Standing in the main market square of Freiburg, the cathedral looms above me.
The bells are ringing out, filling the air. The chatter of the shoppers at the stalls, buying their fruit and vegetables, is drowned out by the peals.
I look up at the bell tower but there are no signs of where the sound is coming from. The stone turret conceals the source inside the building that has stood for hundreds of years.
Looking up in Freiburg is not the best way to spend your time, though. Instead, it’s looking down which reveals the true character of the city.
It’s on the footpaths and along the roads that you can trace the history and culture of this beautiful German community.
At first appearance, the channels by the side of the road look just like gutters. In fact, they look more like hazards that someone is likely to fall in and sprain an ankle. But actually they are a relic from a past when streams flowed through the streets.
Still today water will flow down them and in summer children play in them, floating little boats, or residents will take off their shoes and let the cool waters run between their toes.
You need to look down to see them.
Stopping outside stores and glancing down reveals another of Freiburg’s little treats – mosaics.
These aren’t purely decorative. These are signposts to what is in store (literally) and what once was. These images, so carefully crafted into the footpaths, are the symbols of shops.
Many, many years ago, this was practical and people would use these images to find their way to the merchants they needed.
Now, it’s a bit of a gimmick, but a delightful one that I’m glad new shop owners have continued.
Look down and guess what these symbols on the streets of Freiburg mean.
The mosaics are made from pebbles from the river Rhine and bring the water to the streets in a different – but just as unique – way as the small canals with their tiny streams.
Freiburg is an old city and a relatively small one with only 230,000 citizens.
But it is known for being a university town and with that comes a youthfulness that plays out in the student crowds who drink in the plazas and the fresh choice of restaurants and bars in the centre of the city.
It’s easy to walk around and feels more metropolitan than some of its counterparts in the Baden-Wurttemberg region.
It probably only takes a day to see the main sites but it is an excellent staging post for trips to the nearby natural wonders, including the Black Forest.
Officially it is the warmest and sunniest city in Germany and also one of the most eco-friendly. Frieburg may be a place where you should look down to appreciate its history but don’t forget to look up to it too.