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When it purls, you taste the South: Freiburg’s streams lap around its visitors

Travelling from Umkirch to the „Breisgau Metropolis“ Freiburg, you will get to Paduaallee with buses 31 or 32, then take tramway 1 to reach the city centre at the Bertoldsbrunnen after about 20 minutes. By car this takes less than 10 min, but parking in the city centre isn’t easy. We therefore prefer taking bus or tramway, plunging right into the busy streets of a small city and rejoicing the hurly-burly.

Connoisseurs of Freiburg rarely step into one of the numerous streams, the Bächle, which decorate the inner city as a sort of special sight, purling joyfully almost throughout the year. When Pope Benedikt XVI. came to Freiburg in 2011, the former chancellor Kohl’s wife drove into a Bächle before an audience. The vehicle was repaired, though, and fit for the former chancellor’s return home.

A common saying in Freiburg predicts that those who step into one of the Bächle will marry a Freiburg-born citizen. However, former chancellor Schröder did so during the German-French summit with Chirac in July 2001 while on his way to the Townhall, without such familial consequences.

The Bächle were first mentioned in history in 1220 and supposedly served as water supply. The accessible cisterns had to reach 12 meters deep to find ground water and were insufficient for the demand. The Bächle were then installed to deliver water with multiple purposes, easily and comfortably accessible right in front of the old houses. They have served as sewage, water closet, street cleansing, troughs, quench and wash water. This is generally believed – unbelievable though the stench must have been.

Derived from the trade canal, the water originally taken from the Dreisam river, has been channeled through the Schlossberg in a mine 500 meters long, 1 meter wide and high, letting pass 250 liters per minute. From the ancient town gate – the Schwabentor in the Oberlinden quarter, which is the highest point – the Bächle system stretches over 15 km, partially hidden. The deepest point is located at the Fahnenbergplatz. Archaeologists believe that the old town has been structured accordingly, allowing a constant flow along a downhill gradient of 8 metres or one percent from east to west. On a construction site in the Salzstraße (2011-2014) near the Augustiner Museum, medieval dwellings were found that lay far below the present street level.

The Bächle and their steady flow and joyful splashing create an extraordinarily charming atmosphere in every season of the year. Especially on sunny spring and summer days they convey the spirit of a mediterranean City, closer to Tuscany than to the German North beyond the “Weißwurst-frontier” – as far as the people and the climate are concerned.

At least that’s what

Alf englischthinks.