16. February 2005 · Comments Off on Baden-Baden: Part the First · Categories: General

At this date, I am not sure what my reason was to stop over for a couple of days in the Wilhelmine splendors of the spa-town of Baden-Baden. We were just passing through, my daughter and I, going from an assignment in Greece to another one in Spain, and taking our time, on a long meandering jaunt up through the length of Italy, over the Brenner Pass, and across Germany, and France. I had plotted a zig-zaggy route, and made some reservations in places that I knew I wanted to see, but left other stops for following an impulse— did we want to stop and look around here, or was I just tired of driving for the day? Baden-Baden was one of the planned stops; something about the spa-baths, and the splendors of Brenner’s Park-Hotel, all those marvelous relics of the 19th century high-life lived by gentlemen in flannel suits and panama hats, and ladies in sweeping petticoats, with their hair swept up, and whole flocks of birds piled onto impossibly ornate hats was just too enticing to resist. Baden-Baden had been a pillar in what the historian Barbara Tuchman called “The Proud Tower” of Europe before World War I, that wonderfully cosmopolitan place where no one needed a passport and all the royalty were cousins by blood or marriage or both, before war and revolution, blood and barbed wire and the Maxim gun brought down that shining edifice.

I couldn’t afford to stay at a place like Brenner’s, though, but we happily settled into a room in a tiny family-run guesthouse in the old part of town, where a hot bath in the shared facility was extra, and the owner/manageress kept the detached bath taps behind the bar, and handed them over upon payment of the additional fee. Poor woman, she looked a little bit frazzled, and explained that her husband was suddenly hospitalized, and she was left to run the place and do the housekeeping herself, and so she apologized for things not being as tidy as usual. Their son, a sturdy little blond boy named Oliver, was exactly Blondie’s age. The two of them looked enough alike to be twins; in the way of children they became instantly inseparable, constantly dashing off together to the garden or into the family quarters to play with Oliver’s toys and books . How they communicated, I had no idea, but they did.
(Blondie: I dunno how we talked— we were just kids. I think we pantomimed stuff to each other.)

Blondie and Patch

(Blondie in colorful local attire, c. 1985)

She was in two minds about going with me into the heart of Baden-Baden the next day. Oliver’s mother had presented me with a little packet from the local tourism authority meant to be handed out to everyone who came to visit Baden-Baden; brochures and a town map, and some coupons and discount offers on local attractions, including one for a most splendid new establishment, the “Caracalla-Terme”.
“It’s a hot bath and spa, “I said, “Named after a Roman emperor. We’ll take our bathing suits and things, and check it out. And we’ll go eat at Brenner’s Park Hotel.”

I had already discovered through the simple expedient of driving through it, that Baden-Baden was a tiny place, with narrow little streets and little available parking, but until we ventured out on foot, we had no notion of how beautiful it actually was. The Lichtentaler Allee, a long and skinny park, beautifully planted with trees and a velvety green lawn ran along one bank of a little local river, the Oosbach. We followed it, strolling all the way into town, looking across the little river at the back gardens of the villas and mansions on the other side, where formal gardens ran down to the grassy bank. The houses were all painted the pastel colors of Easter candy, with white neo-Baroque trim.

Brenner’s was all that, but blown up to gargantuan proportions. The prices on the menus posted in the porte-cochered covered entryway were pretty gargantuan, also, even the a la cart luncheon menu. However, there was an afternoon tea served daily…
“We’ll come back for afternoon tea, “ I told Blondie firmly. After all, we had come all the way to Baden-Baden, of course we should eat under the Brenner’s fabled roof at least once.

In a paved square in the center of town, ringed by trees still bearing the shredded yellow remnants of their yearly foliage, and two rows of colonnaded shops, a band played lilting music, Lehar and Strauss waltzes for an audience taking their leisure on the sort of metal folding chairs seen in parks all over Europe. The miniature shops in the colonnade sold charming little luxury goods— bath salts and lotions, silk ties, leather gloves and confectionary. We shared a little round cake shaped like a chestnut conker, covered in pale green marzipan and little spikes of sugar icing, and I bought a pair of black pigskin driving gloves. The saleslady brought out a little brocade pillow for me to rest my elbow on while she personally battened the glove onto my hand to check for a good fit. It was a mild day, just cool enough in the shade to put on a sweater. The sky was clear and blue, the sunshine just warm enough, and flowers still blossomed everywhere, in ornamental beds, in urns and hanging baskets. Baden-Baden seemed like one of those enchantingly perfect little towns in a glass globe.

(To be Continued…..)

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