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Coburg may be physically in Bavaria but with the grape vines of Franken growing only a few kilometers away, and its massive Veste dubbed the "Franconian Crown," Coburg's heart and culture are solidly in Franconia

Ehrenburg Castle
Ehrenburg Castle

In the "old days," before reunification, Coburg was stuck in a corner of West Germany, surrounded on three sides by East Germany and, as a result, tourism suffered. Except for a few adventurous souls headed for Berlin via the potholed communist-maintained Autobahn, it wasn't a place where one stopped on the way to anywhere else.

Things have picked up in the last 10 years but, despite the town's historical importance, its interesting buildings and charming setting, American tourists are still rather scarce. Enough so that it qualifies as a "Hidden Treasure."

Coburg may be physically in Bavaria but with the grape vines of Franken growing only a few kilometers away, and its massive Veste dubbed the "Franconian Crown," Coburg's heart and culture are solidly in Franconia.

One of Germany's largest fortresses, the Veste looms above the town, fading in and out of the clouds. It was in this triple-walled citadel that Martin Luther holed up for five months in 1530, awaiting his day in court before the Augsburg Imperial Diet. You can tour his apartment and there is a decent collection of paintings including some by Rembrandt and Albrecht Dürer. But to us the Veste's best attraction is its Kunstammlungen, a museum especially designed for visitors whose eyes have glazed over from too many religious paintings by Cranach the Elder or Holbein the Younger. It is filled with things of interest to non-scholars; items such as antique wedding carriages, Germany's largest display of ancient armor and weapons, and a cabinet filled with some 20,000 medals and coins.

Downtown, on the Schlossplatz, is Ehrenburg Castle, where the chain was pulled on Europe's first flush toilet. Ehrenburg was also the boyhood home of Prince Albert who married England's Queen Victoria and fathered her nine children. This potent fellow's likeness is found not only on millions of cans of cheap pipe tobacco, but Victoria erected a statue of him in Coburg's Marktplatz. It is in this part of town, by the way, where you are mostly likely to encounter street vendors selling the delicious Coburger bratwurst, grilled on the spot and served on a roll.

Though PBS's Antiques Road Show doesn't want them on the premises, many Americans are interested in Hummel figurines. Even if you have no use for them, a visit to the factory, six kilometers away in Rödental - where Sister Maria Innocentia Hummel was born - is worth an hour's visit. There is a short film presentation followed by a brief tour where visitors can observe the handmade production process. The figures are for sale, but the prices seem no better than elsewhere in Germany. There may be a larger selection, however.