Bavaria’s smallest city packs a few surprises with its many facets. It is a Huguenot town, a city of beer, a university safe haven and a medical technology stronghold. And it is Germany’s comic capital. A great destination for the curious, the explorer and the connoisseur! Text: Markus Stein. Photos: Frank Heuer
“There, you see, it all started with Jean Mengin.” Andreas Mengin, a ninth-generation descendant, points to the name of his ancestor. It’s right at the top of the poster. The parish secretary of the Protestant Reformed Church, a sporty man in his mid-forties, has just unrolled it.
It shows his family’s extensive ancestral gallery. “Jean was born in 1652 in Bernis, near Nîmes. After fleeing and stopping over in Aargau in Switzerland, he probably came to Erlangen with the first of his brothers in faith. Son David was born in Erlangen as early as 1695.”
The legacy of the Huguenots
When the Edict of Tolerance was repealed in France in 1685, 150,000 Calvinists – known as Huguenots – left the country. About twenty families initially found a new home “à Erlang”. In the end, there were a thousand new citizens. They were to bring a breath of fresh air to the Middle Franconian farming town, situated halfway between Nuremberg and Bamberg on the Regnitz River.
Margrave Christian Ernst not only had philanthropy in mind with his “Refugees welcome” mindset, he also wanted to profit from the know-how of the French. Now, after the end of the Thirty Years’ War and its many losses, that would do wonders!
The Huguenots made Erlangen known as a “factory town” with hitherto unknown trades, high-tech crafts and a new-found sophistication, for example, thanks to the hosiery weavers, hat manufacturers and glove makers. Just like the Mengins. A gold-plated glove still forms the signboard on the main building in Goethestraße. Glove production only ended in the 1950s.
Until 1822, the service was held in French
Something of the Calvinist spirit can still be felt in the Huguenot Church. The margrave had it built for his new citizens as a kind of advertising gift. The oval interior is simple (“Do not decorate your churches. Rather give the money to the poor”, said Calvin), no altar, only a communion table, baptismal font and pulpit in front of a large window. The worshippers sit in a circle, the pews are aligned with the pulpit
Until 1822, the service was held in French – even though its attendees had long since become an integral part of Franconia. "That lasted about three generations, and we Mengins already had a German first name – Erich,” explains the parish secretary.
The Huguenots were given a new town, south of the old one. The rectangular streets and two-storey houses are typical. And all built in record speed: A quarter of the 200 houses were completed within a year! The “Grande Place”, today the market and castle square, was entered in the building plan as the focal point.
The monument to Margrave Friedrich in front of the Margrave’s Castle and the Pauli Fountain on the west side were added at a later stage. Today, it is a beautiful, wide-open square to behold and spend precious time in, with cafés and fruit, vegetable and snack stands, where vegan falafel is on offer just as much as “Drei im Weggla” – the traditional 3-sausage batch.
You can stroll along French-inspired streets – with shutters, bistro tables on the pavement and plant decorations – between the tranquil “Altstädter Kirchenplatz” and Wasserturmstraße. You’ll be sure to pass enticing restaurants like the “Herzstück”, you can browse and enjoy a little retail therapy in a range of charming shops, or you can stay in the friendly “Hotelchen am Theater” with its charming inner courtyard. And you might discover something unusual through a shop window located on Schiffstraße: bright yellow, empty shelves ...
Clang! Crash! Boom!
“A showroom for comics is being created here," says Elisabeth Neun, born in Vienna and chairwoman of the association “Comicmuseum Erlangen e.V.”. “Erlangen is Germany’s comic capital!” the cartoonist confirms with delight.
Bang, clank, munch! The Comic Salon attracts fans from all over the world to the city
“Since 1984, the Comic Salon has been held here every two years. A fair with exhibitions, an exchange, readings and more. Last time, we welcomed 30,000 visitors.”
The Salon is a meeting place for the international drawing scene. Several hundred artists like to attend. And the whole city joins in, with draughtsmen exhibiting pictures in many shop windows. The showroom is intended to give comics a permanent presence. “But our big dream is to have a comic museum here in Erlangen,” she explains.
Rococo and palm trees: Schlossgarten
They could have come from a funny drawing, the two little girls in the palace garden! Dressed in long frilly dresses, one light pink, the other dark pink, they hop across the lawn.
Their blond pigtails shine in the sun, the dark weathered castle façade in the background. Then each pushes her doll’s pram – also pink! – further across the green.
A man rests in the grass, cuddling his dog. A second dog pricks up its ears and looks attentively to the north. There, the ochre-yellow façade of the rococo orangery shines, in front of six palm trees nestled in large tubs. Fountains catapult water into the air in the Huguenot Fountain. Two pigeons swoop by with amazing speed in low-level flight. Stadtpark – A city park idyll like no other.
The Schlossgarten is Erlangen’s green oasis. It’s also a popular meeting place for the city’s many students. This is because, in 1818, the palace and its gardens passed into the possession of today’s Friedrich Alexander University, founded in 1742. The healthy ego that characterises its researchers is symbolised by the neo-baroque “Kollegienhaus” located on the southern edge: it is larger and more magnificent than the castle itself – a real palace of science!
Clever minds, resourceful spirits
With roughly 40,000 students, FAU is now Bavaria's third-largest university, known above all for its university hospital. It boasts cutting-edge medicine and with 24 clinics – you will encounter them at every turn – covers all areas of modern medicine, from head to toe.
The city isa great place for resourceful minds – like that of Erwin Moritz Reiniger. From his small workshop on Schlossplatz, the electro-technical factory Reiniger, Gebbert & Schall was founded in 1886. The company manufactured electro-medical apparatus. After the discovery of X-rays, it shifted its operational focus to X-ray tubes and apparatus.
In 1888, RGS already had 142 offices abroad. In 1932, the company was merged into Siemens-Reiniger-Werke – the foundation stone for today’s Siemens Healthineers AG. The MedMuseum in the former RGS machine hall from 1893 sheds light on the exciting history of medical technology.
Botanical Garden: Something’s in bloom there!
No visitor to Erlangen should miss out on the city’s Botanical Garden. A highlight in green! Once you have entered, you will notice the loud croaking: Frogs enjoy their amphibian life in pools and ponds. “They never fail to fascinate every visitor, especially children, many of whom are seeing them for the first time; where else can they do that nowadays?” says Claus Heuvemann, the garden’s Technical Director.
Thousands of plants from all over the world have put down their roots in the garden, from Gentian to the Nikau palm from New Zealand. The fact that so many palms are cultivated goes back to the Erlangen botanist and palm researcher Martius, “Franconia’s very own Humboldt”.
“But we also take great care of native plants,” Heuvemann emphasises, “for example, we preserve the rare flourberry – a tree – and go about reintroducing it to Franconian Switzerland.” You can immerse yourself in exotic worlds – with mangroves or dragon trees – in the Tropical House and the Canary House. Without the need for a long-distance flight.
Quaffable, bottom-fermented beer
Conversely, one special (and much sought-after) commodity went from Erlangen to the rest of the world: beer. In the 19th century, there were more than twenty breweries in the city, many dedicated to quenching local thirst, while some were also exporting. As far as Spain, Scandinavia and even the USA. “One Erlanger please!” became a household word. The world’s enjoyment of delicious, bottom-fermented beer was helped by the railway connection in 1844 and the large rock cellars on Burgberg – which were used as cold storage facilities. The city’s appeal as one of the brewing greats has withered, however, and only the upright “Steinbach Bräu” brewery keeps the Erlangen beer flag flying high ...
It is early evening. The first guests take their seats in the beer garden in front of the brewery pub, neighbours fetch freshly tapped beer in large mugs for home. “Beer has been made in this place for centuries. My family has been brewing here, on and off, since 1861.” Master brewer Christoph Gewalt stands between two copper brew kettles and furnishes us with the information. To the back, a live video feed provides a view of the stork’s nest on the roof.
One adult bird and three young birds can be seen of this heraldic animal belonging to the “craft” brewery. “Our daily bread is our so-called “Storchenbier” or “Stork Beer” – bottom-fermented, unfiltered, with aroma hops, thoroughly drinkable.
It’s accompanied by a beer of the month on a rotating basis,” explains the brewer. The craft specialities have names like “Scotty”, “Sündikuss” or “Hopferla”, and they range from light beer with citrus aroma to dark bock beer.
What about the “Berch” or “Berg”?
Steinbach Bräu has a small beer museum. This eye-catcher is the loving miniature representation of the Erlangen “Bergkirchweih”, or “Berch” for short – an important annual Volksfest. Mr Gewalt presses a button and the merry-go-rounds spin, the guests sway and toast to the brass band music. Two storks, circling in the air, watch the fun unfold from above.
It’s about 500 metres from Steinbach Bräu to the original venue, the “Berch” with its famous beer cellars. “In the seventeen cellars that were hewn into the mountain, a stretch of roughly seven kilometres is now used in association,” explains Vincenz Schiller, junior manager of “Entla’s Keller”, which also opens its taps outside the Kirchweih.
An inscription carved deep into the cold rock reveals the year of construction for the first cellar: 1686. Schiller brews his own beer, which is only forserving up here: special brew “Ariana”, cold-hopped and – it’s not hard to imagine – uttlerly drinkable.
Are you feeling inspired after a visit to “Berch”? Like larger-than-life stick men, the bronze figures populate the Heinrich Kirchner sculpture park to the east of the municipality of Burgberg. They stand with their legs spread wide, squatting or kneeling. Spreading their long, thin arms or stretching them towards the sky. Jubilant? In prayer?
The small faces look happy and seem to be smiling. The bronze man at the top of the slope, with his arm stretched out wide and looking up to the sky, is entitled “Wanderer, er sieht das Heilige” (“Wanderer, he sees the sacred”) – but from up here, you can also soak up a truly stunning view over Erlangen!