Freiburg's History for Pedestrians










The Dukes of Zähringen

According to old records, Duke Bertold II (1078-1111) moved out of his castle deep in the woods of Zähringen in 1091 and had built the beautiful Castrum de Friburch on the hill above Freiburg that today is called Schlossberg. While you can still visit traces of the original Zähringen castle. nothing but a description is left from the Castrum de Friburch. Nowadays, on its former site, a modern version, the Greiffeneck-Schlössle invites the visitor for a drink or meal, offering the most magnificent view over the city as a bonus.


The old castle is situated above the village of Zähringen, nowadays a suburb of Freiburg. For a visit, take streetcar number 4 to Zähringen and count a two-hours walk uphill.



The settlement at the foot of the Schlossberg - housing the footmen and artisans needed to serve their masters of the castle - soon reveals its commercial asset. for two important roads cross the place. Today still visible is the Salzstraße running from west to east on which loads of salt were transported from Swabia, passing through the Schwabentor. The other axis running north-south is formed by the broad Market Street now called Kaiser-Josef-Straße.


Duke Bertold II, a relief in the pedestrian circuit around the high choir of the Münster


Only in the 18th century the market moved from there to the Münsterplatz when the original grave yard around the cathedral was transferred to a new cemetery in Herdern now called the old cemetery.


The Market Street entering Freiburg through the Martinstor took the substential south-north traffic connecting Basle with big cities in the north like Frankfurt. No wonder the crossroad on the foot of the Schlossberg soon developed into a booming merchandizing place.





Bertold V's coffin on the inner south wall of the Münster

Freiburg's Birth


It is Duke Bertold III (1111-1122) who decides that the marketplace should have the status of a city. Contrary to his younger brother Konrad (1122-1152), Bertold likes the art of warfare, so he battles the city of Cologne in the service of his Emperor Henry V (1106-1125). During this war, the Duke is captured and becomes a POW in a city that already at that time boasted of twelve churches in Romanesque style serving about 40,000 inhabitants.


While imprisoned in Cologne, Bertold sees and learns quite a lot. When he is eventually liberated, he tells his brother Konrad to model Freiburg's ordinances and privileges according to those of the city of Cologne. Given Bertold's services for the Emperor and the Reich, Henry heartily consents to found a free borough: The city of Freiburg is born!


In exploiting silver mines in the Black Forest, Freiburg soon grows into a prosperous city. In 1146 it became so iinfluential that the famous Bernard of Clairvaux preached the 2nd Crusade in the parish church. Simultaneous translation, like in the case of Billy Graham when he toured Germany, is necessary since Bernard holds his sermon neither in Latin - that only the clerisy will understand - nor speaks German. He preaches in some sort of early French.


When the last Zähringer Bertold V (1186-1218) sees that he will die without issue, he decides to replace the original parish church that has anyway become too small for the ever-increasing population with a more prominent building modeled after the cathedral of Basle.



In 1202 the old parish church was still up and operational when Freiburg started erecting the transept of the new Minster.


The new Münster was started in 1200 in the late Romanesque style. The last of the Bertolds wants the new cathedral to become his entombment which it eventually does.


Sigillum Civium Friburgensium Brisgaudia









Albertus Magnus' statue

on Schwabentor Bridge






















The Bishop's Cross.

Take streetcar number 1 direction, Landwasser, and get off at Bischofskreuz. The Cross is located near the church.


Freiburg's Raven

on Schwabentor Bridge


The pyramid
powdered with snow

The Counts of Freiburg


Following the death of the last Duke of Zähringen, Bertold's nephew Egino, Count of Urach is in line of succession. Soon he and later his descendants proudly call themselves Counts of Freiburg. Freiburg's citizens, however, mistrust their new masters. They take care writing their acquired privileges into a document called Stadtrodel and seal the paper with - watch your feet, you might be stepping on it - the Freiburg Seal. The manhole covers to Freiburg's gully system cast from steel carry the image of the original Freiburg seal. Luckily, the steel plates are too heavy for the casual souvenir hunter.


The state of construction of the Münster in 1220 with the finished transept in late Romanesque style



In the beginning, the relationship between the city's inhabitants and their masters is not bad, but overall, the 150-year rule of the Counts is mainly characterized by disputes with their subjects about money and wars. Nevertheless, Freiburg strives during that period. Due to its silver mines, the construction of the Münster advances well, and the city attracts many people as a preferred trading place. Its population grows.



Albertus Magnus Teaches in Freiburg


Around 1235 the famous scientist, philosopher, and Dominican Albertus Magnus spends some time as a lecturer in the Preachers' (Prediger) monastery near the gate of the same name. In addition to the Dominicans, the Franciscan barefooters (Barfüßer) build their place of residence within the city walls and construct the still existing St. Martin’s church, finished in 1318. At the end of the 13th century, Freiburg counts 30 churches, monasteries, and chapels serving 9000 inhabitants.



Preachers' (Prediger) monastery and gate. No traces are left, but the name remains.



Trouble starts when in 1273 - following the Interregnum, the dreadful period without an Emperor - the Electors eventually choose Rudolf of Habsburg to be their king. Like everybody in the German Empire, Egino II, grandson of the first Egino, considers Rudolf a weakling with no land and money. The Count easily convinces the citizens of Freiburg to organize a little uprising against the new king. This turns out to be a bad decision. When Rudolf arrives with a strong army and besieges Freiburg, the Count soon has to give up. Both the city and its ruler have to bear heavy financial consequences following their treacherous act.


 St. Martin's church and the remnants of the cloisters

 of the barefooter monastery at Rathausplatz.


Construction of the Münster nave with the first
 two arches in pre-Gothic style around 1256



A Bishop Pierced in Combat


Freiburg is still rich and can meet the imposed reparation payment, while Egino II has no money as usual. Desperately the Count asks for higher taxes. These the citizens not only refuse to pay but on top of it start a war bombarding Egino's castle in 1299.


At that perilous juncture, the Count calls his brother-in-law Konrad von Lichtenberg for help against his subjects. Konrad is Bishop of Strasbourg, arriving with an army to force the rebels to their knees. Citizens and their servants fight the battle against the enemy with all their might but are soon exhausted. In a desperate act, a Freiburg butcher called Hauri moves forward and sticks a spear into the bishop. That ends the battle and teaches us that a bishop should rather keep watch over his sheep than lead them to the slaughter. Killing a bishop demanded atonement. At the place where Konrad von Lichtenberg was killed, the citizens erect a cross that can still be seen today.


In the meantime, the construction of the Münster advances well. Following the finishing of the nave and the base of the steeple, the wooden bell-cage is erected in which the Hosanna bell (cast already in 1258) is supended in 1300. The original bell and its cage can still be visited. Only lately, some of the supporting beams had to be exchanged in a delicate and complicated operation.


State of the Münster in 1300. The last four arches are built in High-Gothic style.


The Freiburg's Counts always need money. In 1327 Count Konrad II pawns his coining prerogative to the city. The Freiburg Mint soon issues silver coins showing an eagle's head that looked to the man in the street rather like a raven. Raven is Rabe in German and was pronounced Rappe in former times. The coins in Switzerland are still called Rappen. The name dates back to 1377, when the cities of Basle, Colmar, Breisach, and Freiburg formed the Raven Mint Union (Rappenmünzbund).



A Nearly Finished Münster


By 1340 the steeple of the Münster is finished of which the famous historian Jacob Burckhart once said that it will always remain the most beautiful steeple in the whole world. To balance the overall appearance of the church, the City Council decided to increase the height of the two so-called Cock Steeples and to replace the existing high choir with a more generous one in late-Gothic style.  In 1353 the cornerstone is laid, but two events cause the construction of the choir soon be stopped.


The finished Münster around 1360 with the high choir just started.


In 1348/49, a plague epidemic drastically reduces Freiburg's population. As everywhere else in Europe, the Jews are falsely accused of being the origin of the disease leading up to bloody pogroms against this minority.


The Habsburg Eagle




Meet the Habsburgs





The other reason for stopping the construction of the choir is a further deterioration in the relation between the Counts and their city during the second half of the 14th century. Mayor and City Council complain to the cities of Basle, Bern, and Strasbourg about their rulers: The Counts are arsonists, commit murders, practice robbery, and settle foreign people into our neighborhood. In 1366 with the help of mercenaries, Count Egino III tries to invade Freiburg in the middle of the night. When the storm bell warned the citizens in time, the Count shouted: Today I am the ruler of Freiburg, from now on, never again.



A New Start with the House of Habsburg


How true. Freiburg's citizens are so sick of their rulers that in 1368 they buy their independence. For an outrageous sum of 15,000 silver Marks, the counts entirelyrenounce their rights. Since the city needs a protector, Freiburg voluntarily submits itself to the rule of the - in the meantime mighty - House of Habsburg. The new rulers guarantee Freiburg's constitution, a considerale measure of self-government, and hand over to the city the castle on the Schlossberg, the former seat of oppression


The separation from the Counts also means that Freiburg's citizens take over the financial burden for building the Münster.  The hefty payment in favor of the Count also means the city is nearly bankrupt. So the construction of the parish church is only taken up in 1471.  Nevertheless the church is finished as early as 1513, making it the only German Gothic cathedral completed in the Middle Ages.


This page was last updated on 22 June, 2022