The Bächel of Freiburg

Freiburg’s Altstadt has many lovely old fountains and a unique system of streams called Bächle (little brooks) that date back to the 12th century. First devised to keep the city clean and to help fight fires, the brooks channel water from the Dreisam River through the old university town and help to keep it cool in the hot summer months. You can see the Bächle running alongside many Altstadt streets. According to local folklore, if you step in a Bächle, you will marry a person from Freiburg.

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A Monster Münster in Their Midst

The minster is almost as rich a repository of secular concerns as it is a sacred precinct, a phenomenon you’ll notice even before you step through the massive portals—one of the gargoyles peering down from the tower’s roof has its backside turned toward the archbishop’s house across the square, supposedly a sign of the architect’s contempt for the city fathers. Markings on the façade were used as gauges to keep medieval vendors honest and make sure they were selling bread that met the criterior for length and height. Commerce also makes an appearance in the 13th- and 14th-century stained glass, where the guilds who funded them ensured pretzels, tools, and other signs of their crafts were incorporated into the designs. Likewise, scenes in the panels of Hans Holbein’s magnificent altarpiece include the donor’s sons, daughters, deceased wife, grandchildren, and decreased wife, giving all a little push toward eternal salvation.

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