Whether you are living in Freiburg or about to come here temporarily for an Erasmus or Exchange, it is impossible not to see a “Bächle” once you are here in any case. So, what is a Bächle? Why do they exist? What kind of role do they play in city life? This post aims to answer these questions and make you familiar with these famous water channels.
During most of the dry 2018 spring and summer, the Bächle’s were unfortunately empty. It was such a sad sight! I have personally felt their absence last summer. But with the nice weather we have been having for a week (and I guess thanks to the fair amount of rain and snow) I saw that finally Bächles are full of water and running again – just like we are used to seeing them!
Bächle is the name of the small water channel or rill that mostly runs through the roadsides at the old city center in Freiburg. The water for the Bächle is provided by the Dreisam river, which takes its source from Southern Black Forest. The word comes from German Bach – a stream or creek and takes the Alemannic suffix -le, consisting the name for the unique and famous landmark of Freiburg.“If visiting Freiburg for the first time, you will be pleasantly surprised by the many open streams flowing through the streets with crystal clear water.” (Description of the city from 1896)
In historic documents regarding the city, the Bächle was first mentioned in the 13th century when Count Egon I of Freiburg permitted Tennenbacherhof monastery to use a field that was irrigated thanks to a Bächle. So, they were not there for aesthetic or cooling down purposes at the beginning. They were purely practical: to take snow out of the city center, secure water in case of a drought or provide water supply to fight fires were some of the uses of these streams.In the 19th century, with a growing population and traffic, Bächles were considered as obstacles within the city center so they were mostly covered with wood or iron plates. However, within time, especially since the city center became a pedestrian zone, Bächles have become the perfect places to dip your feet, sit by the perfectly clear running water or race your small wooden boat called – Bächle Boot. Now Bächles are an inseparable part of the lively city life in Freiburg.
I hope you find a chance to chill next to a Bächle under a sunny spot, whether with your book, drink or some nice company as soon as possible. Now that you are more knowledgeable about them, you know that they are not just some random body of water by the road! Oh also, the legend says if you accidentally slip into a Bächle, you end up marrying a Freiburger, so be careful! Or not.