joggers and dog-walkers around every corner, and on a roasting day like this (the temp was yet again over 40C), locals had arrived early to bagsy every piece of flat ground and top up their annoyingly impressive tans. Frollicking in the river turned out to be another popular pastime, but sadly we hadn’t brought our cozzies, so our own frollicking was kept to a minimum. Still, there were quiet sections, and we found one of our own where we could stretch out on the grass, watch a heron, and generally veg out.
Venture far enough along the river and eventually you’ll reach Schwarzwald-Stadion, SC Freiburg’s 24,000-capacity home ground. From the outside it looks in need of a freshening up, and it’s unsurprising to learn that the club are hopeful of de-camping to a swankier base in the not-too-distant future. Disappointingly, they don’t do stadium tours, and it didn’t look like there was any way of sneaking in for a nosey around (besides, I’m still scarred by the experience of being chased out of Eintracht Frankfurt’s stadium by angry cleaners wielding mops when I snuck in there to take a few photos on a previous trip). So, with no home fixture scheduled during this trip, our experience of the ground was restricted to gazing forlornly through some rear gates.
After a walk back into town via a stop-off at a play park with its own zip line (I might be in my 30s but hey, if you put a zip line in front of me, I’m trying that baby out), it was time for dinner. Our choice was Gasthaus Lowen, a friendly, rustic dining room packed with locals and offering hearty German fare. Here I devoured my own body weight in schweinhaxe (pig knuckle) and finally tried spaetzle (Germany’s answer to pasta, and lovely on this occasion with gravy), before sloping off back to the hotel to slip into a well-deserved meat coma.
To the mountains! Well, the hill at least. Schlossberg is the 1,500-foot hump that overlooks the city. You can walk up it fairly easily, or for 5.50 euros you can catch the cable car that heads up from the disarmingly beautiful Stadtgarten park. Despite my growing obsession with upping my step count, we opted for the latter, and were soon taking in some cracking views of Freiburg below. Up here there are viewpoints, a restaurant and numerous hiking trails leading off through the forest. We also spotted this run-down shelter with delusions of one day becoming a cocktail bar. Reach for the stars, little guy.
Our ramble through the shady woods proved to be a shrewd way of escaping the blazing sun, and entertainment was provided by mice a-plenty and a soaring family of buzzards. Come lunch time, we headed to Dattler, the gigantic hillside restaurant boasting breathtaking vistas and unappetising-looking ham. Delicious, however, was the flammkuchen – crispy, wafer-thin German pizza that substitutes tomato for a creamy white sauce, with traditional toppings of bacon, fried onion and mozzarella. Yumkins.
In good weather you can easily spend a whole day on Schlossberg, and that was essentially what we did, returning to town only for the lure of more Hof Eis and some down-time at the hotel. Later, we headed back out to visit Trattoria cum Laude, a small Italian restaurant located conveniently just a couple of minutes from our base. If you go, try the lasagne – you won’t be disappointed.
Time for a day trip. The Black Forest boasts a huge array of enchanting, old fashioned villages, and researching them all can feel like a job in itself. Of course, if you have a car, it makes sense to tour around and tick off as many of them as possible. We didn’t, so decided to see just one, and plumped in the end for Titisee.
This tiny but well-trodden village is less than an hour by direct train from Freiburg, and boasts a number of attractions that were right up our street (or strasse, if you want to be like that about it). First, there’s Badeparadies Schwarzwald, a pimped-up swimming pool with extras including thermal baths, spa, sauna, bars, loungers and slides (let’s face it, I was there for the slides). We got there early and were glad we did, because it fills up quickly and I do not want to be queuing behind a load of shrieking 11-year-olds when I’m trying to get my slide on, oh no.
The place is divided up into three areas, and it’s worth researching which ones you want to visit as that impacts your ticket price. There’s Galaxy Schwarzwald (slidesville), Palm Oasis (bars and palm trees) and Palais Vital (spas, saunas and naked people). We only went to the first two areas on account of being British and not liking being in the nuddy thank you very much.
Titisee’s other major attraction is Lake Titisee, a frankly gorgeous sight with bustling restaurants and tat shops at one end, and a gigantic campsite at the other. You can walk round it in about 90 minutes, and there’s a cafe at the far side to top up on radler. Not having had quite enough red-hot lake action, we followed up our walk round its perimeter with a boat-trip chaser. (Boat trips depart regularly from the main town side of the lake.)
With Titisee’s restaurants positively heaving, we headed back to Freiburg for late munchies, and took a chance on the Casanova Italian restaurant near the station. A couple of splendid pizzas later, and we were done for the day.
Did you know that Freiburg has a zoo? Did you? Well? We didn’t, but it turns out it does. Mundenhof is sort of like a farm that’s got out of hand, with goats, sheep, pigs and horses looking on in confusion at buffalos, camels, meerkats and gibbons. It’s not really walkable from the town centre, even for pedometer addicts like us, but if you’re willing to make the trip out (various trams from the town centre will get you most of the way there) it really is worth it.
The first thing to note about Mundenhof is that entry is completely free. The place doesn’t seem short of money though, as the grounds are clearly well-maintained and it feels obvious from the off that standards here are high. The second thing is that this isn’t the sort of zoo where animals are kept in tiny compounds and wander forlornly back and forth. This is a place of sprawling wide fields and large shaded areas (which most of the animals were taking advantage of during this particular heatwave). The third thing is that the food here is terrific. There are bars and food hatches and picnic areas where we tucked into delicious currywurst followed by Hof Eis ice-cream, all washed down with the compulsory radler. There are also numerous other food stalls that were closed on this quiet Wednesday, but presumably leap into action when weekends and holidays hit.
We easily filled a day there (although that was partly due to getting lost in the grounds of the music festival that was being set up to the south of the zoo – the Beach Boys were on the line-up, apparently) before heading back into town.
For dinner, we visited Goldenen Anker, which was a bit of a schlep to get to on the south side of the river, but we were eager to try it after reading the plentiful gleaming reviews online. Here, it was time for more schnitzel, and it’s fair to say that where Tachles went for quantity, this place went for quality. The schnitzel is crispy and juicy, and comes with chunky lemon wedges, fresh dressed salad and various potato options. Their dessert options didn’t take our fancy, though, so there was only one thing for it: back to Hof Eis, to end the day on an icy creamy high.
After six days of walking, walking and more walking, our gnarled up tootsies couldn’t take much more, so our final day in this awesome city was spent relaxing. We returned to Stadtgarten, the small-but-spectacular park, and had a morning of lying around watching bees, listening to podcasts and slowly burning in the still-intense heat.
Moving from our spot proved tough, but when we finally managed we headed off for lunch at somewhere we’d been saving for last: Curry & Fritz. This hole-in-the-wall is widely regarded as the place in Freiburg for currywurst, and based on this trip it’s not a reputation I’ll dispute (although the Mundenhof wurst ran it close). The sausage was crispy, the sauce sweet and spicy, and the fried onions a very nice touch.
For the afternoon, we squeezed in some last-gasp bits of sight-seeing, ticking off the historic Schwabentor gate and the fascinating little tin figure museum inside (it’s called Zinnfigurenklause, and venturing in is the only way of taking a shifty at the inside of the tower). Here, there are over 10,000 handmade figures depicting various events in the city’s history. It’s a labour of love for the guy working there, who sits crafting a seemingly endless quota of tiny figures while at the same time as letting in the tourists. Schwabentor itself would probably be one of the town’s major photo opportunities, were it not for the inherently ugly McDonald’s logo that has somehow been permitted to be splashed across the side of it. Truly, nothing is sacred.
Oh, and there was one last thing left to do. Remember the Freiburg Bächle, those little streams running along every street? The temptation finally overcoming us, we cast shoes and socks aside, grabbed a Hof Eis, dumped our bums down on the dusty pavement, and literally got our feet wet. Aah, that’s the stuff.
Freiburg trip: 19-25 July 2019