Baden-Baden is Germany’s most upscale spa town. Statistically, the average age of the population is the highest in the whole country, as it is a popular place for retirement among wealthy people, which one can't fail to notice when walking the streets.
Not only Germans, but also foreigners, in particular Russians. A glimpse into the shop windows tells of the average customers’ style as well as the size of their wallet.
One can certainly spend a lot of money in Baden-Baden.
A sight that characterizes posh Baden-Baden 'in a nutshell' is the flea market: There you will find fur coats and Chanel dresses on sale among the usual flea market knickknack. The flea market takes place on Saturday mornings in front of the Trinkhalle. People set up their stands on the paved small road along the edge of the park. A good spot not only for typical flea market items but also second-hand luxury brands. The smaller your size in clothing, the luckier you'll probably be.
On the other hand, Baden-Baden has a lot to offer for the shoestring traveller, too: The atmosphere, the architecture in the old town and the spa quarters, the walk along the river and through the lovely parks, people-watching in town, sampling the water from the thermal springs, hiking the forests and enjoying the views, the visit to Hohenbaden castle, all this is free.
Why the double name? In the late middle ages the castle named Baden (the ruins now known as Hohenbaden) became the centre and residence of the Margraves who named themselves after the castle. When the house of Baden split up in two lines, the one that stayed here named itself „Baden-Baden“, the other one „Baden-Durlach“ (later the founders of Karlsruhe). The town's name remained „Baden“ until people noticed that they were frequently mixed up with the just as famous spa of Baden bei Wien in Austria. The resolution was made to use the Margraves' name of „Baden-Baden“ from then on to distinguish the towns.
The healing powers of the hot springs were already known to the ancient Romans who named the place „Aquae“ - waters. In the 19th century Baden-Baden became the summer capital of Europe where the powerful, the rich and the important (and those who wanted to be) met for the holidays. The late 19th century, the belle époque, has formed the appearance of the town till today: elegant hotels and villas, the parks along the river Oos and Lichtenthaler Allee, the spa hall and the casino, upscale shops...
Mark Twain on Baden-Baden
One of the 19th century visitors was Mark Twain. The author travelled the Black Forest in the 1870s and wrote a book about it, which is 50% travel report and 50% fiction, but 100% entertaining and hilarious: „A Tramp Abroad“. I recommend it to all visitors to this region.
Here is Mark Twain's opinion on Baden-Baden:
„Baden-Baden sits in the lap of the hills, and the natural and artificial beauties of the surroundings are combined effectively and charmingly. The level strip of ground which stretches through and beyond the town is laid out in handsome pleasure grounds, shaded by noble trees and adorned at intervals with lofty and sparkling fountain-jets. Thrice a day a fine band makes music in the public promenade before the Conversation House, and in the afternoon and evening that locality is populous with fashionably dressed people of both sexes, who march back and forth past the great music-stand and look very much bored, though they make a show of feeling otherwise. It seems like a rather aimless and stupid existence. A good many of these people are there for a real purpose, however; they are racked with rheumatism, and they are there to stew it out in the hot baths. These invalids looked melancholy enough, limping about on their canes and crutches, and apparently brooding over all sorts of cheerless things. People say that Germany, with her damp stone houses, is the home of rheumatism. If that is so, Providence must have foreseen that it would be so, and therefore filled the land with the healing baths. Perhaps no other country is so generously supplied with medicinal springs as Germany. Some of these baths are good for one ailment, some for another; and again, peculiar ailments are conquered by combining the individual virtues of several different baths. For instance, for some forms of disease, the patient drinks the native hot water of Baden-Baden, with a spoonful of salt from the Carlsbad springs dissolved in it. That is not a dose to be forgotten right away. (...)
It is an inane town, filled with sham, and petty fraud, and snobbery, but the baths are good. I spoke with many people, and they were all agreed in that. I had the twinges of rheumatism unceasingly during three years, but the last one departed after a fortnight's bathing there, and I have never had one since. I fully believe I left my rheumatism in Baden-Baden. Baden-Baden is welcome to it. It was little, but it was all I had to give. I would have preferred to leave something that was catching, but it was not in my power.
There are several hot springs there, and during two thousand years they have poured forth a never-diminishing abundance of the healing water. This water is conducted in pipe to the numerous bath-houses, and is reduced to an endurable temperature by the addition of cold water. The new Friederichsbad is a very large and beautiful building, and in it one may have any sort of bath that has ever been invented, and with all the additions of herbs and drugs that his ailment may need or that the physician of the establishment may consider a useful thing to put into the water.“
(Mark Twain: A Tramp Abroad, Chapter XXI)
Things To Do For Free In Baden-Baden
Baden-Baden is a posh spa and thus well known for being ... not cheap. Budget travelers, check prices carefully.
There are, however, enough things that can be done for free to keep you busy for a day, for example:
~ Walking through the Kurpark
~ The afternoon concerts in the 'concert shell' in front of the Kurhaus
~ People-watching and window-shopping in Kurhauskolonnaden and the old town
~ Drinking the healing waters in the Trinkhalle or at Fettquelle next to Friedrichsbad (bring an empty bottle or a cup)
~ A walk along Lichtentaler Allee to see the beautiful parks and gardens, hotels and villas
~ Gönneranlage gardens
~ All the churches
~ Courtyard and church of Lichtenthal monastery
~ Strolling through the old town up to the terrace at the New Palace for the view
~ Hike up to castle Hohenbaden, visiting the ruin is also free
~ Lots of hiking trails in the surrounding forests
Warning: Do Not Walk From The Train Station Into Town. Take the Bus.
All this said: The one thing that even shoestring travellers should not be skint about is a bus ticket. Don’t try to walk from the railway station into town. Baden-Baden's train station is situated far out of the town centre in the suburb of Oos. From there to the city centre it's some 5 kms.
The way is not dangerous at all but looooooong. You'll be on your feet for at least an hour along a boring street and be tired already before you even reach anything that reminds you of what you have seen in your guidebook.
Take the bus instead. Buses depart every couple of minutes in front of the train station. Baden-Baden is part of the KVV network, so if you come from Karlsruhe or anywhere else in the area and have a KVV ticket to Baden-Baden, it includes the bus anyway.
Several lines go into town from the train station. The easiest is Bus 201 (direction: Lichtenthal) which runs every 10 minutes and stops right at the station. The line begins here, so there is almost always a bus waiting. Don't leave the station through the station building but keep right and walk round it. Then stumble into the open doors of the bus that's standing right there.
A faster but less frequent option is the express bus („Schnellbus“) 205 which departs from the next bus stop further right, in front of the 201.
The ride takes, depending on traffic conditions, some 15-20 minutes. Get off at „Leopoldsplatz“ and you'll be in the heart of town. The old town is on your left, the Kurpark and Kurhaus and the beginning of Lichtenthaler Allee just round the corner to the right. Another central stop is “Augustaplatz”.
The single ticket is 2.40 € (2017). In case you plan to use the bus at least 3 times, a day ticket makes sense. All further details can be found on www.kvv.de
Baden-Baden’s Healing Waters
Trinkhalle (drinking hall) hosts the tourist information office and one of Baden-Baden's thermal springs, the Friedrichsquelle. Hot spring water is constantly running from the tap and may be taken for free. Bring a bottle or a cup, or get a plastic cup for 20 cents there.
It is recommended not to drink more than 400 ml of this water per day. Well, I assume you won't want more. The taste is strange, rather salty. Give it a try, though - this is one of the things one simply HAS to do when in Baden-Baden...
The 19th century hall was built as a shady refuge where people could walk up and down, talk, watch and be watched while sipping their water. The paintings on the walls show scenes from old regional legends and fairy tales.
The relief in the gable above the main entrance shows the healing powers of Baden-Baden's springs. From left to right, sick and old people are brought to the spring, which is impersonated by the nymph in the centre who is giving water to a little child and his mother. On the right side, healthy and happy young people are dancing and playing with their children.
Fettquelle („fat spring“) is one of the hot springs on the slope of the Florentinerberg - the only one that's accessible outdoors. The spring is situated between Friedrichsbad and the church of the Monastery of the Holy Sepulchre (Heilig-Grab-Kloster) in the back wall underneath the staircase.
Water may be taken for free. Its healing powers are proven. I once heard from a local that, as children, they were told by their parents to pass the spring each day on the way to school and drink a cup of the water, in order to prevent colds, and they hardly ever got sick.
Warning: Do not try to drink straight from the fountain. Bring and use a cup or a bottle, or you’ll burn your mouth severely. The water has a temperature of about 60 °C (Celsius!!), which translates to 140 °F.
Two large public spas invite to soaking and relaxing in the thermal waters, and several hotels also have their own spa facilities. The two public spas as well as the Roman ruins are administered by the same company. All further details, opening hours, ticket prices etc. etc. can be found on their website: http://www.carasana.de/
Friedrichsbad is the most beautiful spa, situated in a beautiful 19th century neo-renaissance building. Following the example of the ancient Romans, the bath has a fixed curriculum which takes about 2-3 hours. Guests do not need to bring towels or anything, everything is provided. Friedrichsbad is entirely nude. Sexes are separated except in the big pool at the end. If you mind, better go to Caracallatherme instead. (Since I do mind, I have never been inside Friedrichsbad.)
Ruins of the Roman Baths
Underneath Friedrichsbad, remnants of the ancient Roman spa have been excavated. The archaeological site can be seen at the entrance to the parking garage. The opening hours are limited to one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon, sadly. The entrance fee includes an audioguide which is helpful to understand what you see, there are no written explanations in the excavations. The audioguide is available in several languages. Strictly no photography inside (*whispers* but when the thing is closed no one can keep you from taking photos through the window).
A small door in the steep hill slope behind Friedrichsbad is the entrance to a system of 19th century tunnels, 160 m long, that lead to four hot springs in the Florentinerberg hill. The temperature range of these natural springs is 64 to 67.5 degrees Celsius.
The tunnels, known as Friedrichstollen, are not accessible for visitors. The name of the spa and the tunnels, by the way, refer to Grandduke Friedrich I, who ruled Baden for more than 50 years in the 19th and early 20th century.
Caracallatherme is a modern building. It contains several indoor and outdoor pools with hot thermal water of different temperatures, sauna, massages etc. A great way to relax after a day of sightseeing. The pool area requires swimwear. The strictly separated sauna part is nude like all saunas in this country. The decision is up to the visitors, though: you can buy tickets for the pool area only, for the sauna only, or for the entire spa with both. The pools are equipped with water jets and other bubbling and splashing toys. The outdoor pool is particularly pleasant on chilly days.
The little church next to Caracallatherme is a memento of health treatment during the middle ages. Spitalkirche was part of the medieval hospital, which was established by the hot springs. The church is now used by the Old Catholic community. Note the 16th century tombstones along the walls and the Mount of Olives behind the choir.
The Old Town
The old town centre on the slopes of Florentinerberg hill has narrow streets, shops, restaurants and cafes (most of which can't be called cheap). There are many picturesque streetviews and romantic angles, worth a stroll and a look.
Some hidden reassures from Baden’s past can be found in the alleys and backyards. For example the „Giant Rider“, an ancient Roman sculpture, made in the 1st or 2nd century A.D., that was found near Haueneberstein in 1911. The one in the street is a copy, the original is now in the Stadtmuseum. A narrow passage through the house next to the ice-cream shop in Lange Straße leads to a hidden courtyard where the sculpture is put up.
From here, a stairway leads up the hill to the house called Baldreit. The Baldreit was first mentioned as a bath and guest house in the 15th century.
After the destruction in the 17th century wars it was rebuilt, its current appearance derives from the 18th and 19th century.
The romantic courtyard is well hidden in the old town. The easiest acess wil be from the upper corner of Marktplatz opposite the steeple of the Stiftskirche; follow the sign down the stairs.
The building is used by the Stadtmuseum (town museum) as offices and storage; the museum's exhibitions are in a different building in Lichtentaler Allee.
The former residence of the Margraves of Baden-Baden on top of Florentinerberg was first built in the 16th century and later extended. It is known as Neues Schloss (New Palace) to distinguish it from the old castle Hohenbaden. In 1700 Margrave Ludwig Wilhelm decided to move to Rastatt where he had his new baroque palace and town erected. The palace in Baden-Baden served only for occasional visits from then on.
The building remained property of the Margraves of Baden even after 1918. In 1995 the Margraves, who were close to bankruptcy then, sold the palace and all its interior in an auction. An investor bought the building and planned to turn it into a hotel. But for many years nothing happened, probably due to financial problems. The decay of the building continued.
Neues Schloss has been in the headlines every now and then over the years, when there were rumours that a new investor had been found and new plans had been made. „With utmost care“ (whatever that is supposed to mean) the palace will be turned into a luxury hotel. A new building is planned in the park. The hotel was to open in 2013, currently the date mentioned is 2018 – let’s see.
The palace itself is closed to visitors. If the main gate is open, at least a (forbidden) peep into the courtyard is possible. The terrace below is accessible and offers a fine view of the town and the valley, with Stiftskirche front and center.
The catholic parish church of the city is standing above the remnants of the Roman baths. The 13th century church was enlarged and changed in the late 15th century, then burnt down in the French war of 1689 and rebuilt afterwards. The choir contains several graves of Margraves of Baden(-Baden), among them Ludwig Wilhelm, Türkenlouis, the founder of the new residence at Rastatt and famous commander of the Empire's troops against the Turks around 1700.
Another religious institution used to be its next-door neighbour. The Kloster zum Heiligen Grab (Convent of the Holy Sepulchre) was founded by Margrave Leopold Wilhelm in the late 17th century. The baroque church of St Joseph got a new facade in neo-baroque style in 1895. Some 20 or 25 years ago the convent was closed down, the last nuns moved to an old people's home. The furniture and everything was sold in an auction and is gone for good. The school the nunnery ran is still in operation. The convent buildings are empty.
Kurhaus – Casino: How to get rid of all your money
The centre of any spa town is the Kurhaus where the guests meet for entertainment, food and drink, to watch and be watched. The Kurhaus contains halls for concerts, dancing and other events, a restaurant and cafe, and of course Baden-Baden's famous casino with its extravagant, impressive interior.
The casino is open for gambling after 2 p.m. They are doing roulette, poker, black jack and all those games I have no idea of. Minimum age is 21. Passport or ID card have to be shown (driver's licence is not accepted) - because they check if your name is on the list of banned gambling addicts, that's all.
If you want to watch or join the gambling, take into consideration that the Casino has a strict dress code. For men this means shirt, jacket and tie. (Shirt and tie without jacket are not considered formal dress in Germany.) Women should dress 'appropriate'. No need to panic, if you don't have these items with you. In case of need a tie and a jacket can be borrowed from the Casino reception.
This applies, however, only for the part with the roulette and poker tables and only after 2 p.m. when the gambling starts.
For the guided tours in the morning and to visit the part with the slot machines there is no dress code at all, normal casual wear is all right.
In the mornings the fancy rooms can be visited with guided tours (no dress code). The guides will explain the different rooms, the games and so on. The lush interiors are worth seeing even when there is no gambling going on.
Kurhauskolonnaden: Where to Shop after Winning a Fortune at the Casino?
Ever felt the need for a silver holder (€ 38,-) to put your ketchup or soy sauce bottle in, or similar souvenirs?
Baden-Baden's poshest shops are to be found in the Colonnades in front of the Kurhaus: fashion, jewelry, and stuff like that. Prices are, well, what you'd expect them to be.
If you want to spend a lot of money this is where to go.
If you don't want to spend money, this is the perfect area for people-watching...
Some people are seriously interested in all that expensive kitsch and nonsense in these shops. Amazing!
What to buy: Jewelry, fashion, accessoires, if someone else pays or you have just won a lot of money.
What to pay: A lot…
Festspielhaus: Concerts, Opera, Theater At Highest Stage
Concerts, opera, ballet, musical ... Want to hear and see the world stars of classical music and theatre? They all come here sooner or later.
Even though it has been opened only in 1998, the Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden has become one of the leading opera and concert halls in Germany. Expect ticket prices to be just as upscale. Book tickets well in advance: http://www.festspielhaus.de/
And dress up. Men: jacket and tie, better suit and tie. Women accordingly. You cannot be overdressed here. For a performance of classical music or opera, a long evening dress is certainly not out of place.
The main building in the back with audience and stage was designed by the architect Wilhelm Holzbauer in postmodern style. The front part, however, is 100 years older.
The entrance hall is actually the old train station of Baden-Baden. After the railway from the main station in Baden-Oos into town had been closed down and substituted by city buses, the neo-classicist station building was transformed into vestibule and box office for the new theater.
The counter that once sold train tickets now serves as box office underneath the original sign saying „Fahrkarten“ (train tickets).
NB: More about the walk along Lichtentaler Allee and about Hohenbaden castle will follow in separate entries!