Last Day in Freiburg: Enjoying a Great View

Friday, July 6th

Michelle Corinaldi

Following yesterday’s visit to an eco-farm and bike tour throughout the city of Freiburg, Friday offered a slower, more leisurely pace to the day’s activities, which proved to be a fitting end to the whirlwind of experiences from over the last three weeks. The group chatted over a breakfast of cereals, yogurts, croissants, and juices, collectively remembering all of the once-in-a-lifetime memories that were made zigzagging across the European continent. After checking into a new hotel that would ease tomorrow’s departures to separate train stations, bus stops, and airports, we began our last day together and headed toward the Schauinsland Mountain.

A tram and bus ride later, we arrive at the base of the mountain, aptly named ‘Lower Station’. An understated one-story building, which acts as the entrance checkpoint for transportation to the summit, was dwarfed by the landmark — that for the first time since arriving in Germany had come into full view. The mountain rose high above the bustling metropolis; at approximately 1,284 meters above sea level, its peak is known to be the highest point in the Freiburg region. With ride tickets in hand, the group passes through the metal turnstiles and shuffle into the waiting cable cars. Once the doors clicked close, the cabin moved forward slowly, and then, moments later, began to ascend the mountainside.

The cabin itself had benches on either side that could fit three people comfortably, and a wide space in the center; it offered sufficient room for wheel chairs, individually regulated entry (and exit) times, and other ‘accessible’ cabin adaptions, and according to informational postings, was well-suited for passengers with limited mobility. It also had wide panoramic windows that offered a break-taking view of Freiburg and the wider Rhine Valley region. Smoothly floating past, and later above, trees, we could see white wind turbines nearby and distant clusters of cities in the cloudless afternoon horizon; the cable car ride itself traveled 3.6 kilometers in approximately twenty minutes. In its daily trips year-round, the entire cable loop system emits nearly sixty times less CO2 .

 than a car would for the same trek up the landmark mountain. In fact, it has been running on 100% green energy since 2009, despite being not only the first, but the longest loop cable car system in the world.

At the ‘Upper Station,’ two small restaurants, a cáfe, and a beverage kiosk are conveniently located for the arriving cyclists, hikers, and cable car riders. But for four hundred meters more, a small wooden sign invites sightseers to journey to a more impressive view of the city. The footpath takes the group slightly higher up the Schauinsland mountain; its gravel floor is mostly shaded by the high forest canopy and bordered alongside by colorful clusters of native foliage. The ascent through the Black Forest was approximately thirty minutes long, and contained several ‘checkpoints’ that offered a bench and an increasingly more dramatic outlook of the sprawling landscape below.

Once the tall forest line had broken, a small meadow and a tall timber frame tower come into view, prominently marking the mountain’s famed summit. The Schauinsland Tower at the center is also known as the Eugen Keidel Tower, and stands approximately thirty-one meters high. Its 360 degree panoramic view from atop Freiburg’s landmark mountain is the highest point for as far as the eye can see. Hues of blue color the afternoon sky and gradients of green mark the forests and farm fields below. Winding dirt roads pattern the landscape and disappear into the hazy horizon. And the same pair of white wind turbines – now much smaller – mark the route of the cable car system.


The direct bus and tram connections to the mountain, the “barrier free” cable car cabin, and the cable car loop up the mountain can illustrate the overlapping economical, social, and environmental spheres of sustainability. The infrastructure that made possible for our group to travel from the Freiburg city center to the peak of the Schauinsland Mountain in and of itself directly aligns with the sustainable transport focus of this study abroad program.

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Bicycle Tour of Sustainable Neighborhoods in Freiburg

by Taylor Guilford

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Strasbourg and the European Parliament

by Lorena Beltran

On the third of July, we embraced the Nations of Europe by visiting their parliament in Strasbourg, France. We started off the day in Freiburg and took and early train followed by the tram across the French border into Strasbourg. Before our information session, we strolled the streets surrounding the city center/church which featured multicolored folk architecture along the cobblestone streets.

Because of the location of Strasbourg, there is a unique German-French culture with the intermingling of languages throughout the city. Once we reached the church, we were granted a short break to explore the circle, where we found small coffee shops and souvenir stores. Followed by our break, we made our way to the tram to begin heading to the parliament.

Once at the parliament we immediately noted the cylinder shape of the building with its driveway decorated with the flags of all 28 country members of the European Union. We had to make sure to stay together as we made our way through airport-like security. Once inside, we were lead into a large spacious area which all the offices have windows facing into, which has room for more development according to one guide.

Our guide was the very knowledgeable and charismatic Henry Wasung. Henry is a civil servant from the UK who, in simple terms, explains how things work, which is exactly what he did for us in our session with him. Although it was only an hour long, he was able to fit a multitude of surface level, and when asked, more in-depth information about what the European Parliament does and what it’s all about. He described the EP as one parliament in many places, in reference to the headquarters in Brussels, Luxembourg, and Strasbourg. Their function is to pass legislation through debates that take place on their debate floor which takes a hemicycle format. Since there is no constitution, debates result in treaties that the EP puts in place which essentially tries to please many countries to some degree, but he notes that no one is ever left completely satisfied as that is just the way compromises work.

One of the most important treaties signed in recent history was the treaty of Lisbon in 2009. Currently there are 28 official member countries, but that could increase in the near future as there are also 5 countries who are being considered for membership, (Serbia, Albania, Turkey, North Macedonia, and Montenegro). In order to join the alliance, countries must first apply, be European, be democratic, respect human rights, and all EU statutes. Along with all that criteria, potential members must complete requirements called “chapters”, and there are 35. After all 35 chapters are completed all 28 counties and the EU itself must vote on whether a country is greater membership. The road is long for hopeful counties, but the result is a strong political and economic alliance with 28 other neighboring countries. The EU is a large and complex institution made of of multiple institutions, including, the council of the EU, European Parliament, European Council, European Commission, European Central Bank, and the European court of auditors. These institutions are in charge of legislative, strategy, economic, judicial, euro stability, and auditing responsibilities. With such significant legislative responsibility, the European Parliament is comprised of 751 members representing the European citizens. The European council is comprised of 28 commissioners who represent the European Union interests. Finally, the European Commission- Council of European Union is manned by 28 heads. The European Commission has 3 main competences which cover exclusive, shared, and support responsibilities

To work towards achieving the goals they set in place, in 2017 the EU worked with a budget of €157.9 billion. In theory it sounds like a lot of money, but the reality is that when managing 28 countries, it is difficult to justly allocate the money and tough decisions have to be made constantly. The greatest portion was dedicated to sustainable growth, allocating €58.6 billion. Followed by this was economic, social, and territorial cohesion with a budget of €53.6 billion. Third was competitiveness for growth and jobs, earning €21.3 billion towards its efforts. As if debating on such specific and sometimes controversial subjects wasn’t difficult enough, try having to translate each though into 24 languages, which is the reality as the European Parliament works with 24 official languages. This process requires many talented and multilingual translators who work to ensure quality conversation among all the officials on the floor.

Following our thorough information session, we were lead to the parliamentary hearing room which was scattered with a few officials and many other visitors. We visited on an exciting day as they were in the midst of electing new officials, most importantly the new European Parliament president. Although we were unlucky to not witness any action on the floor, we got a small peek into the intricate translation system they have in place which offers live translation of whatever is being announced in 24 languages. 

After thirty minutes of waiting and realizing we wouldn’t know when anything exciting would happen, we decided to move on with our day (later on, we learned the new president was David Sassoli, and Italian Democrat). We thanked our tour guide and found our way to the buildings cafeteria. A few items were offered but I personally enjoyed a mashed potato and beef pie from the French kitchen. After lunch, we hopped back on the tram and returned the main church area. We had about 2 hours of free time to roam the streets. I stayed pretty close to the center and strolled the surrounding streets which were fairly similar to a street in DC or NY as it was lined with medium and high end retailers. After our free time, we walked by foot across the border back to Germany in order to catch our train back to Freiburg. We had a group dinner by a creek at a restaurant close to the hotel. Overall, the European Parliament session was interesting, informative, and Strasbourg altogether was a great step into French culture!

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Sustainable Freiburg

July 2nd blog post- Freiburg

Julia Sexton

The group had an action packed first day in Freiburg, Germany. Our morning tour began at the Freiberg soccer stadium where we met our tour guide Astrid Mayer who is the director of the Freiberg Future Lab.

There she showed us around the stadium and told us about how it was one of the first stadiums to begin to produce more energy than it consumes and how more efficient and ecologically better it is for the community. She then took us around the city and showed us how technology and environmentally efficient places like the new city administrative building and the new university library are.. The new city administrative building was a completely solar powered building, shown below, and used geothermal heating and cooling year round.

No cars were permitted by its employees unless justified for health or disability reasons, and the area featured a preschool mixed with residential and community spaces, which they plan to build more of as Freiburg has seen a growth rate of 1.4%. We then visited the university library that displayed more environmental aspects of the city. Our guide emphasized how the city was considered ‘old fashioned’ in the 60s and 70s, but that it is now forefront in the future of sustainable living.

After a delicious lunch at one of the prominent restaurants in Vauban, we met up with Stefan Gossling, a professor from Lund University and a nearby resident in an Eco friendly neighborhood Astrid also hails from. He began by explaining the unique transport aspects of Freiburg.

He told us that 19% of bikes in Germany are now electric..Dr. Gossling informed us that Vauban’s residents primarily belong to the Green Party, with the party achieving 80% of votes in the neighborhood, and getting 38% in the city wide elections. We observed bike trails all day and saw up close how positively the citizens of Freiburg interacted with the nature around them, curating an atmosphere of respect toward the environment and a commitment to a more green future.

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Transport and Urban Planning Tour of Zurich

Monday 1 July

Garima Choubey


After our travel day from Riva San Vitale to Zurich, we stayed overnight at the Hotel St Josef, Hirschengraben.  After breakfast, we began our walking tour with Professor Norman Garrick from the ETH Zurich and the University of Connecticut. Professor Norman Garrick was an expert in transportation in Zurich. Zurich is known to have excellent public transport connections ranging from the electric buses, trams, and trains that all complement each other.  Zurich main train station offers connections to many cities as well as to the airport. All of the train stations are built and look different. The original station was built in 1848, the second station was built in the 1870s, and the most recent station was built 8 years ago. There is also a river that runs underneath these stations. There are more trams in the city of Zürich (mileage-wise) than the entire country of the United States. There is a national law states that shops close at 8:00 pm and on Sundays but the only one that can remain open is the shopping center in the main train station that has 200 stores. The train station is one of the most important social spaces in Zürich all throughout the year.  It serves as a Christmas market, pole vault, shot put, beach volleyball tournaments, formal waltz for older people, dance room for younger people, and various other city festivals.

The trains operate every 10-15 minutes with a travel time of about 10 minutes from the city center to the airport. On average, it takes 7 minutes for a bus or tram to come. Professor Norman Garrick took us around every mode of public transportation available in the city. 

He told us that there are 3,000 trains in the city and around 500,000 use it every day. We took a small gondola up the mountain to the University of Zurich and ETH Zurich. Between the two universities is one of the best viewing points in Zurich. There are 420,000 people that live in the city. The edge of the city is bordered with nature parks. Zurich also has around 1,030 fountains with potable drinking water. This city has 2 rivers, one of them used to have a parking garage over it which indicates a prior time of unsustainability. Professor Norman Garrick  also told us that with the last 10 years Zurich has become a “bike city.” He then showed us the inside of the University of Zurich. There we learned that this university is the largest in Switzerland with over 25,000 students. This is where Albert Einstein attended college.

Next, we went to an affordable housing location, which is a community co-op development that was built above the tram. Google headquarters and other technology-oriented companies are located in Zurich. With these new developments, there is a fear of gentrification. The rent varies from less than $2,000 – $4,000. This is considered expensive but it includes utilities. Another interesting concept of this place is that there are only 4 parking spaces are available, new residents have to sign a paper saying that they cannot own a car in this establishment. Quite a few things are built into this community from restaurants to movie theaters. After seeing the affordable housing we had a fantastic lunch and then took a train to Freiburg. This is when we got the pleasure of staying at the Green Hotel. The hotel food and the building materials are all locally sourced and from the nearby Black Forest. This part of town where the hotel is located used to be military barracks, and then became a newer development that gave an opportunity for stakeholders to be more environmentally ambitious. We saw the trams run in the grass because it is less noisy and easier to repair because removing soil is a lot better than adding concrete. We ended the day at the Green Hotel in preparation for the next day.




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Riva San Vitale Blog

Sustainable Policy Making in Europe

Davis Rosser

After a long travel day Wednesday and a short stop in Milan, the group arrived in Riva San Vitale, Switzerland; the home of the Virginia Tech Steger Center for international scholarship. We were stunned by the beauty of the Ticino region and ecstatic about getting away from the hustle and bustle of a big city and moving into a smaller and more peaceful setting. Once we checked in at the Steger Center (and receiving a quick orientation), we were greeted by Professor Ralph Buehler before dinner before beginning lectures regarding the third module – sustainable transportation in Europe – the next morning. I was looking forward to learning about policy prescriptions European cities had implemented to make cities more sustainable and less car-centric. Specifically, looking at the examples of Freiburg, Germany and Copenhagen, Denmark (as referenced in the pre-course readings) I was hoping to take some of these policy ideas and find ways to integrate them into US cities.

Thursday began with an early morning lecture regarding the basics of transportation followed by a lecture about sustainable transportation – discussing who uses it and comparing systems of public and urban transport across the globe. After defining what transportation was and who used it, the group worked to define exactly what sustainable transport entailed, and how it can be used in a practical way in the United States. Professor Buehler’s presentation cited the Brundland Report’s (1987) definition of sustainable development – “Sustainable development is a condition in which there is stability for both social and physical systems achieved through meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” I found this definition to be quite applicable to our studies of sustainable transportation in the era of a rapidly changing climate; meeting the needs of the present by transporting individuals quickly and easily while also meeting the needs of future generations by providing transport systems that will last a long duration and have little impact on the environment and urban landscape the transport system encompasses.

After defining and describing what a sustainable transportation system is and why it is important to implement sustainable transport systems in urban settings (and a short break for lunch) – professor Buehler gave two short lectures regarding cycling and walking in urban systems. In regards to cycling, we observed two cities that stand out as exemplars of cycling, Copenhagen, Denmark and Freiburg, Germany. In Copenhagen, raised bike lanes separating bike traffic from car and pedestrian traffic have made the city into a haven for cyclists, while Freiburg has prioritized bike traffic in certain parts of the city to encourage citizens to take transport trips via bicycle or public transport than by car by making access to these modes of transport more convenient than use of a car. Incentivizing alternative and active modes of transportation, like cycling and walking, cities are able to mitigate multiple aspects of an unsustainable transportation system. We then examined aspects of pedestrian traffic followed by a short field project. Professor Buehler’s presentation on walkability focused on several aspects of walkability, including; sidewalk width, barriers from traffic, presence of active storefronts, accessibility, sense of space, and much more. These aspects make streets more pedestrian friendly and should be utilized by planners in order to permit for more active modes of transportation – like walking. To apply these concepts in real life, we were split into groups and sent into Riva San Vitale to determine a walkability score for a segment of street based on a predetermined set of criteria. I found this activity quite engaging as we were able to apply concepts learned in the classroom to real life settings. After determining the walkability score, the group was tasked with coming up with suggestions as to make the segment of street more accessible for pedestrians as well as to prepare a short presentation for the class the next morning.

            After presenting the next morning and taking a short break for lunch, we returned to the classroom for more lectures regarding sustainable transportation in Europe. First, we examined integration and coordination of public transportation systems, looking specifically at VV’s that provide regional coordination and promote public transportation. These VV’s collaborate with public and private entities to create more efficient public transportation systems; focusing on tasks like ticketing, marketing, customer information, and more. To further analyze the importance of VV’s, the class examined these associations in the largest cities of Austria. The VOR (VV for the city and surrounding area of Vienna) serves three states and one large city – a massive undertaking for public transportation systems. Additionally, after political pressure was placed on the VOR, the VV passed a policy to reduce an annual travel pass to 365 euro per year, or one euro a day to use the public transportation systems. While this policy may have resulted in less revenue per user, the number of annual passes sold went up quite a bit – increasing public transportation use overall. In conclusion, I found the information presented in the lectures as well as our field work to be quite informative and exemplary of how public transportation can be sustainable across the globe. Using this knowledge, I hope to take these policy ideas and eventually apply them at home – whether that be as a public policy analyst, city planner, or other profession.

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Venice Art Biennale (6/25/19)

By: Savannah Maestrello

Tour of Biennale. Photo by T. Schenk.

Today my study abroad group attended the 2019 Biennale Arte in Venice, which has the theme May You Live In Interesting Times . Some have the (mis)conception that this title is based on an old Chinese curse that uses the word “interesting” as taxing or threatening. However, “interesting” can also be seen as enlightening or reflective. The massive exhibition–often referred to as the Olympics of the arts world–takes place in Venice’s Giardini and Arsenale complexes, and features art from 89 different nations. There is a variety of different artwork including photographs, paintings, sculptures, videos and more. Each piece is unique in its own way and portrays very powerful messages.

One of the first artists that we learned about was an Indian photographer by the name of Soham Gupta. His photos were based in Calcutta and focused on homeless people during the nighttime. He chose to take his photos at night because it makes the background look invisible. This portrays the “invisibility” and lack of attention most homeless people experience. His art makes them the main focus for once. Soham Gupta tries to make a personal and emotional connection with all of the people he photographs and tries to relay those emotions within his photos.

Artist: Soham Gupta

Artist: Soham Gupta

Another artist I found inspiring was Zanale Muholi. She is a black lesbian woman from South Africa. Her focus is on photographing refugee woman. The photos on display at the Biennale are black and white and the lens she used brought out the darkness of these women’s skin color. In some of the photos the women are looking directly at the camera while in others they are looking away. The photos of the women looking away mimick the way that black people weren’t supposed to look white people in the eyes during appartheid. Whereas the photos of the women looking directly into the camera are making a social statement against this inequality. The women in these photos are also wearing materials that they used as refugees to help them cross borders. This portrays the challenges that these women had to face yet also shows the creativity that theypossess.

There are a few artists that we learned about that are using their artwork to explore and draw attention to environmental issues. I found all of these pieces very intriguing because they are visually appealing while also informing the viewer of the exploitation of natural resources. Two of these artists are Christine and Margaret Wertheim. Their pieces are called, “Bleached Reef”, “Toxic Reef”, “Electroluminescent Wire Corals” and “Hyperbolic Sea Snake”. These pieces are all recreations of the coral reefs made out of sustainable crochet. The other artist I found very appealing was El Anatsui. He used recycled bottle caps and wires to create very cool and eye catching abstracts.

Artists: Christine and Margaret Wertheim

There were a lot of amazing artists and pieces of work to see; the above were just a few that really resonated with me. I am very fortunate to have been able to experience this art exhibition and to have had a guided tour. I saw so many different and beautiful pieces of art that I had never seen before and learned about the background of those pieces and about the artists who created them.

After the art exhibition, most of our group took a quick trip to the beautiful beaches on Lido, an island on the Adriatic Sea at the edge of the Venice lagoon. It was very hot but the water felt amazing. We ended the night at a traditional Venetian seafood restaurant where we were served several different foods. We got to try some tasty and interesting food like octopus. It was a long yet fun and relaxing day in Venice.

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