Wiesbaden, the Pearl of Historism

What was a sensational discovery of the Romans 2, 000 years ago, is still considered a ‘hot tip’ today.

 Inder Raj Ahluwalia

Welcome to Wiesbaden, Hessen’s grand old capital. In the year 40 AD, the Romans erected a border fort as a military stronghold, whose central location and the beneficial, curative powers of some 26 springs promoted the rapid growth of a civilian settlement and the development of a spa culture. By the 13th Century, the city had advanced to become a royal court and imperial symbol, and in the 18th Century, it prospered under the aegis of the Dukes of Nassau. At the end of the Nassau era in 1866 and during the Prussian occupation, Kaiser Wilhelm 11 and Carl von Ibell, the Lord Mayor, laid the foundations for a large city. Since then, it’s never looked back.

Nestled between the Rhine and the foothills of the Taunus Mountains, Wiesbaden is still a ‘green oasis’, its Mediterranean climate and its residents’ ‘savoir vivre’ giving it the title ‘Northern Nice’. Villas and houses – landmarks in romantic Classicism and Art Nouveau – shape the city’s contours, and its flair has been an inspiration to artists and composers Brahms and Wagner and the Expressionist painter, Alexey von Jewlensky.

Wellness is the city’s major attraction. All roads lead to the Kaiser-Friedrich-Therme, an oasis of well-being, a historic thermal bath heated by a hot spring, featuring an Irish-Roman Bath, a contemporary sauna landscape, and several therapies using natural treatment methods. Visitors flock here to sample the curative waters of the 26 hot springs at the Kochbrunnen Fountain at Kranzplatz, the city’s symbol. Also famous is the Kaiser-Friedeich-Therme near the Kochbrunnen.

Visitors stroll along the famous antiques street, the Taunusstrasse, through elegant malls, and especially, along the magnificent Wilhelmstrasse. They come here to taste the local specialty, ‘Sekt’ (German champagne) and Riesling, and to try their luck at the casino, and also enjoy a bit of ‘dolce vita’ in street cafes.

Take a city walking or sight-seeing tour. Between half-timbered houses and cobble-stone streets, small shops and boutiques try to seduce visitors with their trifles or treasures.

Once encircled by a city wall, the Altstadt (Old Town) sprawls between Webergasse, Langgasse and Kirchgasse, Friedrichstrasse and Wilhelmstrasse. One passes narrow twisted alleys lined with houses dating back to the 18th and 19th Centuries and ends up at the Baker’s Fountain in Grabenstrasse. Then there’s the oldest preserved townhouse at Wagemannstrasse. The row of houses between these two streets is the heart of the historic quarter, locally known as the ‘Schiffchen’ or ‘Little Ship’. The focal point of the Old Town is the Schlossplatz (Palace Square), which holds a bi-weekly farmers’ market.

‘A jewel among film theatres’ is how Wiesbaden-born director Volker Schlondorff described the Caligari Cinema that was recently awarded the 2018 Hessen Culture Prize. The cinema makes the history of film accessible to modern audiences. The Exground Film Festival is one of Germany’s most important independent cinema events.

Head for Neroberg Hill and ride on the Nerobergbahn funicular rail carriage. This unique rail artifact has run from the base station, across a viaduct, to the top station at a height of 245 metres since 1888, the era of Kaiser Wilhelm. It connects the Nerotal valley with Neroberg Hill, travelling 440 metres and overcoming a 25 per cent gradient. This is wine territory, featuring one of Germany’s few city vineyards, run by Kloster Eberbach. Lunch at Opelbad Restaurant whose highlight is the outdoor, hill-perched, heritage-listed swimming pool surrounded by forests and vineyards, offering stunning views over the city’s rooftops.

Minutes away is the Russian Church on Neroberg Hill, one of the finest, most exquisitely decorated ecclesiastical buildings in Germany. The church was built by Duke Adolph of Nassau in memory of his wife the Grand Duchess Elizabeth, a niece of the Russian Tsar.

Nearby is the Dern’sche Gelande, a heritage–listed architectural monument. This generous plaza that once comprised a market cellar is now home to the Stadt-museum am Markt, known as ‘Sam’, the first to explore Wisebaden’s history, from prehistory to the modern-day.

Stop by at the Lutheran Marktkirche (market church), the first brick building erected in the Duchy of Nassau, built as a Gothic Revival basilica with three naves, its 92 metres – high western tower making it the city’s tallest building. The grand and opulent State Theatre and the historic and magnificent Kurhaus offer year-round programmes.

Russian poet Feodor Dostoevski and German composer Richard Wagner tried their luck here. So can you! Today the casino operates in the former wine hall of the Kurhaus, and offers a truly magnificent setting for the games of chance.

Tempt your taste buds. Start at the Kunder Chocolaterie, an institution of the city with worldwide fans, which has kept its recipes a secret since 1898. The company’s flair for experimenting is seen in its new range of chocolates inspired by Wiesbaden sights.

Move on to Café Maldaner, which is something out of a picture book. Officially designated as Germany’s first Viennese-style coffee house, it offers an assortment of handmade tortes, cakes and luxury chocolates beautifully displayed in old-fashioned cabinets. Enjoy the nostalgic charm created by its ambience, the aroma of the coffee, and courteous old-world service.

Round off your culinary tour with a stopover at Hepa Coffee Roastery that has offered quality coffee products for over 70 years. Hepa coffee is exceptional. The company uses a patented method to remove the outer layer of the coffee bean, and also the bitter compounds found in conventional coffee products. Unlike any other process in the world, this gives Hepa coffee its unique taste.

Summer lends a festival air to things. The beginning of June sees ‘Theatrium’ on the splendid Wilhelmstrasse. Cabaret shows and crafts, performances and culinary delights invite visitors to stroll along the famous street and celebrate for two days. The pedestrian zone is transformed into the longest wine pub in the world for ten days in August. The annual ‘Oldtime Rallye’ with some 180 international, historic automobiles, is a rolling museum that crosses the finish line in Wiesbaden. The year ends with the Christmas Market downtown and the fantastic New Year’s Eve Party in the Kurhaus.

Wiesbaden is all about quiet holidays in the heart of Germany, imbibing that sought-after special Imperial atmosphere.

Fact File

  • Wiesbaden is less than an hour by train from Frankfurt, Germany’s main aerial gateway.
  • City accommodation comes in the form of deluxe, standard and budget hotels.
  • Eating out is easy and pleasant, thanks in part to the famed regional Sekt and Reisling.
  • While it helps to scour the countryside by car, one can walk around the city and Old Town area.
  • The tourist office is located ten minutes walk away from the rail station.

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