A pair of royal lovers, a culinary speciality as long as your forearm, one of the largest castle complexes in Germany and an international samba festival. The former residential town of Coburg surprises all who visit with its diversity contained in such a small area. Text and Photos: Thomas Linkel
A Perfect Day in Coburg
The smell of fresh espresso wafts through the shop, and crispy pretzels, wholemeal rolls, multi-tier cakes, petit fours and butter croissants await customers. Max Schubart fills shimmering black-brown green coffee into the roasting machine. Across the street, the first rays of sunlight bathe the stuccoed façades of the stately town houses in Coburg’s Mohrenstraße in soft light. On the banks of the Itz, joggers happen upon fly fishers. It is shortly before eight o’clock and the first customers are picking up fresh rolls at Breakfast at "Café Schubart“.
Court Purveyor for the Dukes
You have to bake, patissier and roast to perfection and leave nothing to chance. Just as you would have expected from a former purveyor to the court of the Coburg dukes in the past, says Max, who runs the roastery, confectionery and café together with his brother Christian – now in its fifth generation. Queen Victoria (1819-1901) is also said to have eaten Schubart’s pastries. But what does Queen Victoria have to do with Franconia? Well, the regent, who steered the fortunes of the British Empire for 63 years, regularly lodged with her husband Albert in the latter’s home town of Coburg.
Victoria and Albert: A Dream Couple in Coburg
Victoria and Albert were, without doubt, THE royal dream couple of the 19th century. This was initially an arranged marriage, but a love soon developed between the two. Albert came from the regal house of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, which distinguished itself in its 600-year history through skilful marriage policies and forged ties with all the ruling houses of Europe. This is how the royal from Coburg was married to Queen Victoria in 1840.
"Albert has such beautiful legs", Victoria is reported to have said
“Albert has such beautiful legs,” Victoria is reported to have said. This can be verified by his statue on the market square, the urban heart of Coburg. Queen Victoria personally unveiled the monument to her husband in 1865. Time and again, the royal couple came to Franconia and spent time at Rosenau Castle, a short carriage ride away from Ehrenburg Castle, the actual centre of power for the House of Saxe-Coburg.
Coburg Bratwurst: Pine Cone and Marshal’s Baton
Saturday noon, and it’s market day on the market square. While a fine plume of smoke rises from the snack bar in front of the magnificent late Renaissance façade of the “Stadthaus” and the sun is reflected in the bay windows of the colourful town hall opposite, the queue grows ever longer. The Coburg bratwurst is traditionally roasted over pine cones, called “Kühla”, and is forearm-long in size. The Coburg Bratwurst Fryers Association pays strict attention to quality and the rotating use of its members on the market square.
The length of his marshal’s baton is considered the official Bratwurst measurement
The statue of St. Mauritius watches over the old town from the gable of the town hall. The length of his marshal’s baton is considered the official Bratwurst measurement by those who like to believe in Upper Franconian fairy tales: a whopping 31 centimetres. Mauritius, the legendary and dearly beloved “Coburg Moor”, appears as a patron saint almost everywhere in the “Vestestadt” (town with a castle): not only in coats of arms or on houses, but also on manhole covers...and recently with increasing frequency in discussions about the use of the term “Moor”.
Herbal Liqueur and Upper Franconian Sliders
With or without mustard, the shop assistant asks, inevitably getting me into culinary trouble. How do you eat them? An impatient look ensues. So then, with mustard. The look becomes one of pity, but, here you go. So better without? The saleswoman is already serving the next customers, so just this: you only need mustard if the sausage doesn’t taste good. I see. But I also like it with mustard.
If you want to take a more vegetarian approach to the city, you could pick up a “Coburger Rutscher” at the market. The consistency of this hand-whipped potato dumpling is so soft that it almost melts on the plate and just slides off. Or maybe you simply choose to stroll among the vegetable and fruit stalls, try a “Damason-Renette” apple or a fruity “Summer Blood” pear, have some home-made jams served and buy a piece of oven bread.
Or you can buy a herbal liqueur made according to a secret recipe in the “Hof-Apotheke” (Court Pharmacy) on a corner of the market square, which has been in existence since 1543. Behind its façade are not only herb floors and cross vaults, but also ornate courtyard arcades made of dark wood.
"Schmätzchen" With a View
Anyone entering Coburg’s market square for the first time through one of the narrow alleys of the old town will be overwhelmed by the city’s architectural splendour and historical diversity. First thing’s first: sit down in a street café and relax and admire the statues and gable decorations, “Coburg oriels” and half-timbered houses, rococo, gothic and renaissance façades. The best thing to do is to order an espresso or cappuccino with a “Schmätzchen”.
The gingerbread-spiced honey biscuits are also said to have been appreciated by Queen Victoria, according to the former purveyor to the court, Feyler, in Rosengasse. In summer, travellers from all over the world like to press their noses against the sweet displays, just like the tourists at Schubarts on the market square, to photograph the coat of arms of the court purveyors in the shop window.
Half-Timbering and Renaissance
Another, even more photogenic place is the multi-storey mint master’s house in Ketschengasse, which rests on a stone plinth. It is one of the oldest half-timbered buildings in Germany, with wooden beams stained dark brown by weather and sun. And Coburg even goes one better: just around the corner, it’s not just a stone house from the 12th century that you can look forward to. It is also home to the Protestant church of St. Moriz, where Martin Luther preached.
Bells ring from the strikingly different towers as a wedding party rushes from the magnificent Renaissance building of the “Casimirianum” to the church and disappears into the main portal. Stone statues watch over the entrance, Eve and Adam, naked except for two fig leaves, each unusually holding an apple, the size of which is considered by some locals to be the perfect dumpling size.
A Stately Setting for Insta
There seems to be a lot of marriages taking place in Coburg, at least on this Saturday; several newlyweds posed for photos on the square in front of Ehrenburg Castle in the warm afternoon sun. In the background, children blow bubbles in the castle courtyard and couples snap Insta-worthy pictures.
“If I weren’t who I am, I would have my real home here,” Queen Victoria is quoted as saying. It is obvious that she felt very much at home in Coburg. On the one hand, everything was less intense than in London; on the other hand, she didn’t have to do without any comforts. At her request, one of the first water closets in continental Europe was installed in Ehrenburg Palace and a hand-operated lift was built for the ageing monarch. In the opulently furnished rooms complete with mahogany furniture, she was surrounded by paintings by Dutch and Flemish artists, the décor of the throne room is inspired by Emperor Napoleon I’s Tuileries Palace and the neo-Gothic sandstone façade resembles that of Westminster Palace.
Today, the people of Coburg take advantage of the prestigious setting of the “Ehrenburg” and the expanse of the “Schlossplatz” to sit down at laid tables at the city’s “Gourmet Festival” and celebrate in proper fashion to South American rhythms at the annual Samba Festival, the largest outside Brazil.
Picnic Area With City View
What would a residential city be without a decent garden? After all, dukes also had to call it a day, meet with lovers in secluded corners, go horseback riding or picnic under oak trees. Therefore, in the direct vicinity of “Schlossplatz”, digging and planting work, as well as the creation of visual axes, were started from 1682 onwards.
Today, the “Hofgarten” stretches from the city up to the Veste Coburg on 30 hectares. Sufficient space is, of course, available to go jogging, or tobogganing in winter, or to end the day rested on a blanket – Coburg view included. The lawns with spreading trees are the perfect place for a sundowner or a yoga session as the sun casts its final rays on the park before setting behind the old town.
Luther, Hedwig and the Devil
The reformer Martin Luther was placed under an imperial ban when he took refuge with his entourage at Veste Coburg for six months in 1530. Luther was very productive during this time, translating Old Testament texts, writing confessions and pamphlets. On the one hand, he called the castle – built around 1200 by the Staufer noble dynasty – “exceedingly charming”; on the other hand, as tradition has it, the constantly cawing jackdaws were a source of great annoyance to him. How can one advance the reformation with such a distraction?
Anyone interested in Luther will find two portraits of his wife and him by Lucas Cranach in the Veste, hundreds of original writings and Luther Bibles, the wood-panelled rooms he lived in and the “Hedwig’s cup”, a splendid piece of Fatimid craftsmanship, which was in his possession at the time. Under the eyes of St Hedwig, water is said to have turned into wine in the glass, which presumably came to Central Europe as booty from crusaders. A less sacred element was an ink stain from Luther’s pen, said to be from his battle with the devil, but which unfortunately faded in the 17th century.
The children, who play damsels and knights between machicolations and towers, battlements and inner courtyards, don’t care either way, and neither do the jackdaws that still caw around Veste Coburg.