I've been doing some research at the Max Planck Institute for International Criminal Law in Freiburg for the past couple of days, and good G$d, Freiburg is delightful. Even though it's been gray and intermittently rainy, the residents smile at you spontaneously on the street, and from behind the counter. They chat with strangers on the streetcar, and anxiously offer to help you if you look lost. The natives seem to be extremely happy that they're living in Freiburg, and who can blame them? Now, the city was bombed to smithereens on one night in 1944 (Operation Tigerfish (g)), and there are the unavoidable drab post-war buildings here and there, but much of the city was lovingly reconstructed in the post-war decades. The Old Town is quaint and not afraid to be a bit cheesy. The magnificent Minster, build between the 13th and 15th centuries, was almost completely unscathed, and dominates the city skyline.
But the most important thing Freiburg did was to keep itself green. Tree-lined avenues abound, and the Black Forest sprawls literally to the very edge of the historical old town. You can take a tram ride from the middle of town and be in the middle of a charming section of the Southern Black Forest in 3 minutes. The city is positively overgrown with green space, and is renowned for its devotion to all things ecological. It is clearly one of the bike-friendliest cities around, and the large student population fills it with beautiful young people speaking all of their fun, crazy languages. Why, walking down the Guentertalstrasse, I found a copy of a Peter Handke novel (Die Lehre der St. Victoire) just sitting on top of a utility box! I waited a decent interval, then stuffed it in my bag. It was, after all, about to start raining, so the book had to be rescued.
The old town is criss-crossed with small rivulets which remind you involuntarily of medieval open sewage canals, but are now flowing with nice fresh water. They're called Baechle (brooklets), and they're uncovered. which is actually sort of dangerous, which makes them even more charming. The cuisine is leavened with French and Swiss flair, and the wine and Schnapps are world-class. Of course, it helps that it's extremely prosperous. You can always criticize environmental consciousness and an obsession with green spaces as a frippery of the prosperous bourgeoisie, but it's a much more wholesome frippery than many others I can name.
The Max Planck Institute for Criminal Law is an extremely funky building from the mid-1960s. Built on the edge of a forest, it's apparently supposed to remind you of the shapes and colors of the forest -- the exterior is festooned with tree-shaped forms, and the interior is entirely wood-paneled. It's like your parents' mid-1960s living room, if your parents lived in Big Sur and had a lot of money. I'm here for another day, so any suggestions are welcome...
Here are a few photos, which don't do the place justice, since it's gray and rainy outside, but still: