These rectangular, cross-sectioned and stone-lined channels have been carrying water from the river Dreisam through the Altstadt, German for “Old Town,” for centuries. The channels have been around since at least 1250, but it’s believed they may be older, and were around during the mid-twelfth century.
The first mention of these unique little canals comes from a written account from around 1220. In it, Count Egon I of Freiburg gave the Tennenbacherhof monastery permission to use a field that was irrigated by the waterway. It’s believed that the Freiburg Bächle was not only used to bring water to the city, but also helped water animals and fight fires.
The rapidly flowing water is cool, crisp, and clean. It’s not uncommon to spot a group of children racing boats in the water, or a few adults cooling their feet in the waters during summer days.
The occasional accident does occur at these channels, as people have tripped and fallen into the waters. This became so commonplace at one point, a legend arose that if an unmarried person fell into one of the runnels, they were destined to marry a Freiburger.
While these channels are currently clean and wholesome, it’s easy to imagine that the opposite was the case during the unsanitary Middle Ages. However, this may be far from the truth. Since the canals of the Freiburg’s Bächle were used as drinking water, harsh penalties were implemented to prevent residents from ruining the city’s gutter system and water supply.