Spotting a red bear
Freiburg im Breisgau
Located close to the borders of Germany, France and Switzerland, this almost nine-hundred-year old free city honors traditions and remains environmentally conscious.
The feature this city is particularly famous for is the bächle – runnels, filled with water from the Dreisam River. Already in the 13th century they were used for water supply and helped to prevent and put out fires. One who accidentally steps in one of such runnels is believed to get engaged to a local. Initially bächle were laid in the middle of streets, but in the 19th century they were removed to the sides to avoid problems with traffic. However, today there are very few cars in the streets of Freiburg, as it contests the title of the world's most environmentally friendly city, with bicycles being the most popular vehicle with the locals.
It is well worth starting your tour round Freiburg at City Hall Square. Actually, there are two city halls here – the old one, which was built in the 16th century, now houses tourist information center, while the new one, despite its name, is located in a building dating back to the Renaissance period. Just a short walk from here is the magnificent Freiburg Cathedral, built in the 13th century. Its 116-meter-tall openwork bell tower is considered the most beautiful tower in Christianity. It was erected in slightly over 100 years – unprecedentedly fast for this kind of building in those times. The bell tower, unlike many neighboring buildings, miraculously survived the Word War II bombings. In accordance with the Gothic tradition the cathedral is decorated with gargoyles, some being really sophisticated. Tour guides like to show a human gargoyle with water pouring from its naked rear. One of the legends has it that it points right to the bishop's residence, and another one says that to the house of a citizen who refused to donate for the church construction.
Another place to enjoy Freiburg's medieval spirit is Zum Roten Bären (At Red Bear's) hotel and restaurant. Built in 1120 the hotel is considered Germany's oldest. Some halls of the restaurant look exactly like many centuries ago, while its menu offers traditional cuisine with a modern touch.
Esslingen am Neckar
Just a twenty-minute train ride from Stuttgart will get you to the city, streets of which look like perfect setting to the Grimm Brothers' fairy tales.
No, the time doesn't stand still here – and the astronomical clock, installed at the City Hall tower in the late 16th century, show evidence of it. Esslingen just somehow managed to preserve its medieval look: cobbled squares, spires of Gothic churches, austere ramparts and cozy half-timbered houses – one can easily imagine knights in shining armors heading for a tournament to contest for the Fair Lady. Sometimes, you can experience such events in today's Esslingen: the city often hosts medieval-style carnivals and fairs.
The first mentioning of the city dates back to 777; at that time, there already were a monastery and a church, later replaced by the Cathedral of St. Dionysius. Construction of the current building started in the 13th century, and a series of alterations followed later on. Interestingly, the towers of the cathedral are interconnected with a bridge – the architect in the 17th century used it trying to place back the southern tower which had inclined half a meter aside. While exploring the cathedral from inside, pay attention to its stained-glass windows: apart from saints, they feature ancient Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle.
There are almost 1,000 historical buildings in today’s Esslingen, and the sightseeing options include boat trips along the channels of the Neckar in the city center. During another popular tour around the city and the vineyards, located on the adjacent hills, tourists ride Segways.
To experience Esslingen to the full visit Germany’s oldest sparkling-wine producer Sektkellerei Kessler. You will see wine cellars (rather impressive by themselves by the way: they were built in the Middle Ages and used to store monastery wines), get to know the tiny details of wine making and have a chance to taste three signature types of sparkling wine.
Listening to sparrow songs
Being one of Germany’s most visited cities Regensburg lives up to everyone’s expectations, offering a wide range of attractions, from Roman camp ruins to some 500 restaurants, bars and night clubs.
Regensburg’s Old Town is listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site and is annually visited by over two million tourists, who seek, among other things, a chance to admire an engineering marvel of the 12th century – the Old Stone Bridge across the Danube. It took the builders 11 years to erect all of its sixteen arches. It is considered to become a prototype for other medieval bridges, including famous Charles Bridge in Prague.
The city grew on the site of former Roman fortress Castra Regina, built by order of Marcus Aurelius in 79. Its walls still can be seen: the entrance to the Germany’s largest archaeological dig is in the center of Regensburg, in the Niedermünster church. The underground museum’s exhibitions cover one thousand years – starting from the 2nd century and until the 12th. Time travel becomes even more exciting due to spectacular lighting coupled with ultra-modern 3D installations.
The Regensburg Cathedral dedicated to St. Peter is considered the city’s major sight. Construction started in 1273, taking all in all 800 years to complete. Each architect involved was willing to erect his part in accordance with the most contemporary styles of his time. Nowadays, tourists not only admire the impressive facades and interiors, they also come here for concerts of organ music and the Regensburger Domspatzen – "Regensburg Cathedral Sparrows" – the famous boys choir, existing for over one thousand years. "Sparrows" can be heard every Sunday and on religious holidays.
While enjoying the view of the Old Stone Bridge, drop into the Historische Wurstküchl, the Historic Sausage Kitchen, located nearby: you will find your way following yummy smell of roasted sausages. The eatery was opened in 1146 for local dockers: medieval Regensburg was a prosperous trading hub whose port was a destination for goods from all over the world. The menu has remained almost intact: it is based on roasted sausages, mustard and sauerkraut (the latter is pickled in the Kitchen's own cellar using old traditional recipes).
- InterCity-Express trains (ICE) run at speeds of up to 300 km/h. Flexible pricing and discounts allow savings on tickets purchases.
- Germany is comfortably explored by car due to its high-speed autobahns. Those opting for a fixed price mini car tariff will spend €160–175 per week. Some companies charge for mileage.
The Danube river cruises
- The Danube has become one of the major cruise rivers on the continent due to abundance of picturesque landscapes and old cities along its shoreline.
- Danube trips range from a several-hour cruise to those lasting up to three or more weeks. Thus, for instance, a journey from Amsterdam to Bucharest takes 23 days.
- Regensburg is on the route of many cruises. It is also a starting point of five- and eight-day trips to Budapest.
Text: Inna Lokteva
Published on: 24.04.2018