For 47 years after the Second World War, the French army maintained a large base in Freiburg, three kilometers south of the city center. The French base was called Vauban Barracks (la caserne Vauban) and was named after the French military engineer Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban (1633-1707).
When the last French troops left the site in 1993, it was bought by the city of Freiburg for the development of a “Sustainable Model District Vauban”, a new district for more than 5000 inhabitants and 600 jobs.
The new district was intended to use renewable energy resources and was planned for the needs of people, not automobiles. About 40 % of the households agreed to live without having their own cars, and the rest park in parking garages on the outskirts, so the residential areas are not cluttered with automobiles. None of the houses has a garage, but nearly all of them have sheds for bicycle parking.
The zoning regulations in Vauban forbid the construction of free-standing one-family houses, because the intention is to create a viable urban neighborhood that is easily accessible by bicycle and public transport, not a suburban sprawl that would be dependent on automobile traffic.
Private ownership and development of the buildings is encouraged, however, so there is considerable variety in the appearance of the buildings.
Most of the streets in Vauban (all but one, actually) are named after people who opposed the Nazis in one way or another. This street, for instance, is named after the writer Kurt Tucholsky (1890-1935), who had to emigrate to Sweden as soon as the Nazis seized power in Germany.
This street is named after Harriet Straub (1872-1945), a physician and author who was not allowed to write during the period of Nazi rule.
There is even a street named after Georg Elser (1903-1945), who attempted unsuccessfully to assassinate the dictator Adolf Hitler in 1939.
This central square is named after Alfred Döblin (1878-1957), another German author who went into exile as soon as the Nazis came into power. Today Döblin is best known for his novel Berlin Alexanderplatz from the year 1929.
All German cities and towns have the option of declaring some of their streets to be “traffic-calmed streets” or “play streets”, providing they are willing incur the wrath of the powerful automobile lobbies.
The unusual thing about Vauban is that nearly all the streets in the district have this status. Theoretically anyone with a driver’s license is expected to know what this means, but just to make sure there are several signs in Vauban explaining the rules:
- Walking speed must not be exceeded.
- Pedestrians are allowed to use the entire width of the street.
- Children are allowed to play everywhere.
- Parking only in designated areas.
- A high degree of mutual consideration on the part of all road users is necessary.
This is the only street in Vauban which is not named after someone who opposed the Nazis. It is the main street, Vauban-Allee, where the tram line number 3 now runs. Since Vauban was born exactly three hundred years before the Nazis seized power, there was no way he could have had any opinion about them.
This street sign notes that Vauban as General Commissioner of Fortifications designed and built a fortress on the Schloßberg, above Freiburg, from 1679 to 1687. This was during a twenty-year period when Freiburg was occupied by the French army. The fortifications were razed several decades later, in the 1740s.
My photos in this post are from 2007. I revised the text in 2018.
See more posts on Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban.
See more posts on the city of Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany.