The Roman emperor Caracalla* (AD 198–217) bathed in its mineral thermal waters to cure his arthritic pains. American novelist Mark Twain once said, “I fully believe I left my rheumatism in Baden-Baden.” The great Russian writer, Fyodor Dostoyevsky lost all his money and his wife’s jewels gambling at the casino and in the end, had to write the novel, “The Gambler”, to pay off his debts. Bill Clinton proclaimed, “Baden-Baden is so nice you have to name it twice.”
I agree with Bill, it is extremely nice that we will keep going back for as long as we are in Alsace. We’ve seen it twice and will go back again, after all, it’s just 50 kms from where we live.
The first time we visited Baden-Baden was last December, just after Christmas. We wanted to experience their world-famous Christmas market but I was left spellbound not only because of the magical setting of their Christkindelsmarkt but also of the town’s picture postcard beauty. Glorious buildings, stately mansions, exquisite gardens, the green hilly landscape, the gently meandering river Oos. It has the “rich and famous” appeal of Monaco, the architectural gems of Paris, the Victorian gardens of England, the spectacular houses-on-the- hills scenery of the French Riviera, the Roman ruins and classical buildings of Athens, and add to these – the twelve thermal springs, the gastronomic restaurants, a shopping mecca, a cultural haven.
We went back early April, just in time when the cherry blossoms were at its peak and daffodils and tulips were dancing beneath our feet. If you saw my post, “Spring in Baden-Baden”, I’m sure the flowers have blown you away just as they did in me. And now that my excitement has settled down, it’s time to post the sights of Baden-Baden – behind the flowers.
For those coming in with their cars, most of the parking are underground, probably to keep the city green and free of unsightly ground level car parks. For us, we didn’t want to park in a dark confined place because: (1) we might want to leave Charlie in the car if we decide to dine in a fashiionable Michelin-starred restaurant (just kidding!) (2) we didn’t feel like splurging our money on carpark fees. Luckily, we found a space uphill on a residential area just at the edge of the town.
This is the route to our walking tour. Enjoy!
We came into a beautiful park dotted with cherry blossoms and in the middle of it is the bust of the French Romantic composer, Hector Berlioz. What is a French musician doing on German soil, I wondered.
To mark the opening of the newly built Theater of Baden-Baden in August 1862, he was commissioned to write an opera thus, he created “Béatrice et Bénédict” based on Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” He went on to conduct annual gala concerts in the same theater which was well attended by a world audience.
The Opera House.
Built in 1892-1894 originally as a train station but closed down in 1977 , this glorious Neo-Rennaissance building re-opened its doors in 1998 as the first ever opera house in Baden-Baden. With a seating capacity of 2,500, it is the largest opera house in Germany and the second largest in Europe.
Deutschland ist unteilbar 1945 – 1990
(Germany is indivisible 1945 – 1990)
We could have easily passed this memorial stone unnoticed as it is almost concealed behind the bushes and by its green colour, like a soldier in camouflaged uniform. This monument is just one among many, built between 1949 and 1990, scattered in various cities of Germany to serve as reminder to its citizens that despite a divided country, it is united in spirit. The year 1945 was when the Nazi regime was defeated and the country split into East and West and 1990, the fall of the Berlin Wall, was the year these two were reunited.
We finally arrived on a busy pedestrianized street – the Lange Straße, where shopping, sitting in outdoor cafes and people-watching perfectly go together. Also, this is where Charlie enjoyed dog-watching, like a master-and-dog parade was going on, the furry ones sporting their signature collars or leashes.
This popular konditorei (pâtisserie and coffee shop) at the Lange Straße is where we sat for coffee and cake. They seem to be oblivious to papararazis like me. It’s good promotion for their shop, too.
Coffee fix done and we continue the tour. This is a stag signage of a hotel nearby and next to it are two BMW limousines obviously on standby at guests’ calls.
The Florentine Hill
We begin our climb up the Old Town.
See the climbing trunk of wisteria plant alongside the balcony. That’s one reason we are going back in May to see it covered with flowers. It’s a majestic vine.
I photograph for hundreds of reasons and one them is to scout for ideas.
We arrived in the Market Square where the neo-Gothic Stiftskirche (Parish Church) stands at the center.
We had a quick brunch at a restaurant just outside the church where the kind manager/waiter recommended their delicious white tomato sauce soup cooked with cheese. It was served exactly like this, inside a brown paper bag, probably to keep the heat so I never bothered to remove it. Creamy delicious. I must cook one at home.
Not only that the waiter is kind, he also invited us to take a peek at his restaurant. He told us that all the staff have some form of disabilities and their aim is to give a chance to all especially those who have skills in the kitchen. The waitress who served our drinks has a speech problem, H noticed that she stammered while replying to our question and the chef is blind in one eye.
“Kindness is a language the deaf can hear and the blind can read.”
(Their motto above)
What a lovely meal! Our hunger gone and glad to have encountered a restaurant doing a noble deed, we resumed our sightseeing. Just behind the church is the famous thermal spa, the Friedrichsbad, (on the right) and its museum (on the left).
The rear entrance of the Friedrichsbad spa.
The Friedrichsbad was built in Renaissance revival style during the reign of Frederick II, Grand Duke of Baden. It opened in 1877. Spoiled by the Gellert Bath of Budapest where we enjoyed not only its curative thermal waters but also marvelled at its glorious Art Nouveau architecture, we thought we should also try this luxurious spa of Baden-Baden, after all, it is 40 years older than Gellert and no doubt more glorious. I did some research, price is not bad, the 17-step bathing ritual would be heaven, but there’s a catch – you have to be naked just like everyone!
Maybe try the Caracalla bath instead ….
The dome of the Friedrichsbad seen from the park above.
In Baden-Baden, it’s easy to lose track of time and direction. We just followed our feet to where they took us, to the lovely nooks and crannies of achingly-beautiful flowery parks we stumbled across such as this garden above the spa. The Parish Church (Stiftskirch) is peeking from behind.
“City of Stairs”
Baden-Baden is sprawled around hills so one has to negotiate through myriads of stairways which is not a big deal when you get rewarded with lovely views and a healthier body. We never saw obese people, honest, and if there are, they are probably tourists from other countries.
They call it the “city of stairs” so here are some stair-full of photos.
The hundred steps to Michaelsberg. On the left is a water cascade that joins the river Oos below.
Stairway in the old town
This is a stepped alley leading to the New Castle above. Notice the alley name.
A passageway leading up to the New Castle.
Negotiating the town steps could give you a chance to peek at people’s kitchens.
Steep steps running alongside a multi-level chessboard park.
A wooden passageway attached to the retaining wall of the old town. I was terrified walking here, imagine if the floor suddenly goes crashing down because of my weight.
One moment we were walking on suspended footpath, the next, we were trespassing a courtyard. (But it’s actually a public passageway.)
– End of the Stair series –
While climbing the steps up the new Castle, we passed by this gate of an elegant mansion now a B&B. It boasts of a panoramic view of the town.
The tower of the New Castle (Neues Schloss) peeking out of the cypress trees. The castle was the residence of the Margraves of Baden From the late 15th to the late 17th century, then used as the summer residence of the Grand Dukes until it was sold, in 2003, to a ruling Kuwaiti family. It is now being built as a 146-room luxury hotel (Hyatt) scheduled to open in 2018.
The castle and its gardens are closed to the public but the terrace is open to everyone who wants to enjoy the breathtaking views of the town.
So while there is no chance to see what’s going on inside, I just consoled myself to taking photos of everything outside. This must be one of the side entrances.
Could this be the former herb garden outside the castle’s kitchen?
This fountain is still showing traces of a glorious past.
The rear side of the castle.
On our way down along Castle Street, we passed by this Baroque styled fountain they call the Obertor. Erected in 1783, it was dedicated to the then city mayor Peter Nagel.
A remnant of the tower wall.
The Michaelsberg Hill
Back on level ground, we went walking along the famous boulevard , the 361-year old Lichtentaler Allee. Here you will find several museums, the Casino, the Theater and the Corinthian- columned Trinkhalle (above).
A very pleasant thing to do is sit for coffee outside the Trinkhalle, bask in the sun and immerse yourself to the sublime beauty of the gardens around.
But we didn’t stop for coffee, we climbed up the Michaelsberg instead and took delight at the staggering scenery of the town below and the bucolic parkland where we are now standing. I envy the ducks who live in that small house on the pond, what a great view they have.
Turning our eyes to the pond, it is teeming with frogs’ eggs, there must be millions of them, all attached together but there is not a single sound of croaking frogs anywhere. Where have they all gone?
Red trees dotting the park, they’re gigantic, they could be hundreds of years old.
At the very top of Michaelsberg is the 19th century Romanian Orthodox Church which houses the tombs of the Stourdza family. Michael Stourdza, Prince of Moldova, originally had it built for his 16-year old son who was assassinated in Paris.
Designed by Bavarian architect Leo von Klenze in classical style, it is built with layers of white, red and brown sandstone, a porch supported by four columns and a dome with an orthodox cross perched above. The presence of this structure above the hill reminds me of Athens but in greener surroundings.
So that’s it. Tour done. We shall go back again soon to this beautiful town and hopefully, will get the chance to soak on the soothing thermal waters of . . . Caracalla.
*After doing my calculations, the date of Caracalla’s birth and the date he soaked in the thermal bath of Baden-Baden, he was only 12 at the time so it’s quite intriguing that less than 2000 years ago, arthritis was already affecting children who have not even reached their puberty. By the way, he was assassinated at age 29.