Unless today’s Sunday, it’s Market Day in Freiburg. As early as six in the morning, merchants and farmers from near and far descend upon the town, setting up their tents and stalls and artfully displaying their harvests and wares. As sleepy-eyed Freiburgers awake to a new day, the market begins to pulse with activity.
Follow the cobblestone streets to the heart of the town. The tower spire of the cathedral (münster in German) is your beacon. You know you’re getting closer as the faint murmurs you hear grow into bustling chatter until finally, you reach the lively social nexus of Freiburg.
It’s been a similar experience for locals and travelers alike for 800 years in this town. Since the Middle Ages, people have congregated at the Münsterplatz (Cathedral Square) to chat with friends, to hear and share news about the neighbors down the street or from places well beyond the town’s walls, to gather their daily provisions, and to just to watch and be part of the scene.
Wandering from stall to stall, I take a few lingering moments to see what each vendor has to offer at today’s Münstermarkt. Produce is ubiquitous and flowers of all kinds are ready to be bundled into rainbows of bouquets. An olive-seller displays his shiny briny fruits like jewels and convinces me to sample the red pepper flakes and garlic medley (I end up buying 100 grams of it). There are wholesome baked goods, sticky marmalades, stinky cheeses, and exotic dried spices. Freiburg’s famous—and ridiculously long— red sausage can be found at half a dozen different stands boldly advertising lange Rote.
A bearded hipster has set up shop, hoping that someone will make use of his natural and handmade bristle brushes. A frizzy-haired woman tries to persuade customers that her vinegar infusions are great on everything. And if you think you’ve lost your marbles, the skinny fellow in glasses can sell you as many as you need.
A wall of hand-carved cookie molds catches my eye. The young merchant teaches me about the traditional Christmas biscuit Springele. In medieval times, they were often decorated with Biblical scenes. And while today there are still plenty of Christmasy designs, scenes of toys, animals, and everyday life are equally as common. In this area of Germany, people exchange the Springele like some exchange Christmas cards. The notion of this centuries-old tradition so touches me that I pick up a few molds for some friends and hope that they’ll blend some of this beautiful German culture into their own family traditions (get the Christmas biscuit recipe at the end of this article).
After filling my shopping bag with market goods, I stroll to the far end of the Münsterplatz to visit the City Museum. It’s humble and lacks posted English descriptions, but I find myself entranced by a top-floor exhibit. Encased in glass is a model of the very square I was just exploring. But this is set in the 13th-century, while the cathedral is midway through its construction. Thoughtfully detailed miniature figures populate the area around church.
You can practically hear all the commotion: the fishmongers bark out the prices of their daily catch, a woman haggles over the price of bread, and tiny workers grumble about how much longer it’ll take to complete their town’s house of God. It’s a medieval slice of life, but it reminds me that even after eight centuries, daily life in Freiburg is delightfully still pretty much the same.If you’re interested in sampling some Freiburg culture, here’s a recipe for Spingele that you might like to try.