Germany is not the tropical getaway normally associated with winter vacations. But here we are (and 40° is certainly better than -21). And those who enjoy St. Paul’s Winter Carnival, Minneapolis’ Holidazzle, and the holiday celebrations around the rest of the state will certainly appreciate the beauty and enthusiasm of Xmas in Germany. Christmas Markets (Weihnachtsmarkts) are a staple of the holiday season, filling the streets with roasted chestnuts and candied almonds, hot plates of food passed over counters, warm, mulled wine (Glühwein) steaming into the cold air, toys, gifts, and so much more.
But they aren’t the only reason to visit.
German efficiency is a real thing. The apartment in Frieburg is 350 sq. ft. and yet is comfortable, with plenty of space for all basic needs. Bakeries, grocery stores, restaurants, shopping are all within walking distance. The narrow streets make way for pedestrian, bike, car, bus, and streetcar traffic.
The city is old, ancient by U.S. standards (founded in 1120), and yet has integrated into modernity almost seamlessly – the city feels more forward than almost every American city of similar size. The biggest difference, perhaps, is that the city is not built for cars. It couldn’t be, of course, as this and most other German cities were designed long, long before Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler were a twinkle in anyone’s eye.
But the adage of “If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places,” certainly holds true.
It’s a dense and lively cityscape, walkable the whole way through, and dynamic on every street corner. Freiburg’s population is approximately that of St. Paul’s (actually a little less, at 227,000), though with the amount of people on the street, people shopping and eating, walking, biking, catching and hailing taxis, talking, moving, doing, you would never know it. What is most striking, though, is not how much better the city is laid out, but rather the use of space.
There is just so much space in Minnesota.
But it makes sense. The entire country of Germany and the state of Minnesota are roughly the same size, and Germany’s population is 80 million people (approx) to Minnesota’s six (approx).
Of course, then, homes in the city will be side by side with almost no space in between; the buildings sitting practically on top of one another. This is why Freiburg feels that much more populated, that much more dense and alive, and, in a word, bigger than St. Paul even while their populations are similar.
Your culture is my culture
The food is fantastic. Crisp white or red sausages from the grill give you that perfect snap when you bite into them. Potato pancakes (Kartoffelpuffer) with garlic cream (Knoblauchsoße) and apple sauce (Apfelmus). Fried mushrooms (Champignons) with onions. And of course the Turkish flatbreads, French crepes, Italian pastas, and Swiss cheese offerings from their respective neighboring countries.
Raclette, wheels of cow’s milk cheese melted over potatoes and pickles, is a must-have delicacy.
Every corner, it seems, has a restaurant, a stube, a gasthaus full of drinking, dining, conversation, laughter late into in the evening.
The art, music, and theater scene is thriving as well. Downtown is peppered with small arthouse theaters and grand opera halls alike. Small German and other European films punctuate a stream of Hollywood movies on cinema screens. And there is always a small cafe in or around the theater to sit, nosh, drink wine or coffee, and talk about what you’ve just experienced.
Arts are simply more appreciated. This is not to diminish the culture centers of the U.S., simply saying that even in moderately-sized metropolises you will find an emphasis on culture as it relates to the arts. There is always a new show on a different stage, or a new exhibition in which to partake. Small art galleries are tucked between boutiques. Buskers and musicians play under awnings.
Every street is a song, every corner a color, every building a story.
You never want for something to do or see or taste. This is certainly something that you’d look for when traveling to someplace new, but what is fascinating is that it can be found so fully in a relatively small, relatively obscure (at least on an international level) city in Germany’s Black Forest.
How can you truly appreciate a world in which you are only a visitor? You don’t have the time to become a local, so you remain a tourist. And yet when you breathe in so fully a different culture, integrate so deeply into another place, it is unfair to say that it doesn’t take hold of you and become partly yours.
And we are so much more aware of time when we travel. Is there time to do____ before we leave? How much time do we have in a day to see that show, visit this landmark, eat at a new restaurant, grab just one last drink?
When the day is so short and there is so much to experience.
Time works differently when you’re away from home. Each moment, so entirely new, can last a thousand years. And yet there is never enough time to do everything that you want/need to do. Time is not measured in minutes when traveling, rather by experiences. Time is not a clock, but a gauge of how much you can become part of a world that was once only someone else’s, now a part of yours.
Freiburg lets every moment exist on its own. Seeing, learning, being, living. Until, finally, time runs out, the last train whistle blows, and you have to say goodbye.