Freiburg was founded by Konrad and Duke Berthold III of Zähringen in 1120 as a free market town; hence its name, which translates to "free (or independent) town". Frei means "free", and Burg, like the modern English word "borough", was used in those days for an incorporated city or town, usually one with some degree of autonomy. The German word Burg also means "a fortified town", as in Hamburg. Thus, it is likely that the name of this place means a "fortified town of free citizens".
This town was strategically located at a junction of trade routes between the Mediterranean Sea and the North Sea regions, and the Rhine and Danube rivers. In 1200, Freiburg's population numbered approximately 6,000 people. At about that time, under the rule of Bertold V, the last duke of Zähringen, the city began construction of its Freiburg Münster cathedral on the site of an older parish church. Begun in the Romanesque style, it was continued and completed 1513 for the most part as a Gothic edifice. In 1218, when Bertold V died, then Egino V von Urach, the count of Urach assumed the title of Freiburg's count as Egino I von Freiburg. The city council did not trust the new nobles and wrote down its established rights in a document. At the end of the thirteenth century there was a feud between the citizens of Freiburg and their lord, Count Egino II of Freiburg. Egino II raised taxes and sought to limit the citizens' freedom, after which the Freiburgers used catapults to destroy the count's castle atop the Schloßberg, a hill that overlooks the city center. The furious count called on his brother-in-law the Bishop of Strasbourg, Konradius von Lichtenberg, for help. The bishop responded by marching with his army to Freiburg.
According to an old Freiburg legend, a butcher named Hauri stabbed the Bishop of Strasbourg to death on 29 July 1299. It was a Pyrrhic victory, since henceforth the citizens of Freiburg had to pay an annual expiation of 300 marks in silver to the count of Freiburg until 1368. In 1366 the counts of Freiburg made another failed attempt to occupy the city during a night raid. Eventually the citizens were fed up with their lords, and in 1368 Freiburg purchased its independence from them. The city turned itself over to the protection of the Habsburgs, who allowed the city to retain a large measure of freedom. Most of the nobles of the city died in the battle of Sempach (1386). The patrician family Schnewlin took control of the city until the guildsmen revolted. The guilds became more powerful than the patricians by 1389.
The silver mines in Mount Schauinsland provided an important source of capital for Freiburg. This silver made Freiburg one of the richest cities in Europe, and in 1327 Freiburg minted its own coin, the Rappenpfennig. In 1377 the cities of Freiburg, Basel, Colmar, and Breisach entered into an alliance known as the Genossenschaft des Rappenpfennigs (Rappenpfennig Collective). This alliance facilitated commerce among the cities and lasted until the end of the sixteenth century. There were 8,000-9,000 people living in Freiburg between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and 30 churches and monasteries. At the end of the fourteenth century the veins of silver were dwindling, and by 1460 only approximately 6,000 people still lived within Freiburg's city walls.
A university city, Freiburg evolved from its focus on mining to become a cultural centre for the arts and sciences. It was also a commercial center. The end of the Middle Ages and the dawn of the Renaissance was a time of both advances and tragedy for Freiburg.
In 1457, Albrecht VI, Regent of Further Austria, established Albert-Ludwigs-Universität, one of Germany's oldest universities. In 1498, Emperor Maximilian I held a Reichstag in Freiburg. In 1520, the city ratified a set of legal reforms, widely considered the most progressive of the time. The aim was to find a balance between city traditions and old Roman Law. The reforms were well received, especially the sections dealing with civil process law, punishment, and the city's constitution.
In 1520, Freiburg decided not to take part in the Reformation and became an important centre for Catholicism on the Upper Rhine. Erasmus moved here after Basel accepted the Reformation.
In 1536, a strong and persistent belief in witchcraft led to the city's first witch-hunt. The need to find a scapegoat for calamities such as the Black Plague, which claimed 2,000 area residents (25% of the city population) in 1564, led to an escalation in witch-hunting that reached its peak in 1599. A plaque on the old city wall marks the spot where burnings were carried out.
The seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries were turbulent times for Freiburg. At the beginning of the Thirty Years' War there were 10,000-14,000 citizens in Freiburg; by its end only 2,000 remained. During this war and other conflicts, at various times the city belonged to the Austrians, the French, the Swedish, the Spanish, and various members of the German Confederacy. Between 1648 and 1805, it was the administrative headquarters of Further Austria, the Habsburg territories in the southwest of Germany, when the city was not under French occupation. In 1805, the city, together with the Breisgau and Ortenau areas, became part of Baden.
In 1827, when the Archdiocese of Freiburg was founded, Freiburg became the seat of a Catholic archbishop.
On the 22nd of October 1940, the Nazi Gauleiter of Baden Robert Heinrich Wagner ordered the deportation of all of Baden's and 350 of Freiburg's Jewish population. They were deported to Camp Gurs in the south of France where many died. On 18 July 1942, the remaining Baden and Freiburg Jews were transferred to Auschwitz in Poland, where almost all were murdered. A living memorial has been created in the form of the 'footprint' in marble on the site of the city's original synagogue which was burned down by the Nazis on 9th November 1938 (known as 'Kristallnacht'). The memorial is a children's paddling pool and contains a bronze memorial plaque commemorating the original building and the Jewish community which perished. The pavements of Freiburg carry memorials to individual victims in the form of brass plates outside their former residences.
Freiburg was heavily bombed during World War II. First, in May 1940, aircraft of the Luftwaffe mistakenly dropped approximately 60 bombs on Freiburg near the train station, killing 57 people. Later on, a raid by more than 300 bombers of the RAF Bomber Command on 27 November 1944 (Operation Tigerfish) destroyed a large portion of the city centre, with the notable exception of the Münster, which was only lightly damaged. After the war, the city was rebuilt on its medieval plan.
It was occupied by the French Army on 21 April 1945, and Freiburg was soon allotted to the French Zone of Occupation. In December 1945 Freiburg became the seat of government for the German state Badenia, which was merged into Baden-Württemberg in 1952. The French Army maintained a presence in Freiburg until 1991, when the last French Army division left the city, and left Germany.
On the site of the former French Army base, a new neighborhood for 5,000 people, Vauban, was begun in the late 1990s as a "sustainable model district". Solar power is used to power many of the households in this small community.
Because of its scenic beauty, relatively warm and sunny climate, and easy access to the Black Forest, Freiburg is a hub for regional tourism. The longest cable car run in Germany, which is 3.6 kilometres (2.2 mi) long, runs from Günterstal up to a nearby mountain called Schauinsland. The city has an unusual system of gutters (called Freiburg Bächle) that run throughout its centre. These Bächle, once used to provide water to fight fires and feed livestock, are constantly flowing with water diverted from the Dreisam. They were never intended to be used for sewage, and even in the Middle Ages such use could lead to harsh penalties. During the summer, the running water provides natural cooling of the air, and offers a pleasant gurgling sound. It is said that if one accidentally falls or steps into a Bächle, they will marry a Freiburger, or 'Bobbele'.
The Augustinerplatz is one of the central squares in the old city. Formerly the location of an Augustinian monastery that became the Augustiner Museum in 1921, it is now a popular social space for Freiburg's younger residents. It has a number of restaurants and bars, including the local brewery 'Feierling', which has a Biergarten. On warm summer nights, hundreds of students gather here.
At the centre of the old city is the Münsterplatz or Cathedral Square, Freiburg's largest square. A farmers market is held here every day except Sundays. This is the site of Freiburg's Münster, a gothic minster cathedral constructed of red sandstone, built between 1200 and 1530 and noted for its towering spire.
The Historical Merchants' Hall (Historisches Kaufhaus), is a Late Gothic building on the south side of Freiburg's Münsterplatz. Built between 1520 and 1530, it was once the center of the financial life of the region. Its façade is decorated with statues and the coat of arms of four Habsburg emperors.
The Altes Rathaus, or old city hall, was completed in 1559 and has a painted façade. The Platz der alten Synagoge "Old Synagogue Square" is one of the more important squares on the outskirts of the historic old city. The square was the location of a synagogue until it was destroyed on Kristallnacht in 1938. Zum Roten Bären, the oldest hotel in Germany, is located along Oberlinden near the Swabian Gate.
The Siegesdenkmal, or victory monument, is a monument to the German victory in the Franco-Prussian War in 1871. It is situated at the northern edge of the historic city center of Freiburg. The Siegesdenkmal was built by Karl Friedrich Moest. In everyday language of people living in Freiburg, it serves as an orientation marker or as a meeting place.
To the east of the city centre, the Schlossberg hill provides extensive views over the city and surrounding region. The castle (Schloss) from which the hill takes its name was demolished in the 1740s, and only ruins remain. Schlossberg retained its importance to the city, however, and 150 years ago the city leaders opened up walks and views to make the mountain available to the public. Today, the Schlossbergbahn funicular railway connects the city centre to the hill.
Other museums in the city include the Archaeology Colombischlössle Museum.
Badische Zeitung is the main local daily paper, covering the Black Forest region.
In 2010, Freiburg was voted as the Academy of Urbanism's European City of the Year in recognition of the exemplary sustainable urbanism it has implemented over the past several decades.
Freiburg is bordered by the Black Forest mountains Rosskopf and Bromberg to the east, Schönberg and Tuniberg to the south, with the Kaiserstuhl hill region to the west.
Köppen climate classification classifies its climate as oceanic (Cfb). Marine features are limited however, as a result of its vast distance to oceans and seas. As a result, summers have a significant subtropical influence as the inland air heats up. July and August are even under normal circumstances akin to a heatwave for most of Germany. Winters are moderate but usually with frequent frosts.
Freiburg is known as an "eco-city". It has attracted the Bundesamt für Strahlenschutz, solar industries, and research; the Greens have a stronghold there (the strongest in any major German city; up to 35% of the overall city vote, in some neighbourhoods reaching 40% or more in the 2012 national elections). The newly built neighbourhoods of Vauban and Rieselfeld were developed and built according to the idea of sustainability. The citizens of Freiburg are known in Germany for their love of cycling and recycling.
The Oberbürgermeister, Dieter Salomon, (elected as of 2002), was the first member of Bündnis 90/Die Grünen to hold such an office in a city with more than 100,000 inhabitants.
In June 1995, the Freiburg city council adopted a resolution that it would permit construction only of "low-energy buildings" on municipal land, and all new buildings must comply with certain "low energy" specifications. Low-energy housing uses solar power passively as well as actively. In addition to solar panels and collectors on the roof, providing electricity and hot water, many passive features use the sun’s energy to regulate the temperature of the rooms.
Freiburg is host to a number of international organisations, in particular, ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability, ISES - International Solar Energy Society, and the City Mayors Foundation.
Freiburg is a center of academia and research with numerous intellectual figures and Nobel Laureates having lived, worked, and taught there.
The city houses one of the oldest and most renowned of German universities, the Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg, as well as its medical center. Home to some of the greatest minds of the West, including such eminent figures as Johann Eck, Max Weber, Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, and Friedrich Hayek, it is one of Europe's top research and teaching institutions.
Freiburg also plays host to various other educational and research institutes, such as the Freiburg University of Education, the Protestant University for Applied Sciences Freiburg, Freiburg Music Academy, the Catholic University of Applied Sciences Freiburg, the International University of Cooperative Education IUCE, three Max Planck institutes, and five Fraunhofer institutes.
The city is home to the IES Abroad European Union program, which allows students to study the development and activities of the EU.
The DFG / LFA Freiburg, a French-German high school established by the 1963 Élysée Treaty, is in the city.
Freiburg has an extensive pedestrian zone in the city centre where no motor cars are allowed. Freiburg also has an excellent public transport system, operated by the city-owned VAG Freiburg. The backbone of the system is the Freiburg tramway network, supplemented by feeder buses.
Freiburg is on the main Frankfurt am Main - Basel railway line, with frequent and fast long-distance passenger services from the Freiburg Hauptbahnhof to major German and other European cities. Other railway lines run east into the Black Forest and west to Breisach. The line to Breisach is the remaining stub of the Freiburg–Colmar international railway, severed in 1945 when the railway bridge over the Rhine at Breisach was destroyed, and was never replaced.
The city also is served by the A5 Frankfurt am Main - Basel motorway.
Freiburg is served by EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg in France, close to the borders of both Germany and Switzerland, 70 km (43 mi) south of Freiburg. Karlsruhe/Baden-Baden airport (Baden Airpark) is approximately 100 km (62 mi) north of Freiburg and is also served by several airlines. The nearest larger international airports include Stuttgart (200 km (120 mi)), Frankfurt/Main (260 km (160 mi)), and Munich (430 km (270 mi)). The nearby Flugplatz Freiburg, a small airfield in the Messe, Freiburg district, lacks commercial service but is used for private aviation.
Car share website such as Mitfahrgelegenheit are commonly used among Freiburg residents since it is considered relatively safe.
Freiburg is home to football teams SC Freiburg, which plays at the Dreisamstadion, and Freiburger FC.
Freiburg also has the EHC Freiburg Ice hockey team, which plays at the Franz-Siegel Halle, and the RC Freiburg Rugby union team, which competes in the Regionalliga Baden Wurttemberg.
From 1925 to 1984, the Schauinsland Races took place on an old logging track. The course is still used periodically for European Hill Climb Championships.
The city's coat of arms is Argent a cross Gules, the St George's Cross. Saint George is the city's patron saint. The cross also appears on the city's flag, which dates from about 1368, and is identical to that of England, which has the same patron.
The city also has a seal that can be seen in a few places in the inner city. It is a stylized depiction of the façade of the Wasserschlössle, a castle-like waterworks facility built into a hill that overlooks the residential district of Wiehre. The seal depicts a three-towered red castle on a white background, with green-clad trumpeters atop the two outer towers. Beneath the castle is a gold fleur-de-lis.