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May 2004

Bath Time

Good clean fun-the spa is just one of the many attractions of Baden-Baden

“I left my rheumatism in Baden-Baden,” American author Mark Twain was happy to report after visiting the town in 1878. Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky, on the other hand, who frequented the spa a few years earlier, in 1867, was less fortunate—a luckless gambler, he left his entire fortune at the gaming tables of the town casino.

Located at the northwestern edge of the Black Forest, Baden-Baden was first settled by the Romans, who named it “Aquae Aureliae” after Emperor Marcus Aurelius and the hot springs that had been recently discovered in the area. Until AD 260, when the German Alemann tribe invaded the town, people from every corner of the Roman Empire traveled to Aquae Aureliae to enjoy the healing effects of its spring water. Bathing was reputed to alleviate symptoms of arthritis, obesity and a host of other ailments—Emperor Caracalla visited the town in AD 215 and claimed that the waters cured his rheumatism. Although the Alemanns almost completely destroyed the town, ruins of a 2,000-year-old Roman bath were discovered in 1857 and can be visited today at Römerplatz.

The town made its next appearance in the pages of history under the name “Baduon” in 1112, when Hermann I of Zähringen established the margraviate of Marchio de Baduon. From then until the end of World War I, the town and region were ruled by the House of Zähringen. As not only the town, but also the family’s hereditary title and the region carry the name Baden, there is plenty of scope for confusion. For this reason by the 17th century the town had come to be called “Baden in Baden” and by the 18th century the “in” was replaced by a hyphen. Nonetheless, it is almost another 200 years before the name Baden-Baden was officially adopted, on September 1, 1931. In the meantime, however, the town was to see its fortunes increase and decline dramatically a number of times. In 1349 the thermal springs, which had fallen into disrepair, were reopened in the hope that they would help cure the Black Plague, which was sweeping across the continent, but it was not until 1473, when Emperor Frederick III visited Baden-Baden to take the waters, that bathing once again became popular there. Over the next 200 years the springs became part of the town’s common culture—one spring, the Brühequelle, was used exclusively for cleaning fowls and pigs! A decline set in again, however, when, in 1689, the town was reduced to rubble by fire.

Town records report that the first gambling license was granted in 1748, though this seems to have had little immediate effect on the town’s fortunes. Changes came about gradually: in 1799 Baden-Baden was officially declared a spa, in 1824 architect Friedrich Weinbrenner built the Neoclassical Kurhaus, a sort of meeting place, incorporating a casino (Spielbank), in 1838 the railway arrived in town and in the same year one Jean Jacques Bénazet took over the running of the Spielbank. Of all the developments of the time the last of these was probably the most significant. French King Louis Philippe had recently closed the gambling halls of France as part of measures to combat political unrest and Bénazet arriving in Baden-Baden immediately saw the town’s potential as a magnet for wealthy gamblers from France. Its proximity to the French border, the springs and beautiful natural setting, he was sure, would attract huge numbers of visitors. Once the Spielbank did well Bénazet used the profits to fund many of the town’s other attractions. The railway station, the Trinkhalle, an orchestra and the upkeep of the baths were all paid for by revenue from the Spielbank. At this time the casino was patronized mainly by French aristocrats who were unwilling to learn foreign languages, so Bénazet and his son Edouard did everything possible to give Baden-Baden a French flair. Within a few short years restaurant menus were available in French, croupiers used French at the gambling tables and French fashion became the mark of the elite in Baden-Baden. In 1858, Bénazet, Jr., invited the Paris Jockey Club to set up a racetrack near the village of Iffezheim, just outside Baden-Baden. The location, run under the authority of the French Minister of the Interior, the Duke of Monry, was an immediate and lasting success. Races are still held at Iffezheim today, in May and August, drawing an international crowd of spectators. Information on this year’s races, which begin on May 22, can be obtained by visiting Gradually Baden-Baden established itself as the capitale d’été (summer capital) of the Second Empire of Napoleon III.

To soak up the atmosphere of the Belle Epoch it is well worth visiting the Spielbank located in the Kurhaus (Kaiserallee 1), described by actress Marlene Dietrich as “the most beautiful [casino] in the world.” Take a walk through the Red Room, the Salon Pompadour and the Florentine Room, all of which are decorated in the style of a French imperial palace—Bénazet commissioned a set designer from France to design these rooms. The building is open daily except for national holidays. Tickets, € 3 for adults, can be bought at the reception once you have shown your passport and there are 30-minute tours costing an additional € 4 per person available on request in English. If you are visiting the casino to gamble rather than tour, you’ll be pleased to hear that the Spielbank dropped its black-tie policy in November 2003 and the new regulations for guests are simply that men must wear a jacket and tie. For more information visit

The flow of affluent French visitors to the town came to an abrupt end when, in 1870, the Prussians defeated Napoleon III in the Franco-Prussian War. Two years later Baden-Baden was dealt another blow when the government in Berlin ordered the closing of all German casinos. Monte Carlo, whose first casino had opened in 1863, quickly replaced Baden-Baden as the gambling capital of Europe. The town may well have sunk into oblivion had not Grand Duke Friedrich of Baden ordered the construction of the Friedrichsbad (Römerplatz 1). Completed in 1877 on the site of an old Roman bath, this glorious Neo-Renaissance building with its colorful tiled and painted interior proved a great draw for a new type of visitor—older, wealthy Europeans who began visiting Baden-Baden to “take a cure.” The Friedrichsbad sold itself as a Roman-Irish bath, an idea created by Richard Barter, an Irish physician, who combined the warm thermal Roman baths with so-called Irish steam rooms.

The Friedrichsbad is still a popular attraction, though anyone who wishes to try the treatment should perhaps be warned that complete nakedness is mandatory and on most days the baths are mixed. Visitors are put through a program of 16 different therapies over a two-hour period, which includes a variety of pools, saunas and steam baths, all with different temperatures. The treatment is rounded off with a shower and a visit to the circular sleeping room, where staff wrap sleepy guests in warm towels for a 30-minute nap. The baths are open Monday to Saturday, 9 am to 10 pm and from 12 pm to 8 pm on Sundays and holidays. Admission prices begin at € 21 and include slippers, towels, soap and lotion. Children under the age of 14 are not admitted. For more information visit

Refreshed and invigorated the visitor to Baden-Baden can now enjoy a few of the other sights the town has to offer. Anyone interested in the spa culture should visit the Trinkhalle. Built by architect Heinrich Hübsch from 1839 to 1842, this Neoclassical edifice has an open front supported by 16 Corinthian columns. Visitors would come here to drink water from the local springs and for their entertainment local artist Jakob Götzenberger decorated the walls with twelve scenes from the town’s history, which can still be admired today. Another favorite destination for 19th-century spa guests was the Lichtentaler Allee. Running along the left bank of the Oos River, this popular promenade runs through a wonderfully diverse parkland created by Bénazet, Jr., from 1850 to 1870 and is home to more than 300 indigenous and exotic plants and shrubs. The Lichtentaler Allee was the place to see and be seen. In the latter half of the 19th century many of Europe’s leading cultural and political figures, from Queen Victoria and Emperor Wilhelm I to Victor Hugo and Richard Wagner, could be seen driving along it in their carriages.

Those interested in the Zähringen dynasty may like to visit the family’s former residence. Though now a ruin, the Altes Schloss (Old Castle), begun in 1102, retains plenty of atmosphere and a walk up to its tower affords visitors a wonderful view of the town below. A later family home, the Neues Schloss (New Palace), completed ca. 1479, is unfortunately closed to the public, though there are plans to renovate the building and turn it into a luxury hotel. Two churches no visitor should bypass are the elegant Stiftskirche, a Gothic construction to which a Baroque tower was subsequently added and the final resting place for many of the Margraves of Baden, and the Russian Church built from 1880 to 1882. In the 19th century relations between Baden-Baden and Russia were very close. Diplomats, wealthy burghers and artists loved to visit the spa town and this Byzantine edifice, liberally decorated on the interior with religious frescoes designed by the painter Grigor Grigorijewitsch Gagarin, is a monument to this friendship (the church is open daily from 10 am to 6 pm).

Baden-Baden’s culture and history aside, it is the nearby Black Forest that is a draw for many visitors. Gourmets and wine connoisseurs can hike part or even all of the 100-km-long Ortenauer Weinpfad. The path, marked with a red-edged sign depicting blue grapes, takes walkers through some of Germany’s most famous vineyards and the route is dotted with small restaurants, where you can sample glasses of Riesling, Spätburgunder and Gewürztraminer. More information on the Weinpfad can be found at Baden-Baden’s tourist information center at the Trinkhalle (Tel. [07221] 27 52 00). Alternatively, if your German is good enough and you are a serious hiker, the Reiseführer Badische Weinstrasse (ISBN: 3930632721, € 9.95) by Bernd Schmitz is a worthwhile investment. For those who want to stay closer to the town, Baden-Baden has its own panorama route. Information and a map of this 40-m-long walk and many other local routes can be obtained by visiting or calling the tourist information center mentioned above. If you have been inspired by this month’s Sports Feature (see page 32) to try a little climbing, the area around Baden-Baden offers plenty of possibilities. The Battertfelsen, only a short drive from the town, has rock faces suitable for every level of climber. Contact AlpinSport TS (Eckbergstr. 15, Tel. [07221] 728 31), or visit

Baden-Baden is approximately a 3 1/2-hour train ride away from Munich, so anyone visiting the town will probably wish to stay at least one or two nights. And there is certainly no dearth of good hotels. Two of the best known are the Dorint Maison Messmer (Werderstr. 1) and Brenner’s Park-Hotel and Spa (Schillerstr. 4–6). The former, which was originally constructed in the 1800s, has undergone significant renovations over the past three years. Now comfortable and modern in style, it is located just beside the Kurhaus and the Spielbank, making it an ideal base from which to explore the town. Not everyone’s budget will stretch to a stay at Brenner’s, one of the ten top hotels in the world, but if you are looking for a real treat you will find it here. Hotel Director Frank Marrenbach, who has just won the prestigious title of Hotelier of the Year for 2004, and his staff have customer service down to a fine art. And if you can’t afford to spend the night, why not enjoy afternoon coffee and cake at the hotel’s Wintergarten restaurant. Easier on the purse (under € 80 for a double room) and centrally located are the Hotel am Friedrichsbad (Gernsbacher Str. 31), Hotel am Markt (Marktplatz 18), Hotel Karlsbader Hof (Bäderstr. 1) and the Hotel Bischoff (Römerplatz 2).

If you prefer to spend your money on food, Baden-Baden will not disappoint—it is a gourmet’s city. Le Jardin de France (Lichtentalerstr. 13, Tel. [07221] 300 78 60), run by Alsatians Sophie and Stefan Bernhard, won a Michelin star in 2000, just 18 months after opening. Bernhard was the youngest chef in Germany to win and this may be due to the couple’s philosophy of using only the highest-quality ingredients from small suppliers and by keeping the menu seasonal. In order to draw up his bi-monthly menu, he simply makes two columns on a page of blank paper, one side with the fruits and vegetables that are in season and the other with the seafood and meat that is available. He then draws connecting lines between items from the different columns that he thinks will make interesting combinations and voilà, la carte de la semaine est fini! Prices are very reasonable for a Michelin-star restaurant and the atmosphere is relaxed and unpretentious. Excellent local cuisine at affordable prices can be found at the restaurant Molkenkur (Quettigstr. 19, Tel. [07221] 332 57).

Baden-Baden may be difficult to do on a shoestring—spa treatments and gambling are not generally pursuits for the down-at-heel—but the town, left almost completely unscathed by two world wars, delighting in a gentle climate and with an elegant French ambience about its streets, will make anyone feel wealthy, if only for a day.

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