Monday, March 13, 2017

Postcards from Baden-Baden

Dear reders, I want to make a confession: I have a weakness for spa towns, entire localities built around the principle of health and beauty treatments. In such places, besides the usual locals, you can always meet a bunch of interesting people with their stories, that hopefully have more to say than their obvious medical histories. In the last years, I was able to visit a couple of them, such for instance Karlovy Vary, where I enjoyed not only the visit of various spa facilities, but also a beautiful landscape at the beginning of a colourful autumn. 
In the case of Baden-Baden, a famous spa town especially among far Eastern Europeans and Russians, my curiosity had an extra motivation: when I was in high-school, one of the most interesting lectures I had was The Player, by Dostoevsky, which describes with a fine psychological detail a gambling addiction practiced in the local casino. For me, this would be the only work by the famous Russian writer which I really appreciates, but every time I am thinking about this book, the longing to visit Baden-Baden was always present.
This year, during my birthday tour in Baden-Württemberg, I included this locality in my intensive travel plan.
I arrived there by train from Karlsruhe, after a 20 minutes journey. As the place is close from the border to France, it is a destination of choice for an affordable weekend for the French too. Therefore, French is a language often used here as well as welcoming signs 'Nous parlons Francais' at the entrance to various restaurants. In order to reach the center of the town with the main touristic attractions, you need to take a bus - or a cab - for another 20 minutes. 
We made our first stop at Ernst Schlapper Plarz, named after a post-WWII mayor, for admiring the imposant Art Nouveau theatre. The bad news was that a show of the Bejart Ballet from Lausanne was about to have a show here during the next weekend where we were no more around. 
After a couple of more steps alongside Lange Straße, we arrive at the treatment area, with the spectacular red bricked painted arches of the Trinkhalle. After drinking the precious mineral waters - the production estimated by the experts being of 200,000 galons per day - the patients are recommended to take a long walk in the treatment gardens, breathing deep the fresh air of the Black Forest, who is surrounding Baden-Baden. 
A couple of minutes later, we are in the front of the former casino, where many of the episodes of The Player are taking place. At this time of the day, there is no one around, except tourists, and there is no way to visit the place. Outside the pages of the book, the place looks like any other around, hardly likely to be the place that inspired my travel list for such a long time.
The vague feeling of disappointment is shortly forgotten as I look around at the white silhouettes of the architecture against a blue sky. Luxury shops and expensive art galleries add more glittering to the scenery. 
If you want to live as in the time of the characters from the time of Dostoevsky, a ride with the carriage tour can help. The main station is on Lichtentaler Allee
Another theatre, playing for this season Nathan the Wise by Lessing can bring more cultural activities into the daily schedule in the spa town.
However, my day trip to Baden-Baden is supposed to be rather modest from the cultural point of view. Instead, I am happy to enjoy the early spring weather, discovering the cosiest places, such as the restaurants and coffee places from Sophienstraße.
Many buildings are proudly decorated with the coat of arms of Baden Baden, a diagonal red line against a golden shield. Very often, both my eyes and my camera are pleased by the architectural views.
Interestingly, the town seems to be built on a hill, therefore the many stairs that connect different levels and streets. A good opportunity to get ready for the coming spring hiking...
The colours of Baden-Baden look like an invitation for more discoveries, forgetting the hardship of moving from a place to another. 
The tree-bordered alleys look relatively bland today, but I can easily imagine how much beauty can be added by the green leaves and the colourful flowers. A boulevard to enjoy the evening post-treatment walk. 
Talking about treatments, the huge complex of Caracalla Therme offers high-end modern facilities to either spa and beauty or health treatment. It is respectfully quiet around that you can hardly think if there are so many people inside. 
A couple of meters away, Friedrichsbaden offers beautiful architectural views, with its carefully pastel painted arches. Its rich spa culture prompted Baden-Baden to be added since 2014 to a prospective UNESCO Cultural Heritage list, together with another 10 places, 'Great spas of Europe'.
Although the main streets are, as usual in such towns, always busy, some side alleys, like Steinstraße, offers a lot of quiet spots. 
If you look up, at the end of an adventurous ride through the cobbestone streets, you might be surprised by the construction solutions of raising a city purely on stone. The luxury of living in a free-eartquake area.
Everything looks so picturesque that one may forget that there are also normal administrative activities taking place here. The city hall - Rathaus - is well hidden behind the walls of a former Jesuite college, maintaining the main features of austerity and stiffness. 
If you are strong enough - and wearing good sport shoes - a short visit to the castle can offer not only some additional historical information about this place, but also beautiful views of Baden-Baden.
If you are looking for interesting cultural sightseeings, there are here a couple of interesting destinations. For instance: the Altes Dampfbad - Old Steam Bath - hosting historical and photographic exhibitions or the Museum Frieder Burda - an extensive art collection by second son of the famous German publisher Franz Burda. Besides the failure to visit the casino, another regret was to not be able to visit the Faberge Museum, hosting a collection of the colourful elegant eggs. 
But the luckiest traveller is the one who is able to make the best of the current opportunities, so I had instead a couple of colourful houses on the narrow streets.
Back in the central area, I dared to explore the small elegant shops and svelte white buildings.
I even had a look at the big Wagener Gallery for even more shopping and chatting with the locals.
The food offer is very elegant too, with high-end Italian restaurants, a Taj Tandoor Indian one and many fine chocolate stores, like the Läderach Swiss chocolate. When in the Black Forest, having a bit of the famous chocolate cake with the same name is a must, but it seems that my visit to the Bäckeler Coffee House was at a time of the day when it was no piece left. Instead, I was offered a Central European version - Budapest - with more chocolate, less cream, no alcoholic cherry on the top and some drops of alcohol spread during various stages of the cake composition. My coconut milk coffee was an elegant add to the palate.
My short trip to Baden-Baden ended on a sweet note. The time spent there was relaxing and rich enough in discoveries to make to return back, maybe the next time for a full weekend in this town tucked in the middle of the Black Forest. 

12 comments:

  1. Having been born and bred in a spa town and then having lived for several years in another (where we still have a house) I share your fascination. In fact I hadn't realised quite how much until I read this post. Beautiful images too.

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    1. Thank you! I am fascinated by the culture built around the spa towns, made of the accidental encounters between various individuals from all over the world and the region, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe.

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  2. I haven't been to many towns in Germany, but your pictures of Baden Baden certainly do this town justice...and architecturally it certainly would appeal to me.

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  3. So pretty. Reminds me a little of Vienna.

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    1. Yeah. It has a Central European flavor, for sure!

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  4. A few years ago we were supposed to go to Germany and Baden-Baden was on my list of to-dos. Sadly we had to cancel the entire trip. Looks like I missed out on a good experience!

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    1. I hope you can make it one day! Germany is so resourceful when it comes to unexpected destinations!

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  5. I lived in Baden Baden when I was a kid :) I still remember the afternoon in the thermal station and also the taste of the Schwarzald kuchen :) Glad you had a nice time there!

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    1. It was a very nice time and I hope to come back soon! And oh, those Schwarzwald kuchen...enough to stay there for ever and a bit more :)

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  6. Baden-Baden sure looks & sounds like double the charm - beautiful photos! Looks like you had perfect weather on your visit but I have to ask, did you got a spa?!

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    1. Thanks! Not real spa this time, but I want to return in the next months and spend quality time only here - as this time I was just doing a day trip from Karlsruhe.

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