Today I want to talk about local dynasty that was rather short-lived but left quite an impressive legacy.

So, about a thousand years ago in the South-Westernmost corner of Germany there was a noble lord by the name of Berthold who started a dynasty of Zähringen and his eldest son founded the line of margraves of Baden. And while the dynasty of Zähringen has only six rulers (Berthold, Berthold, Berthold, Konrad, Berthold and Berthold) it’s known for building and rebuilding a dozen of towns (yes, exactly twelve), some of which are important even to this day. Since I have nothing better to do at the weekends I decided to visit them all.

Berthold I founded Weilheim an der Teck, the only Zähringer town founded in Württemberg.

Berthold II is known for founding the Abbey of St. Peter (and a town forming near it), Freiburg (in Breisgau of course) and reforming a Swiss company Rheinfelden AG (though Swiss claim that AG stands for canton Aargau and not joint-stock company).

Berthold III and Konrad I somehow evaded the traditional duty and built nothing. Though Freiburg still honours Berthold III for developing Freiburg into proper city and not a mere settlement by the castle.

Berthold IV, son of Konrad I, decided to follow the suit of his grandfather and founded Freiburg (this time in Üechtland). He also rebuilt Murten, founded Burgdorf and Neuenburg (in Baden, don’t confuse it with Neuchâtel).

Berthold V probably remembered that his ancestors were margraves of Dietrichsbern (or Verona as locals call it) and decided to found his own Bern (in Üechtland). He also rebuilt and developed Thun (the castle he built there is still one the best places there), Bräunlingen and Villingen.

Since Berthold V had no offspring, the lands of duchy of Zähringen went to different other noble houses (including dukes of Fürstenberg who are famous for building a lot of castles in Czechia) and ended in hands of Swiss house of Habsburg (who, obviously, are famous for ruling Austria). Thus one can see former Austrian towns even on Rhine.

Fun fact: some of those places have suspiciously similar coats of arms (all images are from Wickedpedia).


Would you believe it has nothing to do with heraldic colours of Zähringen being red and yellow (also adopted by margraves of Baden, one of which founded Karlsruhe)?

Now, about the towns and my impressions on them.

  • Weilheim an der Teck — as mentioned above, the only town not in Baden or Switzerland. Also one of two towns not having rail connection. It’s a nice place to visit nevertheless.
  • St. Peter — a small town in Schwarzwald that grew around the abbey that gave it the name. The other town with no rail connection. Very picturesque. The abbey serves as final place for remains of many Zähringen.
  • Freiburg — probably the best developed city of them all. It has university, industry, wonderful historical city centre, picturesque scenery around (still not good as St. Peter though). And it’s also officially the sunniest place in Germany. Definitive must see.
  • Rheinfelden — a small Swiss company town on Rhine known for one of the oldest bridges over the Rhine and local brewery. A nice place to visit and you can go to German Rheinfelden on the other bank too (a lot like Laufenburg which is located nearby).
  • Freiburg (i. Üe.) — a lot like Freiburg Senior but since it’s located essentially in Swiss Saarland it could not develop as much. But it’s claimed to have the most old houses in Switzerland so if you like old architecture then you should definitely visit it.
  • Murten — a small but nice town near Lake Murten and not that far from Freiburg Jr. and Bern. Very impressive town walls that you can visit.
  • Burgdorf — a small town near Bern with a castle and some historic buildings. Nice place overall.
  • Neuenburg (am Rhein) — this one is a bit sad place. The plaque on one house tells that it was completely devastated in 1940 and it was built anew, there is almost nothing historic left there. Nevertheless it has a lot of flowers, sculptures (not as much as in Oslo thankfully) and fountains. So while it looks nice it’s sad when you know the history of this place is gone.
  • Bern — de facto Swiss capital. Visit it if you can.
  • Thun — a Swiss town a bit to the South from Bern. Nice historic buildings near the river but the Zähringen castle is still the best feature.
  • Villingen — a very nice town in Schwarzwald. Definitely worth visiting.
  • Bräunlingen — like smaller Villingen.

Another interesting thing is how much the founders are honoured in all those places. Most of them have Zähringerstraße or Zähringerplatz (and Zürich has both despite Berthold IV being just a vogt there). There are exceptions though: Freiburg in Breisgau has Zähringerstraße in a suburb called Zähringen and actual city has Bertoldstraße instead; Weilheim simply mentions that it’s one of Zähringerstädte and has their coat of arms near the church; Freiburg im Üechtland has its main bridge named after Zähringen; Thun and Murten do not seem to have any mentions. While many other places in Baden have Zähringerstraße (like Karlsruhe or Heidelberg) probably because of the relation to the house of Baden, I think they deserve recognition for building new towns. It’s a pity there were not so many nobles like them.

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