In our latest travel series, German Embassy diplomats and staff share experiences and information about their German hometowns. Today, Eva Santorini shares her memory of her visit to Coburg, Germany.
As my thoughts turn to my interests – travel and history – during these twilight zone COVID-19 days, I recall family trips to Europe to visit relatives. Transatlantic travel at the time was more complicated and expensive than it is now, so I met my grandparents only a few times and instead became a prolific letter writer at a young age. After World War II, my mother’s parents had resettled in a small scenic German town called Coburg in Oberfranken in northern Bavaria, a town first mentioned in historical records in 1054.
I was thrilled to meet my Oma und Opa for the first time when I was six years old, and the memories of that trip will remain with me forever. The small town sported small tidy streets of cobblestone radiating from the Marktplatz where small shops and cafes beckoned to visitors. My favorite memories are of the Coburger Würstchen, a long thin sausage whose delicious smoked flavor I can almost conjure up now, even after being a years-long vegetarian, and the small store under my grandparents’ apartment where we bought sweets.
The “Veste Coburg,” first mentioned in a document from 1225, dominates the town and is accessible on a long winding path that leads to its imposing entrance. Another sight I recall was the statue of the town’s most famous citizen, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (formal name: Francis Albert Augustus Charles Emmanuel, 1819–1861) who married Queen Victoria in 1840.
Now fast forward: that little girl grew up to become interested in world history. Join me in making the leap from seeing the statue of Prince Albert in Coburg and forging that personal but profound connection to the larger historical picture and the larger-than-life figures of World War I.
After Prince Albert’s death, Queen Victoria found comfort in her large family which by then included 42 grandchildren. It is from these descendants that we learn of interesting and extremely convoluted relationships which had resulted from the intermarriage within Europe’s royal houses.
Three grandchildren of the royal couple became European rulers. Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, King George V of Great Britain, and the former German Princess Alix of Hesse and by Rhine – later known as Empress Alexandra Feodorovna and wife of Tsar Nicholas II, were first cousins. It was so much more troubling, then, that as the sound of the war machine grew louder in 1914, these cousins found themselves on opposing sides of the conflict.
Just before the “guns of August” sparked the beginning of the Great War, it is said that Tsar Nicholas implored his cousin, King George V for protection and requested exile in Great Britain. Sadly no protection was granted and the rest is, truly, history.
The visits to Coburg to see my grandparents left me with many vivid and happy memories. But they also fostered a curiosity that reaches far beyond those innocent childhood memories. Perhaps you have been fortunate to make a strong family connection during a visit to Germany. What are your memories? What struck you?
By Eva Santorini, German Embassy