Wandering Freiburg

On the morning of our last full day in Freiburg, I awake feeling much like I’ve been run over by a train a few times. My head aches, my throat is on fire, my body hurts every where. When I stand up, my calves remind me how much up and down walking I’ve been doing by spasming painfully. I look in the mirror to discover a large spot between my upper lip and nose. I get out my reading glasses and determine it’s a giant zit that could only be more noticeable if it were on the end of my nose. There is a certain irony about having to put on reading glasses to determine a foreign body on your face is a zit, but I cannot say I find it amusing.

I splash water on my face and drink some from a glass in the room, breaking my no tap water rule. I am glad that we have spent so many days in this small town–I don’t feel rushed to see all of it in a day and feel the freedom to relax into our trip gradually as my body adjusts to the time change and, hopefully, defeats whatever virus it is that I’ve picked up on the plane. I check the time and it’s nearly 9AM. Pat is up and we make our way towards breakfast with me moving slower than usual.

I take my iPad to breakfast with us today since we haven’t yet figured out what to do today. Pat suggests going hiking again, but every part of my body screams “Nein!” at this suggestion. I suggest we hit a couple of museums and do a casual stroll down to the Dreisam River, now that we know where it is. We plot out a broad rectangle through town, wrap up breakfast, and head back to the room to finish preparing. I make the mistake of sitting down on the bed to read while Pat is in the shower, finding myself nodding off and slow to get moving again. It’s nearly noon by the time we get out the door. I remind myself again that we don’t have to try to do and see everything and this is our 4th day in this town–if we didn’t see anything else here, it would be OK.

We wander down a street we haven’t taken before–when we looked at the map, we were surprised to find that there were a few of those left. We point ourselves at the Anthropological Museum, hoping for dinosaurs and wooly mammoths, I suppose. When we arrive at the museum, we recognize the park in front of it and realize that we’ve been by several times before. The building isn’t big enough to house dinosaurs, but we go in anyway.

We follow the displays of ancient artifacts ranging from tiny remnants of weapons and tools to large pots. The signs are only in German and the English translation booklets are all gone. Pat has trouble translating the signs, not knowing many of the words since they are not commonly used in conversation. I wonder if it is a deep character flaw on my part that when I see these types of displays with their little signs purporting historical significance that I immediately want to lay down and take a nap. We make it through two and a half small floors of displays of similar items. Some displays are models of what life looked like at each represented chapter from history. One has a tiny woolly mammoth in it and I smile. But upon closer inspection, I see that it is a child’s plastic rhino covered in fake fur to look like a mammoth–apparently model mammoths are hard to come by.

Returning to the bright sunlight outside the museum, we walk a little further and find a much more exciting sight–the university library is being torn down. A crane takes bites of concrete from the massive structure, leaving exposed rebar along the edges. We retreat to a safe corner as we watch and a man standing there strikes up a conversation with Pat. He has returned to Freiburg for the first time in 20 years and is amazed that they are tearing down the library. He tells Pat that he watched it being built when he was a college student there in 1977. Other than the building being ugly, I can’t determine why they would be tearing it down by looking. I stand there watching the crane at work as Pat and the man continue their conversation. I catch bits and pieces and realize they’re trading stories about travel, but at last Pat turns to me and says, “He’s doing what we want to do–he has no home.” Later, I learn from Pat that the man graduated from college and started living out of a VW bus, traveling all over Europe. He also spent about a year doing the same in the US. He never settled down and continues to live on the cheap as he moves from place to place. He tells Pat that he gets an occasional job but he eats from the grocery store, buys used clothes, and spends very little money. I find myself wondering who “we” is in Pat’s statement.

We wander on down to the Dreisam “river” and realize why we couldn’t find it the other day–we probably crossed over it without noticing. We walk down to a pedestrian path along the water passing groups of teenagers who pass joints back and forth between them, the smell of pot lingering in the air. Pat tells me to be careful in case we are mugged, but I imagine we would be in more danger if we were carrying a bag of fries than carrying my camera. We walk on by un-accosted.

A beer garden sits on the edge of the river in front of an active group of ducks fluttering around on the water. We stop and think we might have a snack, but the waiter doesn’t come and finally Pat goes inside, returning with two Pilsners and no food. When I ask about a snack, he tells me the kitchen was a cluster, so he just got beer. We had breakfast only two hours ago, so I figure we should survive the deprivation, but I worry about drinking strong German beer without any food. Pat has to answer an email, which takes him a long time on his iPhone. I sit and wait for him to finish, watching a silly dog dive into the knee-deep water and try to chase the ducks, hopelessly thwarted by the resistance of the water.

A man gets up and points out a large heron of some kind sitting on the bank across the stream. It looks related to the Great Blue Heron of home, but I wish for the second time that I had purchased a German bird book before coming over. I also wish I’d brought my telephoto lens with me today instead of leaving it in the hotel, but content myself with shooting with the lens I have.

After finishing our beers, we walk on along the river, passing a pair of lovers on a park bench. They are young. He sits in the bench while she lays with her head in his lap. They see nothing but each other and he reaches out and strokes her face with the tenderness of young love. After we pass, I tell Pat I wish I could shoot that moment without interrupting it, he looks at me oddly and says, “They’re dirty and homeless and they look like they’re high.” I guess we all see things differently–or maybe I really did need to have food with my beer.

Returning to the city streets, we find ourselves some ice cream and wander along towards the modern museum of art. We find a large church on the way and stop to peer at it between the bars that keep it closed to the public but open for gawking. Pat says, “They really make it hard to get close to god at this one!”. I laugh, but since I think we’re closer being outside than in, perhaps it’s not as funny to me.

We wander around some more, deciding to stop and eat a flatbread pizza-like thing that Pat says first appeared in Germany about 15 years ago and seems to have grown in popularity since. He doesn’t like Flamkuchen himself, but thinks he should give it another try. We sit outside once more, this time in a small courtyard between what might be office buildings. The Flamkuchen is not any better than Pat remembers it, but the beer is good. We sit in the sun feeling very European–or maybe French or Italian–letting the afternoon cruise by as we relax with no place to go.

Finding the small amount of energy I’d rallied flagging, I suggest we skip the art museum and return to the hotel for a nap instead. Pat agrees and we make our way back to the hotel. We decide to watch an episode of Damages on my iPad and I fall asleep ten minutes in. Pat goes through two more episodes while I doze before he, too, falls asleep.

Waking nearly 3 hours later, I am groggy and confused, but hungry. We decide to do our usual wandering for dinner exercise. I get myself sorted and we decide to try to find the restaurant we ate at our first night in town. We both think we know where it is, although we don’t agree. We wander around for an hour with it being in neither of the places we thought it was. Eventually, we settle for a place we haven’t been before where I try a traditional German version of macaroni and cheese. It’s made with spaetzle noodles and rich cheese and cream sauce and topped with toasted onions.

While I eat, I watch two French men sitting behind Pat. Tonight, they are the “loud Americans,” talking and laughing loudly and ogling each woman that walks by with an openness that I haven’t seen in the states in 20 years. One of them wears a polo shirt and khakis that look almost American. The other wears a black leather biker vest, a long dangling earring in one ear, and his mostly missing hair in a pony tail. If it weren’t for how they held their knife and fork, I would think they were Americans playing a joke by speaking French. Then, the biker guy pauses in his eating to run his tongue down the length of his knife, removing every remnant of whatever he’d been cutting with it. I have never seen anyone do this from any country, although having only been to France a few times, I can’t claim to be an expert on French etiquette. I’m pretty sure this is not standard French dinner behavior, however.

Finishing up dinner and skipping dessert, we drag our still tired selves back to the hotel for the final time. We set the alarm for the first time since we arrived, needing to get up early to catch the train to Berlin in the morning. As I get ready for bed, I carry my iPad around with me trying to catch up in the episodes I slept through. Getting caught up, I suddenly feel wide awake. We end up watching one more episode before falling asleep. I wonder if our German neighbors can hear the iPad through the walls as I drift off to sleep.


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