Monday, July 2, 2012

Freiburg im Breisgau

It might seem that the past few months have been spent traveling, when in fact we’ve spent quite a bit of time at home. Somehow the recap of our Amsterdam trip spread out over the last two months, and most of the every-day was condensed into a few, long posts with the Jāņu celebration stuck in the middle. Looking back at spring, our time here was hectic, it just wasn’t spent traveling as much as it might appear from this blog.

If it wasn't for the baby bjorn carrier we would have to buy a double stroller...

That being said there is one last trip that we took on a long weekend while the Kalamazoo grandmother was visiting, and I do want to include some pictures from it, as it was a pretty spectacular trip for such a short period of time.

With the in-laws, Freiburg, Germany

The boys were happy to have grandmother come visit (as was I), but we were sad that grandpa couldn’t come with. He was scheduled to attend the annual delegates meeting of the Latvian organization Daugavas Vanagi, the Latvian Welfare Association in Freiburg, Germany. The not-for-profit, charitable membership organization assists Latvians in need, supports and promotes Latvian culture, education, and youth development and honors all the soldiers who fought on behalf of Latvia’s freedom and independence among other goals. You can read more about the US branch of the organization here and about the branch in Germany here.

So since he couldn’t come to us, we decided to go to him! Freiburg im Breisgau is about 6 hours northeast of Clermont-Ferrand close to the French and Swiss borders (the point where the three countries meet is called Dreiländereck). We didn’t drive straight there, in fact our detour added on quite a few miles and hours, but more on that in a later post. Located in the hills of the Black Forest and home to a 500 year old university, the city has managed to keep its old town intact despite the wars.


The Latvian Daugavas Vanagu (DV) property there is called Bērzaine (named after the birches of Latvia), and originally was meant to be a home for war veterans. As the years progress and less veterans utilize the facilities it has morphed into a guest house offering long-term housing for Latvian families and students in Freiburg, as well as rooms for board for travelers. Located at the base of Zähringer Castle hill, the ruins are but a short hike from the center and we couldn’t resist a look.

The Zähringer castle ruins and tower

The location was home to a hilltop settlement called Alemanni, named after a young king, sometime at the end of the 5th century. First mention of the name Zähringen dates from shortly after the year 1000, and the first definite mention of the castle was in 1128. Between 1275 and 1281 it was destroyed and rebuilt several times and in the Peasants' War in 1525 the completely destroyed castle became the property of the House of Baden. The remaining ruins with a large round tower (13th century) have viewing platform that luckily was open while we were there, giving us an opportunity to see a grand view of the city and surrounding Black Forest. (The key can be borrowed from a neighboring café and restaurant, if I correctly understood the German of the nice couple that waited for us to take a look before locking up.)

The Black Forest

We participated in a few of the lectures and meetings, but mostly enjoyed spending some time with Kalamazoo grandpa and in a Latvian atmosphere. Lauris made some new friends as Bērzaine is host to a little Latvian school, but our stay ended on a sour note after he took a nasty tumble down a flight of stairs, bumping his head and skinning his cheek. Mikus had to trump his brother, running a fever and prompting a late night pharmacy run, so the next day our tour of the city was short and sweet.

Possibly the most famous building in the city is the Münster Cathedral, and this was our first stop upon arrival downtown. Construction of the Romanesque cathedral was begun in 1200, but only the transept and two flanking towers remain of the original. The West Tower has beautiful stone masonry, and small detail like the 14th century tympanum (illustrating the theme of Original Sin), and statues of the Apostles and Old Testament kings contribute to form an amazingly ornate façade.

Münster Cathedral

Although we didn’t climb the tower that morning, we did enjoy ice cream on Münsterplatz, the square on the south side of the cathedral. With a view of the Archbishop’s Palace (1756), the Historical House of Trade and Wentzingerhaus (1761), the time was spent pleasantly.

The Historical House of Trade

Next we stopped in the town hall square, with the fountain featuring Berthold Schwarz, said to have invented gunpowder in Freiburg in 1350. As Freiburg was founded in the 12th century, I can imagine there might be some truth to the claim.

Boys with boats playing in the canalization

We had a beautiful stroll through the city culminating in yummy sandwiches to-go for our trip back to France. Despite the skinned cheek Lauris enjoyed the day, with the trams and the canalization competing for his attention. The gutters that have for hundreds of years channeled water through old town still function today, and after seeing a few young boys playing with boats on strings in the mini-canals we searched for a toy store as a little sailboat would have been a perfect souvenir. Sadly no stores were open on a Sunday and so although we left empty-handed save for the sandwiches and a few knick-knacks from a tourist shop, the memories of this quaint little German town will stay with me during the rest of our time in France.

1 comment:

  1. Such a special trip. It sounds like the boys had fun too.


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