Europe Highlights: Freiburg

2 Oct


Freiburg, Germany isn’t necessarily on everyone’s radar for “must-see places” when you’re traveling abroad*. Especially if you’re from America and aren’t into the German culture, you may have not even heard of the tiny university town. It’s very popular among Germans, because in the summer it gets nice and warm in the Black Forest (comparatively) so families tend to travel south to it to get away from chillier air.

I picked Freiburg in 2008 because my choices for study-abroad schools were either there, or in Wurzburg, and the latter seemed safer — there was more of an emphasis on English-speaking classes in Wurzburg, and I wanted to go all in. I’m so happy that I chose Freiburg, and I was so excited to share my part-time German hometown with Zack**.

*I’d literally never heard of the place before I met Caitlin.

**So glad she did. Total gem of a city that I felt right at home in immediately.


After much deliberation, Zack and I decided to take a 7 hour train ride from Berlin to Freiburg instead of traveling by plane. I assured Zack that the views would be worth it*, and explained further that trains are so much more enjoyable to travel on because you simply hop on and off, without having to go through hordes of security or even take off your shoes. Plus, we ended up getting a great deal on first-class tickets, wherein we had our own compartment all to ourselves by the window and kept getting brought little treats** and gifts by the train staff. The time flew by, as Zack and I played a travel version of one of our favorite board games, Sequence, and enjoyed the incredible views. However, we had vastly different train experiences.

*As we were traveling I thought it was one of the best decisions we made. Once we got to experience Easy Sleazy Jet, it became the best.

**Candy. Full meals brought to us. Sudoku. Treat. Yo. Self.


Whereas Zack decided to indulge in some libations…When in Rome a train across Germany.


…it is our vacation, after all…this ended up being the only time I got drunk all trip. I finished the mini bottle of whiskey by noon. Made for a fun ride.


…I indulged in some candy, but got progressively more sick as the train ride continued on. I got a bad, bad case of the sneezes. Pretty adorable. Soon after that I took this vine of Caitlin watching the rain out the window to M83.


This head cold led to my first injury of the trip. Notice: first injury. At one point, I was snuggled up in Zack’s hoodie, and I felt a sneeze coming. I didn’t want to sneeze into my hands, because I never do (that’s how germs are spread, people) but my normal method of sneezing into my elbow would be rude, I thought, because I didn’t want to just sneeze all over Zack’s clothes. So, I aimed my sneeze in a direction I thought was safe from harm. It was not. As I sneezed, my whole head jerked forward and promptly rammed directly into the wall*. My forehead bounced off of it, and that spot ached for an entire week. In the moment, it hurt badly enough that I started to ugly cry from both the pain and shock, but in the middle of it all, the absurdity hit me so that I started laughing AS I ugly cried. This caused Zack, who had until that point been very concerned and sweet about my newly consecrated injury, to burst out laughing himself. I still laugh out loud now as I remember it, to be honest.

*It was the rail, I believe. And oh, boy did she hit her head on it. It was like she had magnets in her nose that were begging to be on that rail. She really smashed into it. I felt so bad for her, but once she started laughing I feel bad saying it was the funniest thing ever.


Somehow, we both bounced back from being semi-incapacitated* and after we dropped our belongings at the Black Forest hostel, we headed out to see the town. I was shocked at how much of the town I remembered — I knew the tram stops, remembered what streets to turn down, and even ran into an old classmate on the very first tram** we went on. I took Zack to my university, pictured above. to admire the old buildings, and then we set off to see my old apartment.

*Three hours to sober up and half of Caitlin’s unfinished sandwich did the trick for me.

**Kind of surprising that she still knew someone there and that they saw her in the first five minutes. Also, very awkward conversation.


Checking to see if I recognize any names on the mailboxes (I didn’t, sadly).


My building at Vauban! It still felt like home in some ways, and it smelled the same — like spices, laundry and something kind of alluringly musty. We climbed up to her old floor and it definitely had a smell and feel to it. Very cool.


We ended our night by circling back to the towers by the university so we could grab dinner at Schlappen, a beer/restaurant frequented by the student set. Note the McDonalds to the right of the tower. Oh, you fancy McDs.


Zack had potatoes and lamb…


…and attempted to drink beer from a boot. The lamb went down far smoother than the 2 liters of beer. Not the best day to attempt that.


I had decadently cheesy pasta. Then, we slept forever.


Our hostel was right around the corner from a bakery that my friend Uli had recommended to me a thousand times when I studied in Freiburg, but that I’d never made it into, so I figured it was better late than never. We hopped into Lienhart where a very friendly barista took care of us, making us coffee with chocolate powder sprinkled on top and some delightful cinnamon-sugar dipping crackers to go with it. But the star of the show, for me, was my breakfast strudel. Zack’s Nutella-filled croissant was tasty, to be sure, but my cream-cheesy custard pastry had the added bonus of sweet, fresh, juicy cherries making it one of my favorite things I ate on the entire trip. Lienhart, where have you been all my life? Man, this place ruled. I wanted to go back on our last morning on our way to the train, but we didn’t want to be late. 


I mean…


They’re baking ARTISTS there, I tell ya. I want that pretzel big time.


After Zack and I had our fill of morning pastries, it was time to brave my almost-three-hour bike ride through the mountains. I was excited and anxious, mostly because I wasn’t sure if I would remember how to navigate us the whole way. No worries there. I love getting a little lost on a bike ride. It just means more bike riding.


The weather started out beautifully and I actually had to take off my jacket for our first photo op because I’d worked up a sweat, gliding along a babbling brook, through mountainous neighborhoods, saying to Zack, “OK now you thought that was great, but just look at THIS!” And the THIS was always an improvement.


When we reached the bottom of one large hill, nearing a playground by a farm, the sprinkles started to turn into heavier rain, so we pulled of for a moment to do some Beatles photography and stay as dry as possible. We didn’t have to wait long before the rain had died down long enough for us to move forward, and I was able to get us all the way through a little town before the rain really started pouring and we had to pull over. Right before that moment, the rain was bad enough that it was getting into my eyes and making it impossible for me to see. I tried looking at the ground for a moment to see if that helped…and then promptly off-roaded accidentally, nearly toppling over. I laughed at my close call as Zack asked why I had spazzed out so much. Neither of us had any idea of what was to come. She swerved off the road into a corn field. It was pretty wild. Glad she stayed on her bike. For now.


After our bike ride, Zack and I headed to “downtown” Freiburg, the biggest tourist draw due to the amazing church there. 


It was a cute, cozy restaurant, if a bit angelic, but the food was so magnificent that we really couldn’t complain. I kinda liked the angel theme in a “this is a bit much” kind of way.


Ok, maybe Zack could fuss a LITTLE. When in the Angel Place, do as the Angels do, I guess. I regret not putting my hand over my bicep, sticking my tongue out more and going shirtless to really pull off the copycat look.


Zack’s nomtown eats. Finally some German food!


The Kaesespaetzle here was out of this world, covered in creamy sauce and swimming with vegetables. It was a perfect treat after a long bike ride. Yumtown! Glad I got some of that K-noodle.


To satisfy our sweet teeth, we headed around the corner to a GummiBaer shop next, where they had a million crazy gummi flavors arranged like cupcakes, pies and pizzas. When we saw one particular arrangement, though, Zack knew he had to have it. It was like that Simpsons episode where they go to Gummy land.


Beer gummis! Though Zack decided not to take a glass boot home, this should satisfy his “beer tooth” in the future. Mmm. Beer Gummmy.


After warming up in our hostel room for a little bit, it was time to try to find a restaurant on a hill that I’d been to a few times before. We had briefly attempted to locate it our first night, but gave up as it was getting dark. This time, I was determined to figure out how to get us there. The thing about this restaurant is that it’s on top of a punishingly steep hill, but if you brave it, you have an incredible view of town (and some very pink cheeks). It was crazy hard to get to in the dark, but well worth the journey lit by my iPhone flashlight.


To congratulate ourselves for finding the place, Zack and I had some beer and some dessert, and I got a little artsy with the camera. She kept calling me flower head.


Zack opted for apple cobbler with vanilla ice cream. He freaked me out by eating a couple of the red berries, which he said did NOT taste good, and I started to fear they were poisonous (I tried telling myself no sane restauranteur would put poisonous berries on a plate of food, but YOU NEVER KNOW. Germans are very self-reliant, maybe they assume you know better!) I told her it would be pretty insane of a restaurant to put poison on a plate and not warn you. Still, they weren’t even good.


I went with the “ice cream for days” option. After chowing down for a bit, we hopped back on our bikes and started to make our way through wet streets to get back to the hostel and pass out. After we’d passed all of the main tram hubs, I realized we didn’t have tram tickets for the next morning, and our train was scheduled to leave the station at 8AM. I told Zack we should probably go buy them, but that I really didn’t want to ride back around because the slick streets were making me stressed out. Zack offered to go back and buy the tickets for us, and asked me to wait right where I was, in a lit area by a little store. I agreed to this plan, and told Zack, “OK, so if you stay on this street you’ll come to a dead end and just, take a left there and you’ll be able to buy the tickets.” He agreed to this and headed off. I stood there, worried that he’d get lost, knowing there’d be no way I could help him because I didn’t take my phone with me on our vacation and he had his with him. Zack is not great with navigation, as we have established here before, so I feel my fears were moderately justified. Then, my stomach sank — not only was Zack not great with directions, but I’d given him the WRONG ONES. I realized that the street I thought dead-ended, actually did not. It was simply a place where all of the TRAMS had to turn, but cyclists could continue along their path. I paced for two minutes, unsure of what to do, thinking it might be best to stay put but fearing that Zack was on a wild goose chase. I decided if I stayed on the same street he’d just gone down, we’d run into each other eventually, and it would give me a chance to catch him and prevent him from getting too lost. I got on my bike and headed off. Oyy. I wish she’d just stayed at the spot. Never leave the spot. That’s why they call it the spot.

The thing you need to know about Freiburg is that the trams use the same roads that cars and bikes do. The whole time we were there, I eyed those tracks suspiciously, feeling like it would be mighty easy to get your bike wheel stuck  in the grooves of the tracks. In the dark, under stress already, I almost willed it to happen. Suddenly, as I was trying to cross over a track to move to the middle of the road, my wheel lined up with it perfectly, causing me to fall into the track. I unconsciously jerked my handlebars to try to get it, but it was too late. The timing was all off. I ate it, hard. The bike slid under me one way, with one of my legs trapped underneath, and the other bracing my fall.

It’s a miracle I didn’t break anything, because I’m prone to breaks when it comes to falling off bikes. But somehow, by the grace of the universe, I just ached really, really badly. I knew I’d scraped and bruised my right knee to hell, and my whole body hurt from the fall. Nobody tried to help me or ask if I was OK, and I was in the middle of the street, right where the trams go, so I just cursed a bunch and picked myself and my biked up and hobbled off to the side of the road. Now I was hurt and panicking, fearing that I’d miss Zack and not knowing when he’d emerge and just feeling terrible. Suddenly, he appeared across the street, so with the last bit of my energy I called his name. He saw me, came over, and I immediately burst into tears. Poor thing. Her knee was so tender and in pain the whole rest of the trip.


It was a rough finish to an otherwise fabulous visit to Freiburg. It put me in a bad mood throughout that night and well into the next day. But, even in the moment, I was so relieved that it wasn’t as bad as it could have been, and that it would only mean I’d be a bit achey for a while. It’s made for a story, at the very least, and it’s kind of been my warrior wound ever since. Now, it reminds me of my adventures and kind of makes me feel fearless. And that is a great outcome. Indeed. And it taught her to never leave the spot. I’m so thankful Caitlin shared this magical city with me!


2 Responses to “Europe Highlights: Freiburg”

  1. tapeparade October 6, 2013 at 9:59 am #

    oh my gosh I am so sorry to read about your injuries, I hope it didn’t ruin the rest of your trip? This post is brilliant – I am so loving reading about your European adventures and I had never heard of Freiburg before this post but now really want to go there so thanks for sharing!!

    P.S. that top photo of you two is so adorable! XX

    • Caitlin October 6, 2013 at 12:10 pm #

      Aww thank you so much!! I’m so glad you like it:) I cannot recommend Freiburg enough – you only need a couple of days there, but it’s such a sweet and enjoyable town. And not to worry, I powered through the injuries and the bruise on my knee is actually kind of a unique memento of the trip, in a weird way.

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