Wiesbaden, in Germany, is the state capital of Hesse and just 45 minutes by public transport from Frankfurt Airport. As a fan of spa breaks and history-rich destinations, I set out on a stroll to discover the highlights of the city nicknamed the “Nice of the North” and to enjoy panoramic views from the nearby Neroberg.
The Latin words “Aquis Mattiacis” are etched in capital letters above the scroll-topped pillars at the temple-like entrance to Wiesbaden’s Kurhaus. The inscription references the waters of the Germanic Mattiaci tribe, who lived here when the Romans arrived. The therapeutic benefits of the area’s mineral-rich thermal springs have long been cherished and continue to draw people such as myself to experience relaxing spa breaks.
Even the city’s name is derived from the region’s long-established bathing culture. “Wiesbaden” references the meadows (wiesen in German) where bathing (baden) formerly took place. If I’d stood here a couple of hundred years ago when Wiesbaden was little more than a village, I may even have witnessed local farmers washing their horses in the warm water that pooled where the landscaped Kurpark is now.
Behind me, water cascades down tiered fountains on the flat, neatly tended rectangle of grass known as the Bowling Green. Curious to see the interior of the Kurhaus, I stride across the red carpet that welcomes visitors towards the urban landmark’s revolving door. Daylight floods though the central dome to illuminate neoclassical marble statues and circular mosaics in the elegant, check-floored hallway. Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II commissioned the building, intending it to be a meeting place for members of royalty and high society; these days, it hosts concerts, gala events.
Departing the Kurhaus, I glance towards the colonnaded terrace of the Hessian State Theater, whose program encompasses operas, musicals, ballets, and theatrical performances. On the far side of the entertainment complex, a monument honoring Friedrich Schiller depicts the celebrated playwright and poet pondering the words of a book.
After meandering along footpaths looping through the Kurpark, I stroll beneath the pollarded plane trees that line Wilhelmstrasse. Horse-drawn carriages used to promenade along the broad street when Wiesbaden was one of Europe’s choicest spa destinations.
I head towards the Museum Wiesbaden, on whose steps a larger-than-life stone statue of the polymath Johann Wolfgang von Goethe cradles an unperturbed looking eagle. Glancing up in the lobby I’m impressed by the gilded mosaic within the central tower. After looking around the extensive natural history section, whose exhibits include a blue lobster and a standing polar bear, I head to view the museum’s latest addition: the exquisite Art Nouveau collection donated by local collector Ferdinand Wolfgang Neess. Alphonse Mucha’s Nature, depicting the silvery head of a female, and Louis Comfort Tiffany’s flower-like Calyxshaped Vase count among the highlights of a collection that also encompasses wooden furniture, paintings, and lamps.
Across the street stands the Rhein Main Congress Center, a vast convention hub whose façade features pillars and steps. The interplay of light and shadow reflecting in the shallow pool sat the front of the building, which opened last year, tempts me to take a closer look. It was designed by the Ferdinand Heide architectural bureau, which is based in nearby Frankfurt. The railway station where I arrived into Wiesbaden lies across the Herbertanlage, where a family sits together on the grass of the parkland looking towards the pond in which jets of water gush.
Next to Wiesbaden’s cobblestone marketplace I take a seat on the terrace of Lumen, a modern café, ordering a thirst-quenching Apfelschorle (apple juice mixed with sparkling mineral water) plus a traditional Wienerschitzel accompanied by salad and slices of golden Bratkartoffeln (fried potatoes). Below my table is the vaulted cellar in which market traders once stored their wares. It’s now home to Stadtmuseum am Markt (SAM). Telling the story of the area from prehistory onwards, the museum displays some beautiful Bronze Age jewelry among its artifacts.
As I loop across Schlossplatz, between Wiesbaden’s palace-like city hall and the white façade of Hesse’s state parliament, a newly married couple smile while being photographed next to the shield-holding gilded lion that tops the Marktbrunnen fountain. Outside of the nearby Marktkirche (Market Church), which is topped by brickwork spires, I pause to look at a statue of a man in a doublet and breeches. The inscription reveals it is William I of Orange, Count of Nassau and founder of the Netherlands -his family ruled over the Duchy of Nassau, of which Wiesbaden was part, until the state was incorporated into Prussia in 1866.
Wiesbaden is a compact city but I’m ready to take a dip in the pool at the Kaiser-Friedrich-Therme. Opened over a century ago, the bath and sauna complex was inspired by the multiroom bathhouses frequented during Roman times. After unwinding in the heat of the sauna and dampness of the steam room, I head to the nearby Kochbrunnen, one of the city’s 26 hot springs, and sample a cup of warm, mineral-rich water.
Refreshed, I board a bus to the Neroberg, a hill that provides panoramic views over Wiesbaden. Rather than marching up the steep hillside footpath, I decide to take the three-and-a-half-minute ride on the Nerobergbahn, a yellow-painted funicular that entered service back in 1888. After pausing to photograph the city’s rooftops from below, the arches of the rounded pavilion known as the Monopteros, I’m drawn towards the gleaming onion domes of St. Elisabeth’s Church. The Russian Orthodox church was built in memory of Grand Duchess Elizabeth Mikhailovna of Russia, the wife of Adolphe, the Duke of Nassau.
Passing the hillside Opelbad, an open-air swimming pool with a slide, I decide to sit and watch the sunset from the terrace of the restaurant overlooking the pool and city. With water playing such an important role in Wiesbaden’s heritage, I opt for a sparkling mineral water and sit back to enjoy the panorama as the sky turns golden.