You already know how impressed we are with the beauty of Tübingen. Friends there promised we’d find Freiburg even more beautiful. We didn’t think it was possible. Now that we are in Freiburg, we admit it’s pretty dazzling, especially when the sun shines as it did Sunday, when Joy snapped some of her best pictures. Here’s what we think: The town itself (meaning the buildings, streets, waterways, etc.) is as beautiful as Tübingen. What makes it seem more beautiful is that there is much more of it–and the beauty is pervasive. Tübingen’s population is a little over 85,400; Freiburg’s is 220,000.
What strikes us refugees from Oregon, Indiana and Tennessee is the luscious foliage in and surrounding this town. We rode the bus from Tübingen. Joy noted, on one especially long curvy descent through the hills, how much it reminded her of the highway between Johnson City TN and Asheville NC. I agreed. But I had actually been thinking it reminded me of the drive from Eugene, Oregon to Roseburg (Douglas County). She agreed. It seems no matter how far from home you travel you regularly compare the new place with where you used to live. North Carolina’s author Thomas Wolfe says in the title of one of his books You Can’t Go Home Again. It’s a good title and true. But another would be equally true: You Can’t Leave Home Completely. Anyway, there’s a super-abundance of beauty in this world, certainly in both Tübingen and Freiburg.
The real beauty of Freiburg for us is personal, as in the persons we’ve been with. This is the last of our European Globalscope visits, to one of Globalscope’s newest campus ministries. The Unterwegs team (yes, it’s the same name as the Tübingen ministry) began arriving in March. Fall semester will be their first one with the whole team here. They’ve just returned from the annual Celebration of Globalscope leaders, in Colorado this year. They’re refreshed and eager to get to work. Erin Harper served her “apprenticeship” with Beth Jarvis Silliman (though neither knew in the beginning that Erin would lead this new work) in Tübingen before accepting the call to assemble and head the Freiburg team. She’s joined by her husband, Donovan, Luke DeGraaf (who directs the student exchange program) and Anna Schroter, who is from Leipzig. We also got to meet this semester’s exchange students from Illinois: Park Leacock, Mason Nelson, Emily Workman, Alicia Moshon, and Bryanna Stoiber. We just missed teammate David Horton, who will arrive on Tuesday, the day we leave.
They don’t have a meeting place yet, so the Harper apartment functions as temporary headquarters. This means that instead of inviting students to come to them, on their turf, they must go out to greet and meet students on the students’ turf. It’s an effective tactic forced by necessity. And of course for several of the team members, language classes are a must. This also is not only a good way to learn German but an excellent opportunity to meet other students.
I wondered how and when Freiburg (“Free Town”) got its name. It’s an ancient city, tucked into the extreme Southwest corner of Germany astride the Dreisam river which flows between our Airbnb and the hill behind us, right on the edge of the Black Forest. It was founded in 1120 as an independent (hence “free”) town (“burg”). In the 12th century the name indicated a certain degree of autonomy. “Burg” connotes “fortified.” So there you have it: a fortified, self-governing community of free citizens—a pretty impressive claim for its day.
What drew Globalscope here to plant another Unterwegs ministry is one of Freiburg’s primary claims to fame: its university. In 1457 Albrecht VI established the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität. It was quickly pointed out to us that this university was founded 20 years before Tübingen’s—not that there’s a rivalry or anything like that. Both universities are famous for their high academic standards.
We also learned that in the turbulent 16th century Protestant Reformation, Freiburg elected not to join the movement but remained Catholic. Famed Catholic theologian Desiderus Erasmus, one-time friend and later opponent of Martin Luther, left his home in Basel (newly Protestant) and took refuge in Freiburg, by then a recognized center and haven for Catholics.
The city didn’t escape the witch hunts of the 16th century. When the Black Plague (which killed 25% of the city’s population of 8000) hit in 1564, a witch hunt that lasted for decades ensued. Scapegoats must be found. Too many innocent people were killed. Then later, another shocking figure is that during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) Freiburg’s population (variously stated as 10,000 to 14,000) plummeted to 2,000 survivors.
But that was yesterday. Surely such a thing couldn’t happen again. But it did, in World War II. In 1940 all the Jews in the state (Baden) and 350 Jews from Freiburg were deported.
Many died. In 1942 all the remaining Jews in state and city were rounded up and shipped to Auschwitz. You know the rest of that story. You can see their memorial, a marble footprint at the site of the synagogue which the Nazis burned down on “Kristallnacht,” November 9, 1938. Refreshingly, it’s a paddling pool for children to safely splash in, a memorial that looks to the future. There’s a bronze plaque there with the story. We also saw small brass plates outside former Jewish homes. I couldn’t help grieving for the millions of Jews, gays, and mentally and physically handicapped persons rounded up, deported, and ultimately killed in the name of racial and national “purity.” There’s a lesson here.
The physical presence of Freiburg also suffered heavy damage from both the German Luftwaffe (the pilots’ mistakes cost 57 lives) and Allied Forces. On 27 November 1944 they destroyed most of the city center. They spared the church. Often in the bombing of cities, churches with their easily identified spires escaped damage. They weren’t the target but pointed to the targets.
Many of the medieval buildings we admired aren’t medieval at all. The core of the city was rebuilt to look like pre-war Freiburg.
On Sunday morning we walked fifteen minutes to the Harpers’ apartment to join them and two of the exchange students, Mason and Park, to walk another 45 minutes to worship with their Baptist Church. What greeted us was a closed door and a sign (in German, of course) explaining there’d be no service here today. Erin and Donovan had been away the previous two Sundays, so missed earlier announcements. In church work, communication is everything! As for us, well an hour-long walk (one way) is good for the body–and not so terrible for the soul!
Our stay in Freiburg has been a mere four days, an almost criminal slight to this fascinating city.
JOY’S PICK OF THE PICS