Sunday, 27 June 2010

Black Forest, Baden-Baden

There was no let up in the heavy snow all the way into Baden-Baden and we were glad to get there because it didn’t seem possible that the road would stay open for very much longer unless a snow plough came along to attend to it. Even in the city the roads were treacherous and we had to make a couple of circuits of the centre before finding a parking spot at the top of a slippery hill. It was lunchtime so as it was still snowing heavily we headed for a traditional restaurant that we knew and had our final meal of the holiday and as we watched the snow through the window we started to wonder if this might affect the airport and whether it might be sensible to start making arrangements for an overnight stay in Baden-Baden.

Baden-Baden is a spa town not unlike Harrogate in Yorkshire but with a distinctly Mediterranean flair. Anyone who has visited Harrogate will know that this is probably the only town in England north of the M25 where the residents consider themselves posher than those in Surrey and I got the impression that it might be the same here in Baden-Baden. There was a smell of money about the place and the people, the buildings, the parks and the shops were all well turned out. I had made the assumption that it must be worth visiting because, as in the Frank Sinatra song, like New York they named it twice.

After lunch we moved the car from the short-stay car park and then investigated the city centre on foot. We walked through the snow that was continuing to fall, first to the Kurhaus, which is the city’s most famous landmark and is one of the most beautiful buildings in town. Originally it was a Promenade House and was the place to see and be seen and even today is the hub of the social scene and contains beautiful spa gardens filled with expensive shops, bars and reading rooms. Next, the oldest casino in Germany that has been a favourite amongst people from all over Europe for two hundred years or so. The Russian writer Dostoevsky wrote ‘The Gambler’ in Baden-Baden while compulsively frittering away his cash at this famous Casino and finally we walked by the Friedrichsbad or Old Baths that was built between 1869 and 1877 under the order of Grand Duke Friedrich von Baden. They follow the Roman-Irish method, which takes around two hours to complete the whole program, which includes a shower, two saunas, 55°c and 70°c, a brush massage, soaping, thermal steam baths and three freshwater baths.

The springs of Baden-Baden were known to the Romans, and the foundation of the town is attributed to the Emperor Hadrian but the town’s heyday was in the latter nineteenth century when it became a firm favourite with the aristocracy of Europe and featured prominently on their annual itinerary of places to visit and in the centre of the town and outside the Kurhaus spa, is an impressive bust of Kaiser Wilhelm I who especially liked this place. At that time it was called simply Baden as it always had been since the middle ages and it was only in 1931 that the town was officially given its double name which literally means Baden in the State of Baden, I suppose that would be a bit like Warwick-Warwick or Derby-Derby if the same principle was adopted in the United Kingdom. In both World Wars, the town was fortunate to escape damage or destruction which must have been a huge stroke of luck considering what happened to most of the Rhine towns and cities and after World-War-Two it became the headquarters of the French forces in occupied Germany who rather found the place to their liking.

After taking a short walk through the city park we agreed that this wasn’t really a good day for being out of doors and sightseeing and that we would be better off in a bar so we found a cozy place on the edge of town with a good view of the park and spent the last hour of our visit to Baden-Baden with a beer and a glass of wine. And it still kept snowing.

When it was time to leave we walked along the main street of expensive shops with their extravagant window displays and very high prices because Baden-Baden was a place of complete contrast to any of the other towns and cities that we had visited this week. After returning to the car we drove out of the city, stopped for fuel and were shocked by the price of a litre of petrol and then found our way back to the Airpark without any trouble although we kept an eye out for hotels and guesthouses in case we had to come back later. When we arrived we returned the car and its winter tyres to the car hire car park and I was quite sorry to leave it because I had grown attached to it on our winter driving adventures.

The airport was small and we felt sorry for the hundred passengers or so who were putting up with a four hour delayed flight to Rome and we hoped this wouldn’t happen to us. We were confident of getting off on time when the plane arrived and we were all settled down on board but immediately disappointed when the captain announced that he had brought out two engineers to mend the broken plane that was going to Rome and we had got to wait until they were finished so that we could take them back again. This meant an hours delay sitting on the plane but just as fellow passengers were starting to get fidgety and grumpy the men finished their repair job, climbed on board and within minutes we were on the runway, in the sky and on our way back to Stansted.

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