Of all the countries that I have postcards from, Germany ranks in second place in the category of most cards received. To date, I have received one card more from Russia and one card less from Finland. I believe that more of my German cards come from the state of Baden-Württemberg, in the southwest of the country. Freiburg im Breisgau is a famous old German university town in Baden-Württemberg with a population of about 220,000. It straddles the Dreisam river, at the foot of the Schloßberg. Historically, the city has acted as the hub of the Breisgau region on the western edge of the Black Forest in the Upper Rhine Plain. Freiburg was incorporated in the early twelfth century and developed into a major commercial, intellectual, and ecclesiastical center of the upper Rhine region. The city is known for its medieval minster and Renaissance university, as well as for its high standard of living and advanced environmental practices. The city is situated in the heart of the major Baden wine-growing region and serves as the primary tourist entry point to the scenic beauty of the Black Forest. According to meteorological statistics, the city is the sunniest and warmest in Germany and held the all-time German temperature record of 104.4°F (40.2°C) from 2003 to 2015.
Freiburg was founded by Konrad and Duke Berthold III of Zähringen in 1120 as a free market town; hence its name, which translates to “free (or independent) town”. Frei means “free”, and Burg, like the modern English word “borough”, was used in those days for an incorporated city or town, usually one with some degree of autonomy. The German word Burg also means “a fortified town”, as in Hamburg. Thus, it is likely that the name of this place means a “fortified town of free citizens”.
This town was strategically located at a junction of trade routes between the Mediterranean Sea and the North Sea regions, and the Rhine and Danube rivers. In 1200, Freiburg’s population numbered approximately 6,000 people. At about that time, under the rule of Bertold V, the last duke of Zähringen, the city began construction of its Freiburg Münster cathedral on the site of an older parish church. Begun in the Romanesque style, it was continued and completed 1513 for the most part as a Gothic edifice. In 1218, when Bertold V died, the counts of Urach assumed the title of Freiburg’s count. The city council did not trust the new nobles and wrote down its established rights in a document. At the end of the thirteenth century there was a feud between the citizens of Freiburg and their lord, Count Egino II of Freiburg. Egino raised taxes and sought to limit the citizens’ freedom, after which the Freiburgers used catapults to destroy the count’s castle atop the Schloßberg, a hill that overlooks the city center. The furious count called on his brother-in-law the Bishop of Strasbourg, Konradius von Lichtenberg, for help. The bishop responded by marching with his army to Freiburg.
According to an old Freiburg legend, a butcher named Hauri stabbed the Bishop of Strasbourg to death on July 29, 1299. It was a Pyrrhic victory, since henceforth the citizens of Freiburg had to pay an annual expiation of 300 marks in silver to the count of Freiburg until 1368. In 1366, the counts of Freiburg made another failed attempt to occupy the city during a night raid. Eventually the citizens were fed up with their lords, and in 1368 Freiburg purchased its independence from them. The city turned itself over to the protection of the Habsburgs, who allowed the city to retain a large measure of freedom. Most of the nobles of the city died in the battle of Sempach (1386). The patrician family Schnewlin took control of the city until the guildsmen revolted. The guilds became more powerful than the patricians by 1389.
The silver mines in Mount Schauinsland provided an important source of capital for Freiburg. This silver made Freiburg one of the richest cities in Europe, and in 1327 Freiburg minted its own coin, the Rappenpfennig. In 1377, the cities of Freiburg, Basel, Colmar, and Breisach entered into an alliance known as the Genossenschaft des Rappenpfennigs (Rappenpfennig Collective). This alliance facilitated commerce among the cities and lasted until the end of the sixteenth century. There were 8,000-9,000 people living in Freiburg between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and 30 churches and monasteries. At the end of the fourteenth century the veins of silver were dwindling, and by 1460 only approximately 6,000 people still lived within Freiburg’s city walls.
A university city, Freiburg evolved from its focus on mining to become a cultural center for the arts and sciences. It was also a commercial center. The end of the Middle Ages and the dawn of the Renaissance was a time of both advances and tragedy for Freiburg.
In 1457, Albrecht VI, Regent of Further Austria, established Albert-Ludwigs-Universität, one of Germany’s oldest universities. In 1498, Emperor Maximilian I held a Reichstag in Freiburg. In 1520, the city ratified a set of legal reforms, widely considered the most progressive of the time. The aim was to find a balance between city traditions and old Roman Law. The reforms were well received, especially the sections dealing with civil process law, punishment, and the city’s constitution.
In 1520, Freiburg decided not to take part in the Reformation and became an important center for Catholicism on the Upper Rhine.
In 1536, a strong and persistent belief in witchcraft led to the city’s first witch-hunt. The need to find a scapegoat for calamities such as the Black Plague, which claimed 2,000 area residents (25% of the city population) in 1564, led to an escalation in witch-hunting that reached its peak in 1599. A plaque on the old city wall marks the spot where burnings were carried out.
The seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries were turbulent times for Freiburg. At the beginning of the Thirty Years’ War there were 10,000-14,000 citizens in Freiburg; by its end only 2,000 remained. During this war and other conflicts, at various times the city belonged to the Austrians, the French, the Swedish, the Spanish, and various members of the German Confederacy. Between 1648 and 1805, it was the administrative headquarters of Further Austria, the Habsburg territories in the southwest of Germany, when the city was not under French occupation. In 1805, the city, together with the Breisgau and Ortenau areas, became part of Baden.
In 1827, when the Archdiocese of Freiburg was founded, Freiburg became the seat of a Catholic archbishop.
On October 22, 1940, the Nazi Gauleiter of Baden ordered the deportation of all of Baden’s Jews, and 350 Jewish citizens of Freiburg were deported to the southern French internment camp of Camp Gurs in the Basses-Pyrénées. They remained there under poor conditions until July 18, 1942, when the majority of the survivors were sent to their deaths at Auschwitz. The cemetery for German Jews who died at Camp Gurs is maintained by the town of Freiburg and other cities of Baden. A memorial stands outside the modern synagogue in the town center. The pavements of Freiburg carry memorials to individual victims in the form of brass plates outside their former residences, including that of Edith Stein, a German Jewish philosopher who converted to Catholicism, became a nun, and was canonized as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross in 1998.
Freiburg was heavily bombed during World War II. First, in May 1940, aircraft of the Luftwaffe mistakenly dropped approximately 60 bombs on Freiburg near the train station, killing 57 people. Later on, a raid by more than 300 bombers of the RAF Bomber Command on November 27, 1944, (Operation Tigerfish) destroyed a large portion of the city center, with the notable exception of the Münster, which was only lightly damaged. After the war, the city was rebuilt on its medieval plan.
It was occupied by the French Army on April 21, 1945, and Freiburg was soon allotted to the French Zone of Occupation. In December 1945, Freiburg became the seat of government for the German state Badenia, which was merged into Baden-Württemberg in 1952. The French Army maintained a presence in Freiburg until 1991, when the last French Army division left the city, and left Germany.
On the site of the former French Army base, a new neighborhood for 5,000 people, Vauban, was begun in the late 1990’s as a “sustainable model district”. Solar power is used to power many of the households in this small community.
Because of its scenic beauty, relatively warm and sunny climate, and easy access to the Black Forest, Freiburg is a hub for regional tourism. The longest cable car run in Germany, which is 2.2 miles (3.6 kilometers) long, runs from Günterstal up to a nearby mountain called Schauinsland. The city has an unusual system of gutters (called Freiburg Bächle) that run throughout its center. These Bächle, once used to provide water to fight fires and feed livestock, are constantly flowing with water diverted from the Dreisam. They were never intended to be used for sewage, and even in the Middle Ages such use could lead to harsh penalties. During the summer, the running water provides natural cooling of the air, and offers a pleasant gurgling sound. It is said that if one accidentally falls or steps into a Bächle, they will marry a Freiburger, or ‘Bobbele‘.
The Augustinerplatz is one of the central squares in the old city. Formerly the location of an Augustinian monastery that became the Augustiner Museum in 1921, it is now a popular social space for Freiburg’s younger residents. It has a number of restaurants and bars, including the local brewery ‘Feierling‘, which has a Biergarten. On warm summer nights, hundreds of students gather here.
At the center of the old city is the Münsterplatz or Cathedral Square, Freiburg’s largest square. A farmers market is held here every day except Sundays. This is the site of Freiburg’s Münster, a gothic minster cathedral constructed of red sandstone, built between 1200 and 1530 and noted for its towering spire.
To the east of the city center, the Schloßberg hill provides extensive views over the city and surrounding region. The castle (Schloss) from which the hill takes its name was demolished in the 1740’s, and only ruins remain. Schloßberg retained its importance to the city, however, and 150 years ago the city leaders opened up walks and views to make the mountain available to the public. Today, the Schlossbergbahn funicular railway connects the city center to the hill.
The city’s coat of arms is Argent a cross Gules, the St George’s Cross. Saint George is the city’s patron saint. The cross also appears on the city’s flag, which dates from about 1368, and is identical to that of England, which has the same patron.
The city also has a seal that can be seen in a few places in the inner city. It is a stylized depiction of the façade of the Wasserschlössle, a castle-like waterworks facility built into a hill that overlooks the residential district of Wiehre. The seal depicts a three-towered red castle on a white background, with green-clad trumpeters atop the two outer towers. Beneath the castle is a gold fleur-de-lis.