Chapter 2: Freiburg, Black Forest – Titisee – Schaffhausen, Switzerland
Distance: About 150 kms Time Driving: All day!!!
Travelling south along the banks of the River Rhine towards the Black Forest. This is the land of the Brothers Grimm. Huge, dark, scary forests and small picture-postcard villages dotted across the landscape. This is the land of the German fairytale, Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. You can imagine these characters emerging from the dark forest at any moment. I’m heading for the university city of Freiburg. Freiburg im Breisau to give its full name. Some famous alumni who studied here include Martin Heidegger (philosopher), Hannah Arendt (Political Theorist) and Anselm Keifer (artist and sculptor). They say that Freiburg (Free Town) is the sunniest place in Germany and today is no exception. It is a beautiful sunny day with a clear blue sky.
The city of Freiburg is very medieval. The streets are cobbled, and are lined with small trenches that run constantly with fresh, clean water – originally the city’s fresh water supply. Today the children use the trenches for sailing small wooden boats or playing the German equivalent of Pooh Sticks (more about Pooh Sticks – see notes below). I love these little water channels, it reminds me of the complicated catena d’acqua (water chains) that you find in renaissance gardens in Italy in the 17th century.
There’s a market going on in the main square and I book myself a room for the night at a little hotel right by the church – it’s got a great view of the square. I start to ponder on Germany’s history. For hundreds of years Germany consisted of numerous small kingdoms and city states, each run by a lord or baron and trading with neighbouring towns. The unification of Germany didn’t happen until the 19th century when Bismarck expanded Prussia into the dominant state of Northern Germany. In 1871 Germany was officially unified and Wilhelm of Prussia became “Emperor Wilhelm of Germany’’.
I’m going to be meeting up with some friends later today and also my daughter Lucy. She’s been living in a yurt in Bavaria for a month, in a field miles from anywhere, she’s going to be glad of human company and a hot shower.
The sun beats down and I get a text from Lucy to say that she has arrived, we have a joyful reunion (I havent seen here for ages). We sit in the square, eating delicious salads and drinking glasses of wine. Later we take the lift up to the Schlossle Greiffenegg for amazing views over the roof tops of Freiburg. We catch up on Lucy’s yurt experiences and my driving antics to date. In case you don’t know a yurt is a circular tent, usually with a concrete base. Yurts are quite popular at the moment, they are seen to be eco-friendly and with little or no environmental impact. The flip side is that they generally don’’t have electricity, running water or a toilet. So they can be a challenge to live in. My tough daughter has survived brilliantly – despite the perpetual dampness and large number of resident ear-wigs and other creepy crawlies.
My friend Shona and her daughter Emily are meeting us this evening. Shona is married to a Mexican academic currently on secondment at the university. If I understood more about Chemistry I’d be able to tell you what he’s doing, but I don’t and I can’t. It’s so wonderful to see them – we chat about England (Shona’s British), we chat about life in Germany and the girls chat about life in general.
Freiburg prides itself on being one of the greenest cities in Germany – its citizens are said to love cycling and recycling. The Green Party has more than 30% of the vote, the highest in Germany. The newer residential areas of Vauban and Rieselfeld have been built using sustainable methods of construction and management. The university is well-established and pervades every aspect of the town’s life. They own numerous buildings and operate all types of courses and summer programmes. In fact the summer school that interested me most is a ‘Learn English in Germany’ programme that attracts educated Persian women to the city every August. Shona and her associates have taught the course for the last couple of years.
I love the irony of this, Persian women coming to Germany to learn English. They used to come to England years ago but because of the sanctions imposed on the Iranian goverment by the British, this is no longer possible. So an alternative solution has been found, head to charming Freiburg instead. OK it’s not England but the teachers are mostly British and it is a very nice medieval city – just like a fairy story really. I make a mental note to return to Freiburg. I love it here. I like the relaxed attitiude of the people in the squares and on the street. I love the flowing water ways at the side of every street. Perhaps I’ll do a TEFL course and come back here next summer to teach the Persian women English.
Sadly Shona and her family are heading back to Mexico soon. As a Brit Shona loves being in Europe – but she accepts that her family are effectively Mexican. We chat about little things she could do in Mexico to make her feel more ‘at home’. I suggest keeping hens. I love my hens. Shona looks at me quizzically when I make the hen suggestion, then she says in a slightly superior way, whilst arching one eye brow,
‘’……But Janet, my dear, only the lowest of the low keep hens in Mexico…..’’
We all collapse laughing, the two mothers and the two daughters as we trot back to the hotel.
The next day Lucy and I head east to Titisee where we’ll be parting ways. Lucy to Munich to meet up with a friend and me to Schaffhausen and the famous Rhine Falls located at the border between Germany and Switzerland. By the time we get to Titisee it’s hot, really hot and I’m feeling very dehydrated. I drink an enormous bottle of water and sit quietly on a bench for a while. I am not feeling good. I’m very sensitive to noise, the day light is too bright for me and I feel terrible. I wave goodbye to Lucy and try to pull myself together. Even though I only have 60 kilmoetres to travel – the distance seems impossible. A few miles on and I stop at the side of the road, pull my yoga mat out of the boot of the car and sit on it. I want to cry. I drink more water and inevitably need a loo. Not easy to find in rural Germany. However there is lots of woodland and needs must………..I literally limped from village to village, drinking water, steeling myself to carry on. As the day progressed I began to feel a little better. I stuck to tiny country roads. I eventually crossed the border into Switzerland at the tiniest of border controls; one man, one dog, one hut. I was in Switzerland.
I found myself driving along a vally floor, green meadows on either side of the road and a friendly and encouraging sign saying that Schaffhausen was just 12 kms further on. I can do that I thought to myself. I found the town, I found the river, I spotted the falls. Great – all going nicely. I crossed the river and spotted a sign pointing to a hotel – it looked nice, I trotted in and requested a room. The lady informed me that this was not a hotel, and in fact it hadn’t been a hotel since 1969. Isn’t that a line from a song I thought to myself. I thought she was joking (she wasn’t). Grudgingly she recommended a hotel on the other side of the river and half-heartedly produced a map. Back to the car, which was rather smelly by now, back across the river. Right where’s this hotel then? I suddenly spotted the ‘Fischerzunft’ a lovely inn right on the water’s edge (it even had a Relais et Chateaux sign). That’ll do me. I parked right outside, under a big sign that said ‘No Parking’ with a picture of a tow truck helpfully added in red. Sod it I thought to myself – I don’t care. I went in and treated myself to a river view room. I tipped the porter generously and instructed him to sort out the car and get my bags. He did both – wonderful guy! I collapsed in a tearful heap on the bed.
The thing about travelling is you have to take the rough with the smooth. There are good bits, excellent bits and unbelievably crappy bits. You’ve just got to accept what comes your way and get on with it. For me a nice hot bath, a sleep and then room service whilst recovering from my day was all that I needed. By breakfast the next morning I’ll be as right as rain. I should explain that last night when I’d stumbled upon ‘Die Fischerzunft’ I didn’t realise that I was booking into one of the best known small hotels on the shores of the River Rhine. The chef-patron is quite a celebrity in Switzerland. His name is Andre Jaeger. The hotel is in the 17th century ‘Fisherman’s Guild’ Building right on the River Rhine. The food is said to be amongst the best in Switzerland.
I’m coming back here. It is a magical place, beautiful, scenic and such a comfortable hotel. I enjoyed the best room service I’ve ever had here!!
In Chapter 3 – I’m going to be heading to St Gallen, one of the finest Baroque libraries in Europe. More of that to follow…………….