Exploring the world's built environments and seeking sustainable solutions.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Bächle of Freiburg

August 10th, 2013

One of the most charming things about the city of Freiburg, Germany are the little channels of water running throughout most of the streets and alleyways in old town known as the “bächle”. This word comes from the German word for stream, bach, followed by the Alemannic diminutive “le” meaning little. Although many uses of the bächle can be seen today, not many know the history of these enchanting runnels.  
Fed by the Dreisam river, the original bächle were built to help irrigate agricultural land in the early thirteenth century.  Because the city of Freiburg is settled on a natural slope, the construction of these artificial waterways was a convenient and intuitive manipulation of the Dreisam to maximize use of the water supply.  
During World War II Freiburg was severely damaged and many of the bächle failed to make it through the attacks.  The city seemed to lose focus of the historical significance of the bächle, and they weren’t a priority in redevelopment of the city until citizens came together to fight for their restoration, leaving them in the state of which they are today.
Today, various social activities take place in and around the bächle through out the streets of Freiburg. These channels have many uses, ranging from children’s boat races to late night meeting places.  Residents of Freiburg use the bächle in their every day lives, and people from each age group seem to enjoy them in all sorts different ways.  It seemed as though mostly children would run and play through them, racing boats and laughing with their friends as a fun, accessible, free and simple way to enjoy the city with their parents.  Teenagers and college students chill their drinks in the bächle at all times of the day or congregate around them at night, something we observed every single night around multiple streets. On hot summer days lots of people can be seen dipping their feet in to cool off.
Over time, public uses of the bächle have evolved with the changes to infrastructure and the social fabric of Freiburg.  Residents have a strong social value of the bächle because the people before them had to work to convince the city that their redevelopment was vital to their love for Freiburg.  One Freiburg local, a middle-aged man with his wife and young son, commented that “[they are] what makes walking around through Freiburg unique- there’s an unspoken pride over them that many of us residents share.”  His explanation illustrates the attitude that most residents seem to have toward the bächle, whether they enjoy them by dipping their feet in on a hot day or simply observing the omnipresent love that people share for them. But beware if you are a tourist, as I learned personally from an old Freiburger with broken English, if a visitor accidently steps in a bächle then they are destined to marry a Freiburger!
-Maisie Borg