Germany's Black Forest and Cologne
Rick teams up with his wife and kids to enjoy the good life, dipping into a classy mineral spa, trying our luck at a fancy casino, devouring chocolate-cherry cake, and exploring Germany's most romantic forest.
- Read the script from the show.
For a modern experience, spend a few hours at the Baths of Caracalla, a huge palace of water, steam, and relaxed people. More like a mini-water park, and with everyone clothed most of the time, this is a more fun and accessible experience for those intimidated by nudity. The baths are an indoor/outdoor wonderland of steamy pools, waterfalls, neck showers, Jacuzzis, hot springs, cold pools, lounge chairs, saunas, a cafeteria, and a bar. After taking a few laps around the fake river, you can join some kinky Germans for water spankings (you may have to wait a few minutes to grab a vacant waterfall). Then join the gang in the central cauldron. The steamy "inhalation" room seems like purgatory's waiting room, with a misty minimum of visibility, filled with strange, silently aging bodies. Nudity is limited to one zone upstairs (Römerplatz 1, tel. 07221/275-940).
The highlight of most visits to Baden-Baden is a sober two-hour ritual called the Roman-Irish Bath. Friedrichsbad pampered the rich and famous in its elegant surroundings when it opened 120 years ago. Today, this steamy world of marble, brass columns, tropical tiles, herons, lily pads, and graceful nudity welcomes gawky tourists as well as locals (Römerplatz 1, tel. 07221/275-920).
The impressive building called the Kurhaus is wrapped around a grand casino. Built in the 1850s in wannabe-French style, it was declared "the most beautiful casino" by Marlene Dietrich. Inspired by the Palace of Versailles, it's filled with rooms honoring French royalty who never set foot in the place. But many other French did. Gambling was illegal in 19th-century France...just over the border. The casino is licensed on the condition that it pay 92 percent of its earnings in taxes to fund the state. The amount of revenue it generates to help the state fund social services is a mystery, but insiders estimate that it's more than $30 million a year. The staff of 150 is paid by tips from happy gamblers.
You can visit the casino on a guided tour in the mornings, when it's closed to gamblers, but the casino is most interesting to see in action, after 14:00. You can gamble if you want, but a third of the visitors come only to people-watch under the chandeliers. The scene is more subdued than at an American casino; anyone showing emotion is more likely a tourist than a serious gambler. Lean against a gilded statue and listen to the graceful reshuffling of personal fortunes. Do some imaginary gambling or buy a few chips at the window near the entrance (no tennis shoes, tie and coat and collared shirt required for men and can be rented, passport absolutely required, under 21 not admitted, liveliest after dinner and later, pick up English history and game rules as you enter, Kaiserallee 1, tel. 07221/30240).
This offers the best look at this region's traditional folk life. Built around one grand old farmhouse, the museum is a collection of several old farms filled with exhibits on the local dress and lifestyles. Make time for the grain mill (north of Triberg, through Hornberg to Hausach/Gutach on road B33/E-531, tel. 07831/93560).