The B’s of Baden-Baden: Bath, Beer and Bretzel
Talk about alliteration: my latest adventure was to Baden-Baden in Germany’s Black Forest for the thermal baths, beer, Black Forest cake and bretzels galore !
South Germany’s Black Forest was surprisingly close to Zürich, just an hour and a half north of here. This deep green woodland area stretches north from Basel in Switzerland for about 160 km up to Pforzheim in Southwest Germany, with its western edge at the Rhine, extending east for about 40 km. Our main destination was near the northern limits of the forest, in Baden-Baden. No, not to see Obama, Sarkozy and Merkel; yes, for the thermal baths! We stayed at family-run Hotel am Markt, a really great find (with a delicious and generous buffet breakfast) on a small, charming square, our window looking down at the Stiftskirche (Baden-Baden?s first parish church) and the Roman baths just a short walk away, along the pedestrian cobblestone streets. Normally a very peaceful spot too. That is, if there aren’t 500 police officers on the square – Obama happened to be arriving the very day we left, on that very square! If ever you find yourself in the city of NATO’s 60th anniversary, here’s a word of advice: don’t go anywhere without your passport as well as some paperwork from your hotel. I will admit feeling rather special though, being escorted to our hotel each time we came and went! The presence of police officers was truly impressive. We were almost the only 2 people in the city not in Germany’s green police uniforms.
But back to those baths… Baden-Baden is the ultimate spa town, the name itself, baden meaning bath in German. People come here to spend hours in the thermal baths, the healing waters coming straight from the mountains – natural springs rising from depths of around 6,500 feet. In the baths, the water temperature ranges from 32 to 42 degrees Celcius / 90 to 107 degrees Fahrenheit. Take your pick between the ancient Friedrichsbad (Roman-Irish Bath) and the more modern Baths of Caracalla. The former opened 120 years ago, in elegant surroundings to pamper the rich and famous. It was my first choice from the photos alone, but take note: nudity is 100% obligatory, men and women together. And so it was, the modern yet also beautiful Caracalla Therme for us, with its marble columns and turquoise pools, both inside and outside. Also half the price of the other. What to do first? Hot and cold rock grotto, bubbling whirlpools, waterfalls, counter-current pool, massaging water jets, aromatherapy rooms, steam rooms, saunas… It’s all mixed, male and female, bathing suits on the main floor, but fully naked upstairs for more saunas, some even outdoors in little log cabins. Sorry, no photos to document all of that.
All that sweating worked up an appetite. To the local beer garden it was for a typical – and very seasonal – snack. Beers in laughably large mugs turned out to be the minimum size you could order, and baskets of soft, doughy pretzels emptied fast. Best of all, platters of plump white asparagus were on almost every table. Baden-Baden is not only on the Black Forest Spa Route, but also along the Baden Asparagus Route! Baden-Wuerttemberg is one of the most productive asparagus regions in Germany, and the harvesting has just begun. You can’t go to a single restaurant during this time of year that’s not offering its special Spargel menu. Do take advantage.
If you’ll be passing through this region in Germany in the next few months, definitely check out the numerous asparagus festivals, asparagus peeling competitions and fun asparagus-themed events all around. I’ve already got Asparagus Day on my calendar for May 2010! Perhaps a stop at the baths on the way…
Hotel am Markt
Tip: this hotel (and many others in town) offers discounted rates for both thermal baths, so buy your tickets when you check in!