Back in the land of schnitzel and strudel! We are working our way back north after six glorious weeks in Italy, this time via the Black Forest region in Germany as we return to Frankfurt.
Our arrival at the station in Freiburg was so easy. I was still looking around for the way out off the platform and realised we were on the street, with taxies right in front of us- unpacking in our hotel no time. It turned out that almost everything in Freiburg was easy. The exception was the language as we only have a few words of German; in retrospect, we had enough Italian to get ourselves around and miss it already.
Every place we stay has its pros and cons, so I try to focus on the good things. The Fourside Hotel in Freiburg is a new chain hotel, further out of town, very clean and shiny, comfy bed, very quiet (we sleep in late here), and has a fantastic large shower, complete with a huge picture of a lady (a local legend) in it! Although a bit of a way from the action centre, it is opposite a massive supermarket and has a tram stop out front. All things to like.
What a beautiful, green city is Freiburg! Trees and gardens everywhere, flourishing flower boxes on the streets and balconies, and forested hills on all sides of town. Tidy, well signed and no rubbish anywhere. Neat blocks of apartments in our area, painted in various combinations of colours. Lots of bikes and dedicated paths (have to look both ways twice to avoid being run down) and a fantastic sustainable and reliable public transport system.
Having seen the weather forecast, we were up and out the first morning to make the most of the last predicted sunny day. Always drawn to heights and cable cars, we pored over the transport map for a way to get to Shauinslandbahn – the world’s longest circular cable car to the top of the mountain. It looked doable – Tram 2 and Bus 21 here we come!
It took five kind Germans to help us find the stop, the tram and buy tickets. It is a bit frustrating not to be able to read information. A friendly young woman at the stop assisted us first, and it turned out that she was going to Brisbane the very next week to do her PhD in chemistry!
Even after we were heading the right way, a gentleman saw us looking at the tram map and asked if we needed help. One lady even grabbed a high school student and told him to help us as she didn’t speak English. So kind! In fact, whenever we look at our map, someone asks us if we need assistance.
We found the VAG Transport office in the city and purchased our Welcome packs, which gave us unlimited rides on public transport for three days, and set off to get maximum value out of our tickets to ride. The tram took us to the end of the line, and behold, there was bus 21 waiting for us – very coordinated. Then came the spectacular 15 minute cable car ride up to the top, and we were in the treetops the Black Forest.
Everyone hikes here, and people are equipped with hiking boots, backpacks and walking poles. Fuelled by our first sausage with tough bread and a huge doughnut (is that better or worse than pizza and cannoli?) we looked up at the steep path and I decided to push hard and go as far as I could.
The dappled sunlight through the rustling woodland was so pretty; clean fresh air and long views all the way. Up and up we went, with Peter giving me some impetus from behind (otherwise known as a bum push), trying not to think about the inevitable steep, slippery descent to follow. There were plenty of old people like us, groups of young people, and families with pushers and carrying babies, all enjoying one of the few free activities available to all.
I was exhilarated with my walk – something just not possible for me for such a long time. The endorphins coursed through me and we walked back down the slope at a good pace. It was a great start to our stay in Freiburg.
And that was the end of summer, sweat, hats and sunscreen. We woke to rain and thunder clouds and felt chilly for the first time since leaving home. From the bottom of our cases out came long sleeves and jackets – at least it was worth bringing them! It has been cold all week, so our warmer clothes have not been wasted. It’s a pity we lost our umbrella somewhere earlier!
Now using the trams like locals, we explored the old centre, just managing to escape a huge downpour by having waffles and hot chocolate inside a cafe. The quaint, characteristic tiled old buildings are picturesque and all have their history. Freiburg was badly damaged in the war, so there is evidence of a lot of rebuilding. There are brass plaques set in the footpath in front of some buildings with the names of Jewish people who were deported and died in the concentration camps. Very sobering but a gentle acknowledgement of tragic history.
As usual, we saw quite a few churches: the University church which is used by the Romanian community and had some great modern sculptures; St Martin’s near the town hall where a service was in progress and finally the Münster, whose intricate spire is an iconic part of the city skyline. Later we went back to Johanneskirsch, a beautiful rose toned stone building that looks older than it is. Built in old style in 1902, it escaped with very little bomb damage. We just made it in as the verger was locking up, and he told us with some sadness that they used to have seven services a week, but now only three a fortnight. Sounds like the established church in Australia, but hopefully there are fresh expressions that are more relevant.
Market stalls in the square in front the Münster were packing down in the rain and tourists were seeking shelter as we entered the huge twelfth century church. As is often the case, the more elaborate it is, the less drawn I am to the decorations. They seemed to be more about humans than God, but certainly showcased a lot of skill.
The one piece that jumped out at me was a carving of the last supper, with all the disciples identifiable and beautifully represented with lively faces. I returned to the platz on another day and heard organ music playing. Thinking it might be a recital, I went inside and found a service. I stayed a little while and passed the peace in German and tried to sing along with a German hymn. The church was full.
One afternoon we just got on and off trams on different lines, rode to the end of the line and came back! It was low energy, cheap sight seeing. I always enjoy watching people, especially little kids just doing their thing, dogs being carried on board in bags, or even running around off leash. There was a little drama when a drunk fellow got angry with some other men and started throwing empty drink cans at anyone in reach! It was the only incident we saw in nine days.
Germany traditionally closes down on Sundays for ‘quiet day’ – most shops are shut, noisy machinery is not to be used, including vacuuming in apartments! So we obliged by sleeping in until after 9.30am, which is unprecedented for us. Perhaps a couple of months on the road had caught up with us! The plan was to use our tickets for yet another tram route and then walk up to Schlossberg (castle mountain).
But plans change and (after a coffee and salted caramel ice cream) we spotted the Augustinier church museum. Two and a half hours later, we emerged into the afternoon sun and decided to delay the mountain climb. What an incredible collection, wonderfully presented with English info for every exhibit and some fun interactive displays.
It houses sacred art in paintings, sculpture and stained glass from 14th century to the 19th, all displayed in a modernised space that still had the original beams and structure. The original sculptures from the Münster church are all gathered there (with replicas in their place) and can be viewed close up in a way not possible when they were high up on the spire.
I loved two 15th century Palm Sunday donkeys with Christ, some wonderful reliefs, the stained glass close-ups and some 19th century paintings of Italy – I hope Peter will paint some Italian landscapes when we get back!
Families, young people and lots of dogs were relaxing in the late afternoon sun in the square, so we did the same. The nice thing about Freiburg is that we feel more like local people rather than being with throngs of tourists.
It was time for a schnitzel, so a tram ride back into town that night and we shared a huge one, a mountain of chips and a salad, and then, yes, apple strudel. We must be in Germany. The search for affordable, enjoyable food is a daily challenge.
We finally made it up to Schlossberg the next day, which worked out well as the weather was better and I found a funicular or sort of elevator on wheels that took us up to the first level. After that it was unrelenting, zig zag uphill climbing with the views getting better as we went. When I couldn’t go any further, we slid our way back down again. I could have done with two walking poles rather than my one stick.
Having spent nine weeks together almost 24/7, it was definitely time for a day of separation, although we have not had any arguments! Peter wanted to travel to Basel in Switzerland for another gallery he ‘had to see’, so I knew that was the day for him to go alone while I went shopping! He spent five and half hours in the museum and enjoyed his trip over the border, and I rode the trams again around town. I spent more money than he did.
It was fun browsing and I completed the list of gifts for family (not so easy with so many, all grown up these days, finding fun things that will fit in our suitcase!). The shops are full of Christmas displays in mid-October; it seems a big deal here. Trees, stars, candles and snow scenes with just an occasional nativity. We later found a lovely hand-carved angel in a mountain trip to take home for our tree.
One of the big highlights in Freiburg was our night out at the new Konzerthaus in town for a wonderful night of music with the City of Birmingham Symphony orchestra. It was time to pull out our only good clothes, add some jewellery and join the large crowd of concert goers in the magnificent venue.
What a fantastic program! We were enthralled with Prokofiev’s first symphony and Rimsky Korsakov’s Scheherazade and the energetic conductor who seemed to dance and bounce for the whole two hours. But best of all was the double grand piano performance by the Jussen brothers from Holland, who played Mozart and then a Bach encore that brought tears to our eyes. Sensitive and perfectly nuanced together – unforgettable! I was beginning to feel that my experience bank was nearly full.
It was late and chilly when we emerged to find our way home, and when the trams didn’t appear to be coming, yet another kind lady tried very hard to help us. It turned out that we knew better than her in the end and made it home safely.
As our time in Freiburg counted down, our thoughts began to turn to home, and the long trip ahead. We took one last train trip into the Black Forest to Tittisee (Peter said he saw nothing…), a lake in the forest that is popular with day trippers. Autumn colours appearing, mixed with the tall, straight conifers, ducks on the lake and people in puffy jackets wandering around. We made the most of our last outing with bratwurst sausages in rolls, frites and a huge hot chocolate. The whole village was full of little shops selling scarves, gloves, socks, hats, smoked meat and handcrafts. They are ready for the winter that will close in soon. Peter almost bought a cheeky hat but decided it would have limited wear back in good ole Hastings.
We were quiet on the last inter-city train trip to Frankfurt. A video call home using train wifi, reading, snoozing, listening to audio books, eating German pastry and sour lollies, watching the unwritten rules in play of public social behaviour on trains and just letting the green fields and church spires flash by outside. I still love European trains!
Today we sort and pack for the long haul home, not feeling too anxious because soon we will be emptying these well-travelled cases in our own home and picking up ‘normal life’, whatever that is for us. No more dry cakes for breakfast, no more rinsing clothes in the shower, no more squinting at signs trying to work out what they mean, no more waking up wondering where I am. Even ten weeks goes by in the end.
It is also the end of doing whatever we please every day, trying new foods, seeing breathtaking scenery, meeting amazing people, loving about fifteen major train rides, driving on the wrong side of some very challenging roads, seeing some of the oldest remains of human history in the world, being blown away by great art, walking in God’s beautiful creation and exploring what the world and its people are like a long way from home. How blessed are we!
I am very grateful that my little list of possible disasters did not eventuate, praise God! We did not get sick or get Covid, my pacemaker did not mess around, nor did I trip over; we slept well, we were not robbed, did not lose anything important, we were not knocked over by traffic coming the wrong way, we managed to return both cars unscathed and most of our plans went very smoothly.
Best of all, we are still friends after seventy days on the road together. Peter has been amazing: pulling and carrying both of our suitcases all the way, handling the car driving like an Italian rally driver and being very patient with this navigator, foraging and finding meals and food when I couldn’t go a step further, pushing and pulling me to help me up and down steps, trains and hills. We are very blessed to still have been able to do this trip, our celebration of our fiftieth year of marriage; we are both grateful to God for life and health and so much fun together. He must have more for us to do, and we return to a new stage in our lives. New house and neighbourhood, new garden, new church.
If you are still reading this journal, well done! This was all done on the run, unedited and on my iPad mini with varying wifi, but will capture the memories for us. Thank you for sharing our journey; I hope it encourages you to step out of your comfort zone too!