Health resorts, casinos, fashionable baths

View of the Nassauer Hof Hotel in Wiesbaden from the Kurhaus. This is about how Fyodor M. Dostoyevsky might have seen when he lived in Wiesbaden (which he calls “Rouletteburg” in the novel) in 1865, played roulette and wrote the novel “The Gambler”. ©NXDRF.DE

Wiesbaden about 1910:

Ida’s and August’s first sentimental journey

Dostoyevsky is long dead when Ida and August arrive in the fashionable spa town around 1910 on their time-and-space journey, which is as sentimental as it is virtual. However, 30 years after his death, both can still imagine the Russian writer’s presence here as an inspiring impulse. Dostoevsky traveled to Western Europe several times, staying in German cities with remarkable persistence. At least as fateful as it was destructive is Dostoevsky’s encounter with the game of roulette. This – like all games of chance – was strictly forbidden in Russia, while casinos were among the authoritative amusements in the great German resorts. It is said that Dostoyevsky’s stay in Wiesbaden in 1865 led him to gamble away his travel funds.

The Kurhaus of Wiesbaden with casino: Today, such a place would probably be called a hotspot. Spa treatment with water from the city’s healing springs was an important factor in attracting predominantly wealthy visitors from all over Europe. Since about the middle of the 19th century, the spa as a therapeutic measure had increasingly become an amusement event. For the operators, this was a highly lucrative business. A remarkably large number of Russians traveled from the tsarist empire to Germany’s important spa towns. Wiesbaden and Baden-Baden were certainly among the most popular destinations of often indescribably rich (but sometimes less rich) Russians. The Russian passion for sophisticated spas has never ceased to this day. And because drinking water and bathing are only entertaining for a limited time, excursions to the surrounding wine regions and the Taunus were offered, musical events and theater performances were organized, and last but not least, diversion at gambling was offered. Not everyone could resist the promises of gambling, not a few ruined themselves colossally. When Ida and August visited Wiesbaden, the Kurhaus was a new building. As this contemporary lithograph shows. ©NXDRF.DE

The experiences Dostoyevsky had in spas like Baden-Baden, Bad Homburg and Wiesbaden inspired him to write his novel “The Gambler”. The city of Wiesbaden, the spa gardens, the casino, but also the luxurious hotel “Nassauer Hof” provided the author with the model for his literary “Rouletteburg”. This hotel was the first house on the square – as they used to say back then. Centrally located, close to the important places of the fashionable spa town. The Kochbrunnen, the Kurhaus with the casino and finally the spectacular theater of the city are only a few strolling minutes away. Even the train station is not far from here.

The hotel “Nassauer Hof”: The first house on the square. Ida and August choose this luxury hostel as the starting point for their stay in Wiesbaden. During the Second World War, the building lost some of its fashionable charm. With a trimmed facade, it is today only an echo of its great days. Ida and August experience the house in its truly great days: a magnificent building on the most magnificent square in the city. The animation of the vintage picture postcard hints at the splendor of the great days. ©NXDRF.DE

German spa towns like Wiesbaden and Baden-Baden seem to attract Russians irresistibly to this day. Ida and August are not Russians. However, both may well have read Dostoyevsky’s novel. And that could be a reason to begin their journey in Wiesbaden to trace the genius loci here. Whether or not Dostoyevsky actually foraged next to the casino and the luxurious hotel on Wiesbaden’s present-day boulevard has been little discussed. In any case, Ida and August use the occasion of their virtual time-and-space journey to stop by the Kochbrunnen: the inner-city place with a source for drinking cures.

The Kochbrunnen is the central thermal spring of Wiesbaden. Here, the healing water emerges from the earth at about 66 degrees Celsius. Even distant spa facilities are supplied with water from this spring. The place is already mentioned in the 14th century. Ida and August experience the Kochbrunnen at a time of its most spectacular design of the drinking spa around 1900 as the animation of this lithographic vintage picture postcard shows very nicely. ©NXDRF.DE

Finally, Ida and August visit the new building of the Royal Theater of Wiesbaden. For many years there was a theater where the hotel “Nassauer Hof” now stands. But this performance venue was too small from the beginning, so that a magnificent new building had to be erected at the end of the 19th century. This new building, oriented on great European theater architecture, complements the sophisticated ensemble between the spa complex with the spa house, the casino, the colonnades and finally the hotel “Nassauer Hof”. From the hotel it is only a few steps to the Royal Theater.

In the spirit of Wilhelminian extravagance, this animated lithographed vintage picture postcard from around 1910 shows Wiesbaden’s Royal Theater as a magnificent building. ©NXDRF.DE

Ida und August

Let’s do a thought experiment! Let’s assume that Ida and August have a secret superpower. They can teleport from place to place at will in their epoch. ©NXDRF.DE

Ida and August are two real people who lived before the outbreak of the First World War. For all the reality of their existence, they never met throughout their lives. Ida and August are the subjects of two randomly selected, very different private photographs from around 1910. These photographs are pieces of my collection, which I am constantly trying to expand. The leitmotifs of this collection are private and social life, as well as the living environments of people in the period before the First World War. So in a time when Europe was so completely different than we know it today. The cities looked different, people lived completely different than we do today, they identified themselves differently in their life contexts.When I look at these old pictures from the early days of photographic technology, I have the feeling that just by looking at them, the people in the photos experience an extension of their lives that have long since ended: there is someone looking at them, thinking about them. Their graves may have long since been leveled, their tombstones may have rotted away a long time ago, and yet: at least in the thoughts of their viewers, these people are back in the world. If you will, the idea that had already found expression in the pyramids of Egypt or in the tombs of European cathedrals is continued here: To remain in the conversation of the living in order to make one’s own eternity more probable.

Travel agent for a thought experiment

This observation on myself led me to a thought experiment: So if Ida and August find a new – yes, fantastic – way of living on in the fantasies of their viewers, why shouldn’t I let them experience something too? So I became Ida’s and August’s travel agent. In my imagination, I endowed them with the superpower of being able to travel through space and time and selected their itineraries. The journey of the two is a game. A game with history, stories and fantasy. Their destinations were and are places of history and stories. Sometimes they are places with little stories. Sometimes they are places of action of dramatic history. What all the images in this series have in common is that they will show a world untouched by all destruction before two world wars in Europe in the first half of the 20th century. Some of the places traveled by Ida and August depict settings from famous novels or world historical events. Others may only illustrate the buried memories of times long gone.
Let’s dive into these historical two-and-a-half-D experiences!


The virtual Ida on a group photo from the summer of the year 1010. The photo was taken on the occasion of a (probably Sunday) excursion in the surroundings of Harzburg. ©NXDRF.DE

Actually, the name of the woman is unknown. Therefore, let’s just call her Ida. One reason to call her Ida is that at the end of the 19th century this woman’s name was one of the most popular names in Germany. And Ida is a child of the 19th century.
She is an average woman of her time. She is about late 30s, mid 40s in age. She is dressed in one of the then fashionable ankle-length white
dresses, with a high-necked collar. This dress is more practical than festive. Around her neck she wears a simple chain with a medallion as a pendant. And in front of the chest instead of a brooch: a small bouquet of flowers. Perhaps she collected it in a meadow at the edge of the forest and put it together at random.
Ida stands in the shade and therefore holds her expansive hat in her left hand. Photographed this group picture in 1910 during an excursion in the southwest of the region Harz.


A distant relative? A guest? A friend of the family? August stands apart from the group. Is this already a sign that he will use his superpower to start a virtual world tour? We don’t know. ©NXDRF.DE

Unfortunately, we don’t know the man’s name either. I therefore simply call him August. This name was very popular throughout the ages. From the times of the Roman Empire (where Augustus meant the “exalted one”) to the times when “Stupid August” was the name for a clown in the circus. In the times when our photos were taken, men with this name were common.
Our August poses in a carefully staged and photographed family portrait at its extreme left edge. This image is not a snapshot like Ida’s keepsake. August and the other (presumably) family members have gathered on the occasion of a festive event. Their clothing is of the kind that was called “Sunday best” at the time. The pose of the sitter is artificial, not to say stiff. For the technically conditioned exposure times at that time, one had to look quite long motionless into the camera. This is one reason why you hardly ever see photos of smiling people from that time.

Back to the picture: August is standing a bit apart from the group. Yes, he is standing so far out that behind him the stage construction and props can already be seen, which actually do not belong on a photo. From the constellation it can be seen that August does not belong to the inner circle of the group. Is he a guest? A distant relative? A friend of the family? Let’s assume that his choice of place was made by himself, then August’s need to stand out can be seen very clearly. Possibly, however, August is not alienated by the people, but by the decoration of the scene. Maybe he doesn’t like this early 20th century “Baywatch” scenery: (Beach chairs! And then no sand! Pah!).

Well, this could be cheerful. August is probably more the serious type.