Freiburg History and Background
Freiburg im Breisgau was founded in 1091, according to the Freiburg history timeline in the city government's Freiburg Official Guide. Work on the cathedral, or Münster, began in 1200, and the oldest of the cathedal's bells--the Hosanna, which is still in use today--was cast in 1258. (The cathedral itself wasn't completed until 1513).
Another landmark, the Kaufhaus or Merchant's Hall, was first mentioned in 1378. A year later, Freiburg obtained royal permission to have two yearly fairs, both of which continue to this day.
Freiburg's Albert-Ludwigs-Universität was founded in 1457, making it one of the oldest universities in what was then Austria. In 1507, a cartographer from Freiburg--Martin Waldseemüller--published a book of maps with a continent called "America" (the first recorded usage of that name).
Over the next several centuries, Freiburg had two plague epidemics, was decimated by the Thirty Years' War, and was variously occupied by the French, Austrians, and other invaders. At one point, its population was down to 3,000 people, mostly women.
Freiburg had a resurgence in the early 1800s, and in the years before World War I, it was a lively town with electric trams, a new theatre, and new university buildings. The city was damaged in two world wars--first by the German Air Force, which accidentally killed 57 people, and later by the Allies, who killed some 3,000 people and destroyed much of the city on November 27, 1944. After World War II, Freiburg was in the French occupation zone, and it became part of the new German Land of Baden-Württemberg in 1954.
Freiburg im Breisgau today
Except for the Münster, which was untouched by Allied bombing, nearly all of Freiburg's inner city was rubble at the end of World War II.
Freiburg officials decided to rebuild on the old medieval street plan, reconstructing a handful of landmark buildings (such as the Historisches Kaufhaus and the Kornmarkt) while requiring new structures to fit what the authors of Livable Cities Observed describe as "modern buildings in the spirit of the medieval city." (The authors note: "Some buildings constructed in 1952 preserved the city's historic character so well that they are already placed under preservation law.")
Today's city is focused on the pedestrian zone, with trams providing access to the main shopping streets (all of which are within shouting distance of the cathedral) and parking being restricted to the periphery.
The net result is a human-scale urban center with shops, restaurants, small hotels, beer gardens, public markets, street entertainers, museums, and even the Black Forest (which begins at the city's doostep with the Schlossberg, the forested hillside park just east of the pedestrian zone). The authors of Livable Cities Observed describe Freiburg as "a city of vision," and it's a vision that's well worth seeing.
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