They say that Weisbaden, Germany is built over seven extinct volcanoes. Because of this, the city is famous for its thermal springs and spas. The earliest of these dates back to Roman times. Through the ages, spa bathing became so popular that by the 1800’s there were 23 bath houses in Wiesbaden. Famous visitors came there to bathe including Goethe, Dostoevsky, Wagner and Brahms.
During my visit to Wiesbaden, I didn’t go to a spa, but I did visit the Kranzplatz, a thermal spring developed by the Romans in the first century AD. Known as “Wreath Square” because of the wreath of trees that once flanked the area, a healing culture eventually developed here. The Trenkshalle, a fountain built in 1887, allowed spa guests to drink the thermal water which was believed to have healing qualities. I didn’t drink any, but I did wash in the fountain.
Wiesbaden, capital of the Federal State of Hesse, is located at the foot of the forested Taunus Hills near the Rhine River, right across from the city of Mainz. It’s one of the oldest spa towns in Europe and its name means “Meadow Baths”.
Many of the old buildings in the city have been restored, giving Wiesbaden a regal flair. These include the Kurhaus, a neo-classical palatial building built in the early 1900’s and the imposing Town Hall, built in the 1800’s. In front is a large mosaic paving of the imperial eagle, flanked by the Lions of Nassau and the Lilies of Wiesbaden.
In the Market Square, Marketstrasse, the Parliament Buildings, are located in a chateau, called the City Palace, a Classical style building built for Wilhelm I, Duke of Nassau, and was once the family home of Prussian royalty. The red brick Market Church, the Provincial Church of Hessen and Nassau, features a carillon and the highest church tower in town (96 meters). And inside is the largest organ in Germany.
Not far away in Kaiser-Friedrich Square is the largest cuckoo clock in the world. Erected in 1946, you can hear it chime every half hour between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.
After a pleasant morning touring the city with my friends, we took a local bus to Neroberg. This is Wiesbaden’s lush hillside estate built on a 245 meter hill, belonging to the Hessian State Wine Estates. The ride up on the funicular railway was one of the most fun experiences of the day. The railway, built in 1888, is one of the few funiculars with water propulsion. It chugs up the steep hill to the park area where there is a small temple, the Monopteros, built in 1851. From the crest of the hill there is a panoramic view of the city, right across the river to distant Mainz.
We then walked down the hill on a shaded roadway. Ahead, its golden onion-shaped domes riding above the treetops, was the spire of a Russian Orthodox Church, known as “the Greek Chapel”. Today it’s the parish church of the Russian community. Behind it is the Russian cemetery in which are buried numerous dukes and princes from the 19th century.
The Church of Saint Elizabeth was built in the mid 1800’s by Duke Adolph of Nassau after his wife Elizabeth, a 19 year old Russian princess, died in childbirth along with her newborn daughter. The grieving Duke had the church built around her grave using money from her dowry. The building is crowned with five gilded domes topped by an Orthodox Cross. Inside are iconostasis, medallions and icons of saints including one dedicated to Saint Elizabeth in whose honor the church was consecrated.
After our visit to the chapel, we walked down the hill past some of Wiesbaden’ luxury homes built on the hillside and then caught the bus back to Market Square where we stopped at the Wikenger Restaurant for some traditional German food: Schnitzels and beer, of course!
You can reach Wiesbaden by train from Frankfurt or Mainz. Once in the city, the local bus service is efficient making it easy to get around for sightseeing.
Written by and photos by W. Ruth Kozak for EuropeUpClose.com