Slowing Down In Freiburg, Germany

A young woman walk by Adelhauser Platz during the early morning hours. [Click photos for larger versions]
A young woman walk by Adelhauser Platz.
While not as large as in other cities, the Freiburg Christmas Market is just as colorful.
The colorful Freiburg Christmas Market.
Vendors don't seem to miss a day to sell their wares by the Historisches Kaufhaus next to the Freiburg Cathedral.
The Historisches Kaufhaus next to the Freiburg Cathedral.
There is never a shortage of patrons at one of the most popular breweries in town.
A town of great breweries.
Like in most European cities, getting lost in the backstreets is half the fun.
Getting lost in the backstreets is half the fun.
Blankets are very popular at local cafes, where locals insist to sit outside no matter how cold.
Blankets are very popular at local cafes in winter.
A small canal bordered by quaint restaurants and coffee shops is part of the charm in Freiburg.
A small canal bordered by quaint restaurants and coffee shops.

Some places have a way of captivating you through their quiet, unassuming ways. They usually don’t make the front pages of travel magazines, nor do they become world-famous for hosting major events like the Olympics or the World Expo. And yet, for those who venture outside the normal touristy venues to explore a bit deeper into a country, these somewhat out-of-the-way gems are full of rewards. In a type of understated way, they charm you not with UNESCO-type monuments to humanity, but rather with the easy-going simplicity that characterizes most of our everyday lives. Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany is such a place.

Straddling the western side of the Black Forest, this smallish university city in the state of Baden-Württenburg provides a much welcomed break from its more touristy French neighbor to the north, Strasbourg. It’s geographical location alone (sitting on the south-west corner of Germany by the Black Forest) makes it somewhat of a refuge from the tourist lanes that crisscross most of Europe these days. To go to Freiburg, you must want to go to Freiburg, because it will require you to get off the main road to do so. But this, my friends, is the good news about this wonderful city. It charms you for what it’s not, which if you have traveled any time recently to the overcrowded, major European cities that dominate most vacation brochures, you will soon come to appreciate.

If I had to pick a term to describe my time in Freiburg, I would probably refer to it as “slow travel.” None of that need-for-speed stuff that characterizes major metropoles these days. On the contrary, days wandering the twisted, quiet streets in Freiburg tend to blend into each other with the ease of day passing into night. After spending some time in a major European city, life in Freiburg felt like you had arrived at a place you could call home. Orderly, clean, and charmingly low-keyed, it is the kind of place where you go to recharge your batteries while enjoying a simpler way of life. But don’t get me wrong, Freiburg is not some desolate city where nothing of any consequence is happening. Rather, it is a charming city with all the trappings of a larger city, but on a much smaller scale (and a lot cheaper too), and with a lot less tourist traffic. And even if you wouldn’t think so from trying to find a free table at the incredible Hausbrauerei Feierling brewery (which by the way, is reason enough to go to Freiburg for a few days), you will be able to dispense with any notion of speed during your visit there. The city, with its easy-going, unassuming rhythm, will definitely grow on you. And as you board that train on your way to Basel, Stuttgart, or wherever your travels are taking you, you will be glad you took the time to stop and visit this charming city by the Dreisam river.

 

From Van Gogh To The Heineken Experience

One of the most visited museums in Amsterdam is the Van Gogh Museum, where a large collection of his paintings are on display.
One of the most visited museums in Amsterdam is the Van Gogh Museum, where a large collection of his paintings are on display.
Characterized by spacious, open spaces, the Van Gogh Museum seemed to attract a surprisingly young audience.
Characterized by spacious, open spaces, the Van Gogh Museum seemed to attract a surprisingly young audience.
The color yellow seemed to be a favorite of the artist and the Museum staff made sure you didn't forget such details.
The color yellow seemed to be a favorite of the artist and the Museum staff made sure you didn’t forget such details.
The so-called Heineken Experience in the company's former production facility should not be missed in Amsterdam.
The so-called Heineken Experience in the company’s former production facility should not be missed in Amsterdam.
While the old production facility is now a tourist attraction, most of the old equipment has been left intact for visitors to experience.
While the old production facility is now a tourist attraction, most of the old equipment has been left intact for visitors to experience.
An incredible informative experience culminates with some serious Heineken beer tasting and a souvenir to take home.
An incredible informative experience culminates with some serious Heineken beer tasting and a souvenir to take home.

Amsterdam is a city of contrasts.  On the one side there is the city of great art and imposing architecture, while on the other there is a somewhat more earthy side, to put it mildly.  What’s even more interesting about the city, though, is the fact that so much of what makes Amsterdam what it is seems to lie inside its somewhat uniform buildings.  Sure, there are the marvelous canals crisscrossed by beautifully undulating bridges packed with bicycles of all kinds, but enter some of those building lining the canals and you’ll be amazed at what you’ll find inside.

Such is the case with two of Amsterdam’s most famous attractions: the Van Gogh Museum at Stadhouderskade 55 and the old Heineken factory at Stadhouderskade 78.  From the outside, the buildings housing these two local landmarks are a bit industrial in character, but what lies inside is quite remarkable and more than worth the time you have to spend in line before getting inside (which on a rainy, cold day made the Van Gogh Museum line to get inside a bit of a challenge for the hundreds of people inching their way to the ticket booth).  But once inside, you are treated to some of the most creative art you’ll ever see anywhere.  The four-story museum was divided according to the different stages in Van Gogh’s short creative life (about ten years total), from the days when he was perfecting his style in Paris to his mental asylum days in Arles and Saint-Rémy.  A definitely troubled life, but an incredible creative one.

About a quarter mile from the Museum Quarter park, a somewhat different experience can be found at the old Heineken factory (which moved its production to a new location in 1988).  What is now termed the Heineken Experience will set you back about 18 Euros, but it will be some of the best money spent in Amsterdam.  The old equipment is still there, to include the still-in-use stables with the black Heineken horses.  They even “turn you into beer” in a small theater where the audience is put through the beer-production process as if it were the liquid itself with a vibrating stage that is at various points subjected to heat lamps simulating the fermentation process.  And to top it all off, there is the tasting room followed by an incredibly slick bar where you get the two beers that were included with the admission price (which also include a free canal ride aboard the Heineken boat and a souvenir at their downtown store).  Not too shabby, and quite educational to boot.  This city is definitely growing on me.