Exploring Southern Germany

Today marked the end of our group travels in Freiburg and the beginning of our last free weekend. We woke up at the Hotel Sonne and enjoyed a meal bed-and-breakfast style. After gathering our things we took a local tram to the main station and stored our luggage. From there, we traveled to the main offices of the VAG, which stands for the Freiburger Verkehrs AG, the acronym for the city’s transit authority.  Here we were ushered into their presentation room (complete with coffee) to listen to Andreas Hildebrandt speak on the Freiburg transit system.  The presentation highlighted the policy cooperation necessary to implement mass transit in a small- to medium-sized city.

Throughout the presentation, Mr. Hildebrandt gave us some interesting statistics about Freiburg that allowed us to compare the efficiency of their renowned public transit to US cities. I was most impressed by the low share of car owners in certain Freiburg neighborhoods. Only 300 to 400 people out of 1000 own cars in Freiburg compared to the US rate of 750 car owners per 1000. He stressed the importance of making public transit inviting which means ensuring that trains run frequently and stop in popular destinations. I was also impressed at how low the transit-related fatality rate is. Only one person has died due to transit in the past four years in Freiburg. If you compare these numbers to car crash statistics in the US, it is clear that public transit can add safety to the list of its benefits. The Freiburg transit authority has made many conscious decisions to increase ridership and enhance quality of life with public transit. During our stay we relied on trams, trains, and walking for all of our trips.

After the presentation, we got back on a train and went into the city center to have lunch and explore. The streets were crowded for a Friday afternoon as people shopped, ate, and visited the market. Many of us finished our souvenir shopping and enjoyed the sights and sounds of the main square. After an hour or so we met the group and headed back to the main station. Many people in the group were heading to Luzern, some were going to Interlaken, and a few were venturing to Venice and Milan. For my free weekend, Candace Pearson and I left the group to go to Tubingen, Germany. This town is in southern Germany near Stuttgart and is based around the Universitat Tubingen, one of the oldest German universities. We enjoyed a long conversation on our four-hour ride through the Black Forest and were entertained by the schoolchildren on the train.

We arrived in Tubingen after 6:00pm and met up with our host, Candace’s former exchange student, Uli. The train station was full of bikes, taxis, and busses, but Uli picked us up on foot and we walked through the town back to her apartment. My first impressions of the town were that it was a lot younger and more liberal than many of the places we’ve been. We walked along a river that flowed through the middle of a residential area where kids and young adults rode past on bikes. It was a treat to have a home cooked meal with Uli and relax a bit before exploring the town.  After dinner, we bundled up in borrowed clothes and went for a walk through the old part of Tubingen. Uli showed us all the popular places where students hang out, including the historic market. I was impressed by the age of the city and the variety of shops and cafes. As we window-shopped, we mapped out all the places we would visit the next day. Even after the stores closed, people filled the streets and sat outside restaurants and bars. We ended the night with a trip to the riverside Biergarten before getting a well-deserved night of sleep.

Madalen McGrory, Undergraduate, Environmental Thought and Practice, University of Virginia

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