BADEN-BADEN, West Germany — The Fourth of July in this 2,000-year-old spa at the gateway to the Black Forest is more than just a date on the calendar.
It's also an occasion for commemorating U.S. Independence Day on the terrace of a grand spa hotel that has received guests such as the Aga Khan, Bismarck, Emperor Wilhelm I, Marlene Dietrich, Lee Iacocca, J. Paul Getty and Henry Kissinger for more than a century.
Why a Fourth of July celebration in Baden-Baden?
"I'm not a politician," said Richard Schmitz, managing director of Brenner's Park-Hotel & Spa, "but this is a year when it's more important than ever for Europeans to show how we really feel about America and American visitors in Europe. Headlines can't tell the story of people-to-people friendship."
This will be the 15th year that the Fourth of July has been commemorated by this spa hotel, and once again the Stars and Stripes will be among the flags on the terrace overlooking the trees and flower gardens of Lichtentaler Allee beside the waters of the gentle River Oos.
The continuing theme of these Fourth of July commemorations seems especially timely this year: "Surely it is an independence in itself to be able to travel freely."
The Fourth of July preparations we have found at the Brenner's spa are an expression of the way we have been received everywhere during these past three weeks of travel in Central Europe.
Many Americans are not traveling to Europe this summer because of apprehensions about terrorism and anti-American attitudes. But others who have refused to change their travel plans are being welcomed with friendliness and appreciation.
No Security Problems
We've received this kind of welcome without exception, and have encountered no security problems at the Frankfurt airport or while traveling extensively on the Rhine and by rental car in West Germany, northern Switzerland and eastern France.
Pragmatically, Europeans know the importance of tourism to their economies. At the same time, they value long-time bonds of friendship with the American people.
U.S. Embassy representatives in West Germany will be at Brenner's Park-Hotel on the Fourth of July to mingle with hotel guests and civic leaders of Baden-Baden. If you happen to be near here then, you won't need the income of an Aga Khan to stay at this spa hotel. Doubles start this summer at about $95.
At nearby economy hotels and inns, spa packages of two nights and three days are priced as low as $100 for two people in a double room, including breakfasts, two hours in the new Caracalla Therme spa facilities, a sightseeing tour of Baden-Baden and free concerts.
Scarcely a two-hour drive south of Frankfurt airport, the legendary spa city of Baden-Baden has been reborn during the past year with the opening of Carcalla Therme, which recorded 300,000 visitors during its first six months of operation. Luxury resorts such as Brenner's Park-Hotel welcome it as "marvelous thermal bathing that enriches our own spa program."
Friedrichsbad is a major Baden-Baden thermal spa that opened in 1866 and has been kept up to date with its variety of baths, exercise facilities and massage services. Now Caracalla Therme adds one of Europe's largest and most artistically designed spa complexes.
A dome of blue and white marble arches over and creates a setting for seven pools, aerobic and gymnastic facilities, massage rooms, inhalation booths, saunas and a solarium. Outdoor pools are brightened with the briefest of bikinis and swim trunks, and there are indoor pools for co-ed nude bathing and a therapy island within 700 square meters of landscaping.
All of this is within the heart of the old town, framed by the hills of the Black Forest. Three hours of bathing, health spa activities and just relaxing on the sun terrace costs about $9. You can lunch or snack beside picture windows overlooking the pools and fountains. Palm trees grow beside the pools. A 50-year-old linden tree was spared at considerable cost during construction.
The Romans built baths here for the therapy and joy of relaxing in pure thermal waters that bubble from the depths of Florentine Mountain. Today, at the edge of a pool, is the replica of a lovely nude female bather created by Praxiteles about 340 BC. Temperatures in the swimming pools are about 86 degrees throughout the year, and as hot as necessary for the whirlpools.
However, with all that the new Caracalla Therme has to offer, there never is overcrowding. An automatic cut-off is signalled to receptionists as soon as 400 people have entered the spa, and no more are admitted until others leave.
Outside the Caracalla, which was named for a Roman emperor who took the waters in Baden-Baden, a cobblestone pedestrian area invites strolling through the old town, where elegant shops, wine taverns and beer gardens line the narrow streets.