When you picture celebrating carnival, what cities around the world do you think of? Rio De Janeiro? Port of Spain? Barranquilla? There are a lot of places no doubt. A tiny medieval town in Germany would probably never cross your mind. But it should.
Coburg is known as the “samba capital of Europe.” The samba festival began in the summer of 1992 and attendance has grown exponentially since then, now attracting over 100,000 tourists each year. It usually takes place during the second weekend of July, from Friday-Sunday.
What is unique about this festival is the number of baterias (percussion groups) that come to perform. Nearly 100 drumming ensembles from all over the world come to Coburg in July to showcase their musical talents. These drummers study Brazilian music and specialize in several genres such as samba, samba-reggae, samba-afro, and maracatu.
In addition, several of the baterias add their own twist to Brazilian samba, integrating other music styles, depending on the culture and musical influences. For example, Samba Masala from Singapore adds the Indian dhol drum to their repertoire, and several other Asian-based rhythms. Kilt-wearing, head-banging Houba Samba from France brings their love for heavy metal into the fold. Every group has something different and amazing to share.
When I was there, my biggest worry was the possibility that I would miss some of the shows I definitely wanted to attend. There were so many musicians blowing my mind! Was there a chance to see them all? My worries were unfounded however. Each band has their turn on at least one of the nine featured stages, and participate in several street performances, both planned and spontaneous.
The captivating architecture, twisting cobblestone lanes, and narrow alleys make exploring the festival so much fun. At nearly every corner, drummers banging out pulsating rhythms and colorful dancers await. Moreover, there are many workshops taking place in various parts of the town, including drumming, instrument making, dancing, and capoeira. You can’t get bored— it’s impossible. Push the Coburg Samba Festival to the top of your bucket list. You will have the time of your life!
Getting there: The Deutsche Bahn ICE (Inter-City Express) train connects all the major German cities such as Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt, and Hamburg. I took the ICE from Berlin to Lichtenfels, the closest main station to Coburg. I really enjoyed riding that train! It was modern, had plenty of amenities, and was super comfortable. From there I caught a taxi to Coburg. The 20 minute ride cost me about 30 Euros.
If you’re flying into Germany, Nuremberg is probably the closest airport to Coburg. Take the U2 subway line directly from the airport to the city’s central train station.
Hotels in Coburg sell out fast— up to six months before the festival! Make sure to reserve your rooms by January. There are other small towns close to Coburg where you can book rooms, but you may need to rent a car. Taxi fares add up quickly!
There are many natural hot springs in the area. If you have some extra time, take a day to pamper yourself! Try Obermain Therme in Bad Staffelstein or Bad Rodach Hot Springs.