Foundation and History of the Black Forest Capital

The hurdles and challenges through the last 1000 years that shaped the city

The Capital of the Black Forest, and one of the most beautiful cities in the country, home to more than half a million people and open for around three million tourists yearly, didn’t have the smoothest transit towards becoming what it is today. Many dynasties, rulers and families played their role in the city’s becoming.

The city was founded in 1120 by the Zähringer Dynasty, a swabian dynasty that got their name after the Zähringen castle near Freiburg. The family stayed on top of the city for around 100 years. Their successors were the Counts of Freiburg, a family that was not loved and respected by the population. After the citizens got rid of them, five centuries of Habsburg ruling followed. Next in line was Napoleon who requested transfer of the city to the Duchy of Baden, this period lasted for another 100 years, until in 1933 became part of the Republic of Baden, and after the Second World War the city became the capital of southern Baden.

Earliest Period – Zähringer Dynasty

The first written documents about Freiburg are dating from 1008 where the king is requesting a ban on wild animals in the forest around the city, in order to keep the trade under control. For this reason and easier control, he built a castle, which was under special protection. The residents of the castle with highest privileges were the merchants and the craftsmen.
The network of street water canals named Bächle are dating from around this period as well, they were used as water suppliers in the old times, and now they are one of the most common things about the City.

Unwanted Rulers – Counts of Freiburg

After the end of the Zähringers time the Counts of Urach, who renamed themselves into Counts of Freiburg became the castle residents. The residents were not amused by the current ruling family, and they wrote the first council constitution, according to which the 24 councilors from old families would rule the city. Counselors were changing yearly, at the end of the 13th century, the craftsmen were part of the councils. The fights between the rulers and the citizens were all about money, and in 1368, the citizens bought out their freedom for 20.000 marks, and announced the House of Habsburg as the city protector.


House of Habsburg Times

The Habsburgs showed their support to Freiburg with financial aid and knights in the war against the Swiss Confederation, but this didn’t help as almost the entire city was wiped out. Freiburg was an imperial city till the 15th century. At this time was found the Freiburg University, the fifth oldest university in Germany.

The 30 Years War

Inspired by the words of Martin Luther “On the Freedom of a Christian”, 18.000 peasants forced the city council to join Christian organisations and establish public peace, and these rebellious activities put the city in the German Peasants War.
In the beginning of the 1600s the city was falling under the constant changing ruling of the swedes and the spaniards, the century ended with the territory being conquered by the French.
French Times
Freiburg was occupied four times by the french in 1638, 1677, 1713 and 1754. At this time there was bitter poverty in the city, and only 1627 men and 2028 women lived in Freiburg. In the French times Freiburg was located in the Alsace province.

First World War

The state of war, in Freiburg was announced on 31st July 1914, and it hit the population very hard. Freiburg was bombed more than any other German city, and the food inventory was scarce. The soldiers ran barefoot in the summer. The city was defended in November 1918 and a worker’s council was formed in order to maintain order and law.

Second World War

Freiburg was severely bombed in the period between 1940-1944. Many people were killed and even more injured. The main points in the city were heavily damaged as well.

Freiburg Today

Freibourg today is one of the greenest cities in the country, connected via local train ride to the beauties of the Black Forest. The orientation towards a greener future is also witnessed by the choice of the city’s mayor. They had the first politician of the Green party elected as a mayor of a German city.

Farmers Life in the Black Forest 16th-18th Century

The Middle age life of the German farmers and how you can experience it

Even though the industry and the trade were advancing in the Middle Ages, a bigger part of the Germany society was sustaining mainly by agriculture. Of an estimated population of 12 million in 1500, only 1.5 million resided in cities and towns.

Differences between the North and the South

In the North and the East of the country, farms were extensive and produced grains, for export through the Baltic Sea route. The Northern German trade was mainly based on commodities such as grain, fish, salt, and metals. On the other hand the South and the West the country was densely populated, and the farmers here had smaller properties.
The southern farmers being landlocked, were dependent on their surplus grain sales of the towns in the area, and the ones who sold enough, used the money to acquire more land. The poorer peasants had smaller properties and the opportunity to only practice subsistence farming – meaning feeding only the family. The merchants of this part of the country would act as a connection to Italy, also trying to promote their linen products.



Black Death Survivors and Working Conditions

Another group of people were the one that were left without their own land after the Black Death plague, and they were working on the properties of their landlords. A lasting and serious consequence was the enormous reduction of the amount of land under cultivation, due to the deaths of so many labourers. The shortage of work force created high demand for workers, bringing them high wages. In the south of the country and the Black Forest Region, the policies from the landlord became stricter, because of the rising costs. Now the landlords were forbidding the farmers the access to commons, woods and streams. Performance rules were introduced, and taxation if one could not achieve the threshold.

The Rise of the Peasants

The Peasants tried to protest to the court about their conditions, and the division that was being created, but they were ignored, so they were forced to start disturbances in the whole region. There were protests in Gotha (1391), Bregenz (1407), Rottweil (1420), and Worms (1421), and recurring ones with high frequency in the Rhine region, Alsace and in the Black Forest. With the introduction of a cattle tax in 1458, the farmers started showing their anger even more and more organized. They had their non-compromising demands, and since the authorities ignored them again, the outbreak of the Peasant Revolution started. The symbol of the peasants was “bundschuh” ( wooden waistband shoe, typically worn by the farmers.) They also used some typical workers’ weapons as: flail, pitchfork, scythe, halberd and crossbow. A closer insight of this time can be experienced in the local museum in Hilzingen (close to Freiburg ca. 60 miles)

Sneak peek in the farm buildings

The Black Forest farms used to be black houses with thatched roofs and smoke rooms. Families used to live side by side with the animals. The farms architecture dating from this period, as well as the buildings from the same time such as bakery, the stillhouse, the mills and storehouses can be visited in Gutach (30 miles from Freiburg) in the Open – Air museum of the Black Forest (Vogtsbauernhof Museum). Not only you can see life from the outside but there are also furnished houses, with painted furniture, clocks and tiled stoves, as well as large farmsteads, that were used to store hay. There are also people who are recreating the past life on a daily basis, so here you can meet the slaughter, the distiller, and many other farmers. A great variety of traditional crafts are demonstrated every day.

The museum is open 7 months a year, and for a weekend in the Christmas Market period.
The season officially is closed with a harvest and slaughter festival when food is being cooked in the old fashioned way. Being on the german rail route this place is not to be missed.