Getting to Know Freiburg: First Impressions and First Week Adventures

Zach Cohen
September 5, 2016
The Black Forest

My first few days in Freiburg have been a whirlwind.  At some points it feels like I’ve been here for weeks, at others I will momentarily forget that I ever left home.  But the good news is that I survived the many tenuous hours of travel and successfully arrived alive and in one piece. The anxiety I had before leaving has been replaced by greater enthusiasm for the next few months, and so far, I’m really enjoying myself (which is probably aided by the fact that the ‘study’ part of study abroad has only just begun).


To describe my impressions of Freiburg, I want to use a phrase that I also use to describe my hometown of Tucson: It’s a big city but it feels like a small town.  With a population of almost 250,000, the city is considered large by German standards, yet its streets are not too difficult to navigate and its city center only really stretches for a few blocks.  Perhaps it will feel more bustling once the students at the local Universität Freiburg return from their semester break in October, but for now I’m enjoying the more slow-paced lifestyle.


I’m living in an area called Vauban, located in the south of the city and only a stone’s throw from the edges of the Black Forest (like most of the city, actually).  Vauban is undoubtedly unique - it simultaneously exists as a hippie-commune-esque collection of wooden shacks, old vehicles, and a makeshift playground, and also as a hub for students and families to enjoy a safe and ecologically friendly living environment.  It’s alternative and sustainable living at its finest, and I’m excited to continue to explore the area.  Vauban’s historical roots are also fascinating; the student dorms in which I and around 20 EU program peers are living were once French Barracks, which were only vacated in 1992, after German reunification.


On Saturday morning, we had the pleasure to listen to a free organ concert in Freiburg’s Münster.  The Münster, which was constructed in the 13th century, is one of the few buildings in the city center which was not destroyed during World War II.  Although its internal decor is perhaps more modest than other cathedrals I have been in, it nonetheless struck me with awe.  Listening to the roaring melodic lines of the organ, while gazing up at the towering steeple, draws an acute awareness to the grandeur that the Cathedral must have had amongst Freiburg’s citizens over the past centuries.  After, I wandered the Münstermarkt, a weekly market of local farmers and artisans situated all around the Münster, and bought a container of tasty strawberries (which, alas, were quickly all eaten).



A hike through the Black Forest on Sunday was a pleasant way to close out the week.  After taking the train to a small village which had a church so ornate it was almost comically baroque, we begun our trek into the tamed wilderness.  The large patches of dense trees sprawled across rolling grassy hills makes it unlike any forest I’ve seen in the U.S., and we were able to enjoy the German tradition of Kaffee und Kuchen (Coffee and Cake) at the end of the trail.

With the first full week just about complete, I’m glad that I’ve begun to adjust to life in Freiburg.  A lot of things, like ordering food and buying groceries, are admittedly uncomfortable; but the longer I am here, the easier it will be to push past the language barrier, whether it be through  through speaking in fragmented sentences of German or through understanding norms and customs of the people.  Our classes are now underway, and I’m pumped to get to study the EU in such an interesting and unique town.  My next blog post will likely be coming after our first field trip, which will take us to Berlin and Prague to explore some of the rich history of Europe - so stay tuned for my continued adventures!


Zach Cohen

<p>Hello! &nbsp;My name is Zach and I am so happy you are here! &nbsp;I grew up in Tucson, Arizona, and am currently a Junior at Occidental College, where I am double-majoring in History and International Relations. &nbsp;I&#39;m fascinated by the connections between the past and the present, and the role that history plays in modern diplomacy. &nbsp;Be sure to keep up with my travels as I explore Freiburg and the European Union this semester!</p>

2016 Fall
Home University:
Occidental College
International Relations
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