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