The city of Coburg in northern Bavaria has blue blood, and regularly plays host to royals. But while steeped in history, it has more to offer than just past glories.
Proud heritage: the town hall in Coburg
England's Prince Charles signs his name in the city's "Golden Book." Queen Silvia and her husband Karl Gustav of Sweden wave from the balcony of the Coburger town hall. And King Albert II of Belgium and his wife stroll through the town center.
Sounds a bit like the figment of a royals-obsessed imagination, or wishful thinking on the part of some paparazzi? On the contrary, it's reality -- Coburg style. After all, relatives do tend to come and visit.
Using clever marriages as their vehicle, the dukes of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha began to install their relatives on the thrones of Europe's royal houses at the end of the 18th century. When all was said and done, Coburg ruled half of the world.
Europe's stud farm
"Others may make war, but clever Coburg marries!" was for a long time the saying that summed up the duchy's politics. This "marital offensive" earned Coburg the title "Europe's stud farm." Thus, Coburg's royal house is tied to those of Sweden, Norway, Belgium, Spain and England. With so much blue blood around, it's no wonder that the town has a "touch of Buckingham" to it.
Coburg is one of several historic towns in Franconia, a predominantly rural part of Bavaria that was politically important in the days of the Holy Roman Empire. Neighboring and perhaps better known towns include Bayreuth, Bamberg and Nuremberg.
Starting in the mid 16th century, the dukes of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha lived in the Ehrenburg Castle, in the city of Coburg itself. Once purely done in the Renaissance style, the building was overwhelmingly rebuilt in a neo-Gothic style in the 19th century, following a fire.
A toilet for the queen
The interior of Schloss Ehrenburg, however, is done in an elegant French Empire style. Despite its high-toned beauty, its most interesting attribute is probably the flush toilet. It was the first ever installed in Germany, rigged up in time for a visit from Queen Victoria in 1860.
Probably the most impressive sight in the town is the Veste Coburg, a fortress on a hill that was once considered impervious to capture. Today, however, the fortress is regularly stormed -- by tourists. It is one of the biggest, most beautiful medieval castles in Germany, and from afar, its towers, battlements and ramparts look like a crown over the roofs of the city.
Many famous people have spent time not only in the Schloss Ehrenburg, but in the fortress. One of these was the church reformer Martin Luther.
A nun's figurine
For a period of nearly a half a century, Coburg seemed to be far off the beaten path, snug up against the border of East Germany. But today, the city lies in the geographic middle of the country. With this change has come a boost in the city's economy. Young businesses are settling here, side by side with the area's traditional artisans: Breweries, wooden-puppet makers, basket makers, and one very, very well known porcelain manufacturer.
Indeed, one of Coburg's greatest claims to fame is the world-famous collectible Hummel figures. These were first created by Berta Hummel, an art student born in 1909. Following her studies, she entered a cloister and taught drawing at a school. The motif of her drawings became the daily life of children. Starting in 1935, the Hummel children were turned into porcelain figures. Unfortunately, the ordained nun didn't get to experience the meteoric success of her figures for long. She died in 1946. Today, there are more than 300,000 collectors in Hummel Figure Clubs, and Hummel figurines continue to be an important export object from Coburg.