Wiesbaden is one of the oldest spa centres of Europe. I experienced its wellness history while sampling its famous chocolates and coffee. By Khurseed Dinshaw
An energetic four-year-old boy takes off his arm floats and swims to his dad, who looks at him proudly. Next to him, a small girl splashes around. The nod of approval from her grandmother, who is relaxing on a sun deck in the indoor swimming pool, is just the encouragement the child needs to swim with renewed gusto. I am a silent spectator to these family bonding moments at Thermalbad Aukammtal—a thermal bath facility in Wiesbaden, Germany.
Paying homage to Roman sweat baths, Aukammtal has indoor and outdoor pools, a variety of saunas, and a spa. Well-being gets a fun twist as you swim in 32° Celsius hot-spring water, loaded with sodium, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and hydrogen carbonate. As I swim from the indoor pool to the outdoor pool via a channel, the cold air above and the contrasting warm water below welcome me.
Six massage recliners, which resemble a traditional jacuzzi where you sleep and let the water spray massage your body, are highly coveted at this pool. I spend a few minutes
on one and swim back to the indoor pool, where neck spray jets are being used by elderly gentlemen to loosen their neck muscles.
The lifeguard stationed at the pool tells me that the thermal water has a relaxing effect and helps remove toxins from the body. It reduces degeneration of the spine and improves blood circulation and respiration. It is also recommended for spondylitis and to treat sports injuries.
The saunas are built on the first floor of the facility. You have to be nude to enter, and also carry a towel so your sweat doesn’t touch the wooden seating. Towels are available on hire as well. The crystal sauna, with a huge crystal surrounded by hot stones in its centre, is the designated room to induce sweating. The mental relaxation sauna has a container that emits a pinewood aroma and—true to its name—calms guests.
The Finnish sauna, at almost 90° Celsius, is like an express sweating room if you are short on time. It is recommended to step into a lower temperature sauna, followed by a cold water shower, before proceeding to one with a higher temperature to get the maximum benefit.
After my rejuvenating time at Aukammtal, it is time to indulge in the culinary delights of Wiesbaden. The city is fondly called ‘Nice of the North’ and the ‘Gate to the Rheingau’. I start with Café Maldaner, which has been in business since 1859 and is Germany’s first Viennese-style coffee house.
There is a mannequin of an elderly lady enjoying champagne in the display window. The server tells me that it is a tribute to the late owner. He adds that in the private dining area on the top floor, a mannequin of the lady and her friend are placed. Known for promoting the culture of freshly brewed coffee and cake, Café Maldaner drum-roasts coffee beans every week in small quantities. The decadent cakes welcome you as you walk through its wooden doors while its praline recipe dates back 150 years, a closely guarded secret. No amount of probing on the recipe yields any results.
I am so caught up in the delicious goodies that I almost miss the popular roastery called
Hepa coffee. It has been serving coffee for the last 70 years. What makes its coffee beans special are that they are not roasted on a hot iron plate. Instead, they are air-brush roasted in a machine. This ensures the beans do not touch any hot metal and are evenly roasted. Later, the dermis, which gives coffee a bad taste, is extracted so that the resultant brew is strong and flavourful.
Two cups of Hepa’s refreshing coffee are enough to get me to Kunder chocolates, which has been making chocolates since 1898. Founded by Fritz Kunder, after whom the brand is named, it is run today by his great-grandson, Jurgen Brand. This fourth-generation chocolatier introduces a new flavour almost every month, keeping the locals coming back for more. With shelves and displays of tempting chocolates in front of me, I start with their pineapple tart—the most famous Kunder confectionery.
There is a series of steps in making the tart, starting with making its marzipan, creating the pineapple filling and nougat from scratch, and finally baking the tart to perfection. With chocolates shaped as bugs, and the ones called Devil’s Pralines due to an alcohol-filled centre, and then another called Venus Nipple that has dark chocolate with chilli—I am in
chocolate heaven. She recommends I try the orange praline, an orange juice and honey white chocolate. As I devour it, I understand why this praline was gifted to the visiting Dutch royalty five years ago. The range of chocolates dedicated to the iconic sights of the city beckon from another display shelf, but by now, I am too full.
A short walk from Kunder gets me to the Marktkirche, or Market Church. It is one of the most prominent structures. Marktkirche is a Protestant church whose construction started in 1853. Built of red bricks, its main tower is almost 98 metres high, making it Wiesbaden’s tallest building. In front of the church, is a monument called Der Schweiger, which was built in honour of William I, Prince of Orange. Next to the Church is New Town, which dates back 135 years and was designed by Georg von Hauberrisser.
At the market square, I pass by the world’s biggest patented cuckoo clock, which chimes every half an hour from 8 am to 8 pm. With an overall height of 5.25 metres, its dial is two metres. The clock has been carved by hand. It was mounted in 1946 by Emil Kronenberger, a salesman who sold souvenirs. The shop where it is mounted sells myriad wooden souvenirs.
Deciding to call it a day, I head back to my hotel, Hotel Nassauer Hof. This luxurious five-star property is a member of The Leading Hotels of the World, and also of the Selection of
German Luxury Hotels. Kaiser Wilhelm II, Tsar Nicholas II, Kennedy, Nixon, Vladimir Putin, and the Dalai Lama have stayed here.
Dating back to 1813, its Ente Restaurant boasts a Michelin star. However, I am most interested in their covered rooftop swimming pool. The pool is equipped with shower facilities, towels, comfortable sun decks, and a cafe serving snacks and juices. Its water comes from the hotel’s own mineral spring, which bubbles back to the time of the Romans. This thermal water is rich in sodium chloride, and contains ammonium, magnesium, calcium, barium, and aluminium. Just 20 minutes in the pool is enough to relax me. The salt water at 32° Celsius helps detox my body and remove its knots and kinks.
The next day, it is time to explore Wiesbaden’s architectural gems. The Ringkirche, or Ring Church, dates back to 1889, and is a German national monument constructed by Johannes Otzen. Its architecture exhibits the transition from Romanesque to Gothic styles.
I admire the stately Hessisches Staatstheater Wiesbaden, a state theatre celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. While its grand hall follows a Neo-Baroque style, its foyer has been designed in Rococo style. It has a multi-disciplinary repertoire from opera, contemporary theatre, ballet, and dance theatre to uplifting musicals spread across four stages.
Another grand building called Kurhaus is also nearby. It was built under the patronage of Emperor William II and cost almost six million marks (approximately three million euros). It follows a Neo-Classical style, and the words on top of its portico read Aquis Mattiacis, which means ‘dedicated to the springs of the Mattiaci.’ This is another tribute to the centuries-old spa culture of Wiesbaden and its 26 springs.
The colonnade of Kurhaus extends 129 metres and is one of the longest European pillar supported halls. The building houses the city’s casino. As per Imperial Law, the casino closed after 1872, but resumed operations in 1949. It was here that the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky gambled his rubles—an event that led him to write the book, The Gambler.
Lufthansa flies to Frankfurt from India. Wiesbaden is about 40 km from Frankfurt, and there are multiple train options to reach there.
Hotel Nassauer Hof is a luxury hotel conveniently located in the heart of Wiesbaden. From INR 16,185.
Take the Nerobergbahn, a funicular railway comprising two carriages run by pumping 7,000 litres of water, up to the Neroberg vineyard for sampling a Riesling. After a delicious lunch at Opelbad Restaurant, walk to the Russian church, built by Duke Adolph of Nassau in memory of his wife, the Grand Duchess Elizabeth, who died giving birth to their child.