Ken Burns' documentary “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History: Get Action (1858-1901)” brought back childhood and school memories. As the narration turned to Franklin Roosevelt's stay in Germany, I immediately recognized the spa where he had stayed with his parents four times during 1891-1896.
His father had sought the water cure there for his heart condition and Franklin even went to the town's public school for 6 weeks. While not identified in the documentary, the spa was located in Bad Nauheim. (Photo of Sprudelhof, Bad Nauheim, by Hiltrud Hölzinger.)
A Well-Known Spa and Famous Visitors
For 13 years I passed the “Sprudelhof” - as the square around the fountain in Bad Nauheim was called (see picture) - every day on my way to and from school. Now the complex of buildings surrounding the fountain is also recognized as one of the largest examples of Art Nouveau in Germany.
The mineral waters, which were believed to benefit various heart ailments, made Bad Nauheim a well-known spa between the second part of the 19th and the first part of the 20th century.
Three empresses stayed there: Empress Elisabeth (Sissi) of Austria and Hungary, in 1898, Czarina Alexandra Feodorowna of Russia, in 1910, and Auguste Viktoria - Empress of Germany and Queen of Prussia, in 1912.
As a child, I was greatly impressed by the story that a special railway station was built for the Czarina, so she could step from her private railcar directly into her carriage. And the German newspapers began to call Bad Nauheim the “Drei-Kaiserinnen-Bad” (three-empresses-spa).
Other royalty and famous people also sought the mineral water's curative power: Otto von Bismarck, Mark Twain (see also our Heidelberg & Mark Twain post), Richard Strauß, Albert Einstein, Edvard Munch, William Randolph Hearst, Anwar Al Sadat, Zarah Leander, and many others.
George S. Patton and Elvis Presley
George Patton only stayed for a short time in Bad Nauheim, the headquarters of the Fifteenth Army, to which General Eisenhower assigned him in October 1945. (General Patton died in December 1945 in a car crash on his way from Bad Nauheim to Mannheim.)
I still remember the stir that Elvis Presley's stay in Bad Nauheim created. He served his military service at the US garrison in Friedberg, a neighboring town, between 1958-1960, but was allowed to live off base.
He initially stayed in the Park Hotel in Bad Nauheim, but after complaints from other guests, he moved to the house on Goethestrasse 14. (On a visit to Bad Nauheim several years ago, we noticed that his memory was still being kept alive with a small shrine and fresh flowers.)
The German word “Bad” can both mean “bath” and “spa.” Towns that have “Bad” as a prefix, such as Bad Nauheim, Bad Vilbel, Bad Homburg, etc. are spa towns, which is an official designation for towns where cures for certain ailments are offered. Using this prefix in Germany requires governmental authorization.
Until Germany's Universal Health System clamped down on the free/paid-for stays in the “Sanatoriums” of German spas in the 1980s, towns like Bad Nauheim benefitted greatly from Europe's popular spa culture.
Today there are still over 150 towns in Germany with the “Bad” prefix. The suffix “bad/baden” can also appear in town names such as “Wiesbaden” or “Marienbad” or make up the whole name as in “Baden-Baden,” arguably Germany's most famous spa town.
But while the heydays of German spa visits may be in the past, German spa towns (“Kurorte” or “places for a cure”) still attract affluent and famous personalities that do not have to rely on their health insurance.
More on Franklin Roosevelt's German Experience
Michael Beschloss, in his book The Conquerors - Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Germany, 1941-1945, writes that “Years later, as President, Roosevelt liked to believe that his early German experience gave him a special understanding of German politics and psychology.” The second chapter of his book gives a fascinating glimpse at how Roosevelt's German experience may have influenced his views and political decisions later on.
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