Germany’s enchanting Black Forest is at once formidable yet inviting; the enigmatic muse behind the world-famous fairytales of the Brothers Grimm. Its towering mountains and surrounding foliage are dangerously seductive in winter, and wonderfully radiant in summer. I’d decided to visit an old friend in Freiburg just a week ago because of its excellent location in Germany, just an hour away by train from France and Switzerland.
Freiburg is a university city known for its vibrant arts and culture, charming medieval architecture and for churning out great thinkers like Max Weber and Friedrich Hayek.
Let’s take a tour, shall we? I’ll take you through some of the more interesting parts of the city before ending off with the places you have to try for some authentic German food with wonderful hospitality.
The Münster or Freiburg Cathedral is regarded as one of the finest examples of gothic architecture in Germany. It was started in 1200 in the romanesque style before continuing in the gothic style about 30 years later. You’ll find many cathedrals in Europe host an eclectic blend of influences as a signature of the times, where building extensions and reparations lend a truly unique character to each church.
This is the only Gothic church tower completed in the Middle Ages that is still left standing in Germany today. Truly spectacular.
Gothic architecture tends to feature incredibly high ceilings, to invoke a grandeur that renders worshippers infinitesimal. It also inspires introspection and silent prayer with small windows and a closed structure. These statues of the ten virgins are also incredibly well-preserved, with the once vibrant paint now muted, dainty pastel.
Just outside the Münster is a farmers’ market that opens everyday from 7am to around noon. There is a wonderful array of local produce like native peppers, fruit and vegetables.
We couldn’t resist tucking into a second breakfast of Currywurst which is a local fast food favourite! It’s basically curry powder mixed with ketchup poured generously over a deep fried juicy pork sausage and topped with sauteéd onions. This was absolutely perfect for a rainy day! Mm..
There were also some lovely tulips on sale that day. And these could go for as little as €4-5!
I also couldn’t resist taking some homemade cheese and black forest ham home to share.
St Martin’s Cathedral
Our next stop was another ancient cathedral that once housed a Benedictine monastery just 5 minutes away.
St Martin’s or Mainz Cathedral is 1000 years old! With a fresh coat of paint and countless restoration efforts, it’s still in wonderful condition and houses the relic of St Anthony.
It was such an enriching experience learning about the history of these medieval churches from a good friend who had wanted to serve as a Catholic Priest since we were in junior college together. In addition, as a Masters History student, he was perfectly-placed to give excellent guided tours of these stunning cathedrals. Truly thankful for the time well spent.
For all you museum junkies, this may not be a large facility, but I guarantee you will be amazed and quite possibly moved by some of the religious art showcased here. Most of these were recovered and restored from the many churches and cathedrals in this medieval town, surviving many wars.
From stunning religious and Black Forest paintings..
to a two-storey tall pipe organ with a detailed explanation of how it produces its unique sound, this place will captivate and fascinate you.
I was particularly impressed by the sculptures. Religious statues and artefacts form such an important focal point for Catholics especially when it comes to remembering the great stories of the bible and the heroic acts of Saints. It takes amazing skill to create such a life-like quality in these works of art.
There are also a good many other churches and places to explore in the city centre and beyond.
*Quick Tip: You can cover most of the main attractions in an afternoon, as most of them are within a 20-minute walking distance from each other in the city centre. Alternatively, it’s also easy to just hop on a (very inexpensive) tram to take you further out into the other towns nearer to the mountains. I’d suggest giving Schauinsland for a great view if you’re driving, Europa Park from Spring to Fall, and even nearby Schlossberg for some hiking.
Now, let’s move on to the food!
In case you haven’t noticed by now, the Germans love their breads. From buttery pretzels to sweet coiled pastries with dried fruit, bakeries open as early as 7am and business remains brisk throughout the day. Most bakeries do a wonderful carb and coffee combo in the mornings. Grab and go, or sit and savour with a good book.
This inviting cake shop immediately caught my eye. And oh, those smells! How’s this for an irresistible spread?
From the classic Berliners (jelly-filled donuts), to fruit tarts, black forest cakes, éclairs and macarons, you’ll be positively spoilt for choice. Why not drop in for dessert and a cuppa after a long day of walking?
For a hearty, traditional German meal of meat and potatoes, you can’t go wrong with these local favourites. We had some potato soup with cream to start, followed by Bratkartffeln (German fried potato) swimming in a creamy sauce made of dill, yogurt and cured fish.
The slightly sour cream was such a perfect accompaniment to the hot, perfectly-seasoned sliced potatoes. it was fried but not oily and had a gorgeous smoky aroma from being fried with the bacon.
And this beauty here – Kartoffelpuffer (homemade potato pancake) with chunky applesauce and cinnamon sugar.
This was such an refreshing treat after all the savoury dishes! Crispy golden brown on the outside, soft piping hot and fluffy on the inside. With dollops of cold sweet applesauce and a sprinkle of spiced sugar, this melted like a beautiful mess in the mouth.
As you’d probably guessed by now, yes, this place specialises in potato dishes. It’s a real hit with the locals so if you’re intending to come in after 630pm, it’s best to make reservations or it’s very unlikely you’ll get a seat. But trust me, if you’ve never had German potatoes done perfectly, this is the place to go. They also serve up a mean steak, pan-fried fish and a good variety of salads and soups.
Two mains, a soup and a couple pints of beer cost us nothing more than €60! Perks of living in a university town.
If you’re hankering after dessert or a good cuppa, another truly unique dining option just down the road from Kartoffelhouse. This quaint little cafe operated by a lovely Catholic couple, takes the living room concept to a whole other level.
It really felt like we were entering someone’s home. There were a good many lush comfy couches, rugs, tables and chairs, family photos on the walls, and even a tiny grotto with a statue of the Virgin Mary just barely hidden behind a tiny arch. I loved this place.
We tucked into some homemade Winter Crumble, and mugs of delicious Schokolade Orange and Yogitee (spiced tea latte). What a perfect way to end an evening!
The couple running the place are also the sweetest Germans you’ll ever meet. The lady boss even came to say goodbye to us personally when she had to head out to run errands. Definitely don’t miss this place when you’re in Freiburg.
And finally, for some fuss-free affordable dining, go where all the Professors and students go for a filling and delicious meal anytime of the day. Uni Cafe boasts some pretty legit Flammkuchen (German pizza) and savoury Crêpes.
Most often topped with bacon, sausages and lots of cheese, this is a thin-crusted meal of awesome. Especially when washed down with some refreshing locally-produced beer.
Freiburg truly is a wonderful place to live. A modern city with charming cobblestoned streets, fresh mountain air, an incredibly efficient tram system that runs till late at night, and is a shoppers’ paradise for many Swiss tourists who like to take the trains in for the weekend.
I loved how safe this place felt, the vibrant arts and culture scene (check out the theatre below), and especially the architectural treasures tucked away in this hidden vault of a city.
I definitely recommend staying a day or two if you’re travelling through the Black Forest. And over the next few posts, I’ll also show you how I managed to make easy day trips to 6 other towns and cities nearby in just 7 days. So stick around!
I really hope you enjoyed this tour of Freiburg. It really holds a different charm in each of the four seasons, and I do hope to revisit the Black Forest someday in the summer. I’d love to hear about your travels through the region throughout the year as well. Do share them with me! x