The Relaxed Beauty of Old Town, Freiburg, Germany

Most of us began our journey arriving early to Dulles Airport for an afternoon flight to Zurich, Switzerland.  Some arrived an hour or two early while others arrived as early as noon for a 5:45 flight, so many of us were exhausted before the flight even began.  One by one we boarded the plane and it wasn’t before long that we were on our way across the Atlantic cruising at a steady 637 mph.  In-flight movies and dozens of TV options kept us awake throughout most of the tedious 9 hour flight.  A sleepless night would later prove to wreak havoc on our sleep schedules.  We arrive 8:15 in Zurich bright and early but there was no time to relax, our traveling had just begun.  From the gate we relied on symbols and pictures to navigate our way through the German prompts.  We snaked down escalators and staircases deeper into the airport to reach the underground tram car which shuttled us to our luggage.  After everything was collected we walked across the street to the adjoining train station to buy our tickets to Freiberg.  A very punctual German speaking woman, who probably overestimated our traveling experience, insisted on booking us tickets to a train leaving in 8 minutes!  The ticket stubs were in German and the numbering was unclear especially since the woman had decided to give us a double connecting train route.  Without an idea of which platform to get or how to identify which train was which, we frantically ran to every stewardess with an ascot to ask for help.  Although they didn’t speak any English they did their best to push us in the right direction until we finally boarded the right train.  Two more stations and two more hours later we arrived in Freiberg’s central transit station.  Worn out and exhausted from jet lag we managed to push on and take the bus and two trams necessary to reach our final destination; Vauban’s Green City Hotel.  Some students met us traveling from previous travels across Europe and others had yet to arrive because of delayed flights and missed trains but by the end of the day for the first time we were all together.  Our rooms were not yet ready so we left our bags in the conference room and tried our luck with the local cuisine.  A friendly waiter took the time to help us translate the menu and by around 7 we had finished a great meal to begin our study abroad.

Our guide / teacher / chaperone Ralph Buehler told us about all of the inconveniences surrounding Old Town because of the construction going on around the chapel, but we didn’t feel their affects at all. All through traffic of motorized transportation (streetcar, car) is prohibited within the city center (even without the construction), and this simple fact keeps the area decongested and relaxed. The narrow streets are full of pedestrians and bikers, shopping and eating and interacting at a small urban scale. With a small canal weaving its way through the cobblestone streets, Old Town has an old-fashioned character that stays modern through its people. Larger plazas lend themselves to larger gatherings, usually at night, where people of varied ethnicities easily interact. The design of the urban space of Old Town is a huge factor of the high quality of life here, which is very visible. For example, as the group of 20 of us stopped on a narrow street, an old man being pushed in a wheelchair needed to get through. In a place like Boston, that situation might have ended in swear words and high blood pressures, but not in Freiburg. As this man makes his way through our crowd, the cutest and most toothless grin spread across his face, nodding to each and every one of us. If that old gentleman is any indication, Freiburg is doing a lot of things right.

On Sunday morning, we started the day with a quick lecture about sustainability and then broke up into groups to begin our projects about what makes urban transport sustainable.  The goal for this group assignment is to assess the sustainability of the transport system in Freiburg.  We were tasked with developing a measurement tool for a sustainable transport system, and then using this tool to measure the system in Freiburg.  After creating a final group assessment and score, we discussed ways about how to improve the sustainability of transport in Freiburg and our assessment tool.  After lunch in Old Town, we headed to Rieselfeld to take a walking tour of this new development by Katja Speights.  Katja, who is a local teacher, was very friendly and educated about Rieselfeld, a place she calls home. This tour with Katja was very educational and interesting. As we made our way through the streets of this newly development section of Freiburg, we learned about its history and what makes it such a great place to live.  With some subsidized housing, Rieselfeld houses a mix of people that adds to the overall character of the area.  We saw many people biking, kids playing in the streets, and were even given the opportunity to see the inside of Katja’s home, which gave us an insight into how many residents live.  The size and close living quarters of the homes surprised us because it is very different than life in the United States.  We all greatly appreciate Katja and her husband for their hospitality and time, we learned a lot about the sustainable neighborhood of Rieselfeld and the lifestyle of many residents of this part of Freiburg.

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