Wednesday 15 May 2019

Wunderbar Wiesbaden

On this trip I’m being hosted by the German National Tourist Office.

I’ve just spent three days attending the travel trade conference GTM in Wiesbaden, the capital of Gemany’s Hessen state (from where we get the word hessian - its soldiers had uniforms made from that cloth).

To be honest, I’d never heard of Wiesbaden before. Which seemed surprising once I saw the place, as in the 19th and early 20th centuries it had been a famous playground for the rich, attracting visitors from all over Europe to its casino and thermal springs.

In World War II the north end of the city was struck by bombs, resulting in an unsympathetic postwar redevelopment in the area that was once the poshest zone near the hot springs and the lavish Kaiser Friedrich thermal baths. At the same time, a big American army base was established outside town. Wiesbaden never recovered that “playground of royalty” vibe, but it retains a wealth of beautiful buildings from that era and a certain genteel, relaxed air.

One of the highlights is the Kurhaus - literally “Cure House”, though its treatments came in the form of entertainment and gambling. As well as hosting events, it’s still home to the city’s casino - with some colleagues I had a peek inside in the morning, before the tables started operating:

Another highlight near the Kurhaus is the State Theatre, with an impressive neo-baroque facade and a statue of Schiller out the front. Not sure who the grumpy woman below him is meant to be. Perhaps a disgruntled fan who was hoping to meet his mate Goethe instead (whose statue is down the road at the city museum). 

Another classic building I was happy to visit was the Kaiser Friedrich Therme, the bathhouse in which people have been soaking since 1913. I’ve written before about the marvellous German bathhouse tradition - all naked, all together, and often within impressive old architecture. The Kaiser Friedrich baths fit the pattern, being centred on a central pool with a high ceiling and intricate decoration.

It’s not possible to show you photos of the interior, for obvious reasons, but here’s a shot of the entrance hall which gives you some idea of the decor:

At the northern end of the city centre, which was laid out in a pentagonal shape, is the Kochbrunnen spring, once a point of pilgrimage for Wiesbaden’s visitors. Such mineral-laden hot springs were once thought to provide cures to a range of ailments, so people were keen to “take the waters”.

In the square is this rather bizarre object, an openly gushing outlet of the spring which deposits minerals over time into this enormous formation. Every so often it’s cleared away. In Roman times the resulting dried residue was prized as a hair dye.

A few metres away is a small structure housing a more conventional outlet, a series of spigots flowing into a bowl. To mark my final evening in Wiesbaden, I had a taste.

Did I like it? Watch the video and see:

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