For a small town (population under 50,000), in relative isolation Coburg has had a pretty impressive influence on European history. Most people will know of it from the
house of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha
, the surname of the British royals before they changed* it during WW1.
This came from Prince Albert, Vic's consort, now famed for popularising
Christmas trees and
The isolation mentioned above stems from its location, which until recently was partly surrounded by the east / west border which passed through the mountainous Thuringer Wald to the north1 . This meant it was a bit like being on the coast. Traffic would come and go if they had business there, but nothing came 'just passing through'.
The most dominant feature in the town is the Veste, a huge fortress largely dating from the 11th century on the hill overlooking the town.
Besides being very picturesque (it is locally known as the Frankish Crown), it has pretty formidable fortifications. These were important in a region bang in the middle of medieval europe, as invading armies passed through fairly regularly, particularly during the 30 years war 1618-1648, when the fortress withstood sieges by both the Bohemians and the Swedes.
A Dangerous Guest
Those inside the castle were also not above rubbing authority up the wrong way even then. The most famous guest was Martin Luther (1483 - 1546) who enjoyed their protection whilst writing his thesis that effectively started the protestant movement. This was a risky business - the usual penalty for challenging the authority of the pope then was being burnt at the stake. Impressive catholic buildings nearby testify to the fact that this was a border to the area under the Pope's control, although religious differences have never been seen as a cause for war in the area. Nowdays the town itself is mostly protestant, the surrounding countryside is mostly catholic.
More Peaceful Times
Towards the end of the C.18 defensive walls and castles were no longer considered necissary. This was partly due to the influence of the ruling families in the region, who had allied with each other, and partly because weapons of the time made it more advisable to let invaders in quietly, before they destroyed everything.
Living in the Veste was harsh. Cold and windy. And a long way to carry the shopping. So it was decided to build another palace in the town. This is known as the Ehrenburg, and is an excellent example of a palace from this period. Based on a fairly crude three winged design started in 1543, it was extensively renovated and decorated in the fashionable Neugotisch (New Gothic) style during the 19th century.
In front of this is the Schlossplatz, an area with a statue of Albert in the middle,now used for concerts and festivals and a pretty huge theatre, so they didn't have far to go for entertainment.
The Throne Room
I couldn't resist pointing out that among the impressive features of this wonderful palace, along with the italian plasterwork, wonderful carvings, art collection including works by
Hieronymous Bosch is, next to the bedroom, what is, according to the guide at least, the worlds first flushable toilet, installed by Queen Victoria herself, and from where she conquered India.
The Town Itself
Patronage by such influential families brought a lot of wealth to the town, and this is easy to see in the architecture. Most of the inner town was built in the 18th and 19th centuries, although a lot of buildings are much older. Almost all are very elaborate, with many carvings and embelishments. Grand would be a good word to describe it, pretty well wherever you look there are towers, sculptures, facades and timber frames, even on buildings such as banks and supermarkets. The town square often has a market2, and is surrounded by the Rathous (town hall) and another palace, along with the oldest building in the town, which has been a chemist since 15433. Gate towers remain from the original town wall, but it is now fairly difficult to work out where it went. Away from the old town, there are all of the things you would expect to find in a modern town, swimming pools, cinemas, sports stadiums and the like. Although the town is small, it is the main centre of a quite large area - there is not much else for 30 miles in any direction, so it is well-equipped.
Food and Drink
On top of the town hall stands a figure of a man from the sixteenth century holding up a fork with a Coburger Bratwurst4 on it, providing the dimensions that they have been made to ever since.
A blue plaque on a nearby house declares "Here Lived Gherkin Alex", elevating the town's tastiest gherkin-maker to the status of composers and poets, philosophers and scientists.
It is fair to say that they take their eating and drinking pretty seriously here. The area has the greatest concentration of breweries anywhere in the world. Excellent wine is produced nearby - the grape varieties Sylvaner and Domina are peculiar to this region, and well worth a taste. Eating out is both cheap and delicious - depending on the season you are likely to find venison and wild boar on the menu, usually served with Klöß - a sort of potato dumpling considered an essential to eat with sunday lunch.
There are plenty of good pubs, bars and cafes in and around the town. It has a large student population so night life is quite lively. A few places have live music, and not just at weekends, and its usually free with the price of the drinks. Most places are open until the early hours, and a couple of nightclubs cater for people wanting to party 'till dawn.
Other Stuff Worth Knowing
There are often events going on in the town, the most spectacular being the Samba Fest, an international carnival where Samba bands from all over the world invade the town in July, and the whole town goes wild, Brazilian style, for a few days.