Inside Germany: Baden-Baden and the Black Forest
Location: Baden-Baden, Germany
Baden-Baden is a spa town nestled in the foothills of the Black Forest (Schwarzwald) in the southwest region of Germany. The region was called Black Forest because the trees were so dense that sunlight could hardly penetrate it.
Since baden is the German word for “bath,” Baden-Baden is an appropriate name for a town renowned for the hot springs that supply its thermal spas. Since the Roman times, many have come here for relaxation and health reasons. Baden-Baden’s waters are supposed to have healing properties to cure many ailments including rheumatism and respiratory problems.
I stood my ground and didn’t try any of the spas where nudity is the norm. I guess you could consider me a prude. At the same time, I felt seeing folks in my tour group in the buff could be disconcerting if not totally embarrassing.
Baden-Baden is also renowned for its grand casino called the Kurhaus. Its history dates back to the 1800s when it was established to cater to the rich and famous, especially those coming from neighboring France where gambling was then illegal. Still in operation after all these years, it’s now open to all who have money to spare.
Just a walking distance from the hotel, we booked for a morning tour of the casino before gambling hours began. I was impressed by its exquisite yet subdued French style interiors. Marlene Dietrich once referred to it as the most beautiful casino in the world. James Bond would have concurred. Ynfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to take good pictures inside.
One of the Black Forest’s main attractions is the Merkur mountain, which is Baden-Baden’s highest peak. We went to the mountaintop eager to get a panoramic view of the town and surrounding areas but the weather didn’t cooperate. It wasn’t a total waste, though. The thrill of riding the steepest funicular railway in Europe with a gradient angle of 54% made up for it.
We also visited the Black Forest Open-air Museum which gave us a glimpse of life and culture of this rural region in the 16th and 17th century. It features a farm house and other buildings dating as far back as the 1600s. You can also find on display farm implements and traditional attires typical during the period. One of the latter is the ladies’ pompom hat called bollenhut. The color of the pompon identifies the status of the woman wearing it. Red means she’s single and available while black means she’s been hitched.
According to our guide, the people in the black forest region are very traditional and religious. Even when the plague came during the dark ages, they didn’t blame God. Instead, they blamed the devil and his human accomplices whom they accused of witchcraft and burned at stake accordingly. For the record, those who looked and behaved differently were highly suspect.
They are superstitious folks, too, like everybody else. Spiders bring good omen and yellow flowers make it lightning-proof. People not looking into your eyes when talking to you or hiding their hands under the table when seated can’t be trusted.
The Black Forest is an ideal place for hikers and bikers to explore. Many trails abound suitable for people who love the outdoors. In this region, cars are rarely used and meant for long distance trips only. I’d love to come back here again when I get the chance.