German City Offers a Step Back in Time
“Do you want it with mustard or ketchup?” a chubby woman asked with a smile as she handed me a coburger bratwurst, a foot-long sausage of pork and beef in a tiny bun.
After hearing that it was a must to eat a coburger in Coburg, a charming German town in northern Bavaria, I had followed the smoke fumes through the 1,000-year-old cobblestone alleys until I reached this stall on the market square.
Tasting a coburger is a culinary sensation. The spices and juices are such a delight that first bites are often followed by the loud exclamation of “lecker!” which is German for “yummy!”
It is said that Britain’s Queen Victoria, a frequent visitor to Coburg, indulged in the sausage back in 1845.
But instead of enjoying the delicacy in the medieval market square, she had some delivered by servants, who brought them to the Ehrenburg Palace, a 16th century neo-Gothic palace that is only a minute’s walk away. Queen Victoria spent her summer holidays at the palace with her beloved German husband and her cousin Prince Albert, who was born nearby.
Today the palace is open to the public, and visitors can see Queen Victoria’s bedroom, enter the majestic baroque Hall of Giants and learn about the far-reaching dynastic connections of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.
Captivated by Coburg’s charm and personality, I decided to indulge in some dessert at one of the many cafes around the cobblestone square. The menu presented me with a tough decision.
Should I go for another main course? Perhaps schnitzel and potato salad, or dumplings with roast duck?
Or just a dessert? Apple strudel or black forest cake? The latter finally won.
While sampling Bavaria’s traditional foods, I soaked up the atmosphere of this Hansel-and-Gretel town and marveled at the architectural details.
Coburg has lived through epochs of culture and history and has a compelling recent past. In 1922, the town square was the first venue for Adolf Hitler’s Nazi rallies, which eventually spread to bigger cities such as nearby Nuremberg. The town hall was also the first building in Germany to carry the swastika flag.
During Hitler’s reign, many of the street names, such as Judengasse or Jewish Alley, were renamed to be associated with the Nazi regime.
Thanks to Coburg’s ties to the British monarchy, the town was never bombed during World War II. By waving white flags, it surrendered at the end of the war, a decision that helped preserve its marvellous architecture.
Sixty-six years on, the town radiates a sense of tranquility, except during the first weekend in July, when the Samba Festival brings in hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.
Known as the biggest samba festival outside Brazil, the colorful three-day event attracts dance groups from around the world. The town is packed with bands that play Latin rhythms all over the city, and the festival cumulates with a two-hour parade on a Sunday, as bands perform for thousands of dancing visitors in the alleys.
The summer months will guarantee an eventful visit. If you’re looking for something to do, take in a concert in Schlossplatz, the square outside Ehrenburg Palace whose magnificent setting attracts world-class artists each year.
You can also indulge in Bavarian and international delicacies at the Schlossplatzfest Coburg, the biggest culinary festival in the region of Upper Franconia.
For a quieter activity — or to lose some of the extra kilograms you might gain during your trip — take a seven-kilometer bike ride to Rosenau Palace, the birthplace of Prince Albert. Set in a romantic English garden in the northeast of Coburg, the palace won favor with Queen Victoria, who called it her real home.
Overlooking the city, the Coburg Fortress, one of Germany’s best-preserved fortresses, is another historical gem. In 1530, Protestant Reformation pioneer Martin Luther sought refuge and translated parts of the Bible there. Take a walk from Ehrenburg Palace uphill through the stunning Hofgarten park and visit the Luther Room at the fortress.
The romantic history of Coburg isn’t just for tourists. The town has also served as inspiration for many Hollywood movies, including “The Young Victoria,” which focused on the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign.
Sitting in a beer garden at the end of a warm day, I reflected on the timelessness of this fantasy town of castles and royal crowns.
I sipped on my Radler, a beer-based cocktail, realizing that time seemed to stand still and that Coburg might still be like this in another hundred years.