Monday, 22 March 2010

Black Forest, Freiburg and a Blizzard

Freiburg, or to give it its full title, Freiburg im Breisgau is one of the famous old German university towns, was incorporated in the early twelfth century and developed into a major commercial, intellectual, and ecclesiastical centre of the upper Rhine region. Statistically it is the sunniest and warmest city in all of Germany but that certainly wasn’t the case today. As we parked the car and walked towards the city centre there was a steel grey sky, a spiteful wind and stinging sleet, the pavements were wet and the colour was bleached out of the buildings and streets and after just a couple of minutes we knew that it was unlikely that we would be seeing the best of Freiburg today.

We walked to the centre of the city to the cobbled Münsterplatz or Cathedral Square where there was a small unhappy looking market where people were rushing past the stalls because it was too cold to stop (except for the fast food van that was doing brisk business and had a queue of people lining up for fasnacht doughnuts) and we did our best to find the cheerful bits of Freiburg’s largest square. The square is the site of Freiburg’s Münster, a gothic minster cathedral constructed of red sandstone, built between 1200 and 1530 and which is memorable for its towering needle like spire. We went inside and it was cheerful and warm with large stained glass windows and friezes on the walls that commemorated the various traditional trades of the city.

It didn’t take long to do a full internal circuit of the Münster and fairly soon we were back on the perishing streets complete with the city’s unusual system of gutters, called Bächle, that run throughout the centre. These Bächle that were once used to provide water to fight fires and feed livestock are constantly flowing with water diverted from the River Dreisam. During the summer, the running water provides natural cooling of the air and offers a pleasant gurgling sound but we didn’t need cooling down today. There is a saying that if you fall or step accidentally into a Bächle, you will marry a Freiburger but I imagine there is a much greater chance of just breaking a leg.

The weather was horrible now, it was getting colder and beginning to snow heavily so we had to concede that Freiburg wasn’t the place to be this afternoon and we returned to the car getting lost and losing our way in the tangle of little streets around the Münsterplatz. We were glad to get back to the car and begin our journey back to Offenburg. On the way out of the car park the ticket machine flashed the message ‘gute fahrt’, I thought ‘thanks very much and after that glass of gassy German Pils I just might.’

To return there was the same choice, autobahn or scenic route and just like this morning we took the second option but about ten kilometres out of Freiburg it started to snow and within minutes we were in the middle of a full blizzard and the driving snow was beginning to obliterate the road in front of us. For a while we followed in the tracks of vehicles in front but one by one they began to turn off and soon we were left with no one to follow and no tracks to help. Yesterday on icy roads had been interesting but this was just plain scary. We slipped and skidded, the windscreen wipers froze into solid chunks of ice and stopped working and we debated the alternative of turning around but decided that this wouldn’t be helpful because the conditions were just as bad in the other direction. So we carried on. Back through Gundelfingen, Denzlingen and Waldkirch and then the climb to Elzach where the temperature dropped to minus six and the snow on the road just kept getting thicker and thicker. There wasn’t a lot of traffic about which was a bit of a concern, just the occasional car coming towards us in the opposite direction and I was glad when we reached the top and started the slippery descent towards Haslach.

Conditions started to improve but just north of Haslach the road was closed, probably due to an accident, and we were diverted off and had to plot an alternative route back. Kim did a brilliant job of this but I overruled her at one point, went wrong and ended up on a very minor road that was completely wiped out and soon discovered that driving is especially difficult when you have to watch the road and concentrate on keeping your arse cheeks squeezed together at the same time.

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