Bad Ems is one of the oldest health resorts in Europe. In the middle ages, archbishops, knights and dukes came here searching cures for their ailments; in the baroque period, it was barons and princesses. The "Vier Türme" in the spa gardens, the "Alte Post" and the "Mainzer Hof" still illustrate the construction boom the town experienced around the year 1700.
In the 19th century, Bad Ems was a world-famous spa. Thousands of guests came from Germany, France, Russia, and the whole of Europe. Among the Russian visitors, the writers Gogol, Turgenev and, most prominently, Dostoyevsky were regulars in Bad Ems. "What is Switzerland, what is the Wartburg, compared to this last part of the way to Bad Ems", praised the latter and continued, "The small town of Bad Ems is situated in a deep gorge between wooded hills. The town leans against rocks, one of the most picturesque rocks in the world. There are promenades and gardens, and everything is delightful." (From a letter by Dostoyevsky to his wife, 1874).
While the high society of the period spent many weeks a year in Bad Ems, politics were also conducted. In the "Vier Türme", Tsar Alexander II signed the "Ems Ukas", also known as the "Ems Edict", in 1876, prohibiting the distribution of literary writings in Ukrainian language. In the spa garden, a memorial reminds us of the famous "Ems Dispatch". It was here that Prussian king William I and the French ambassador Benedetti had their famous encounter on July 13, 1870, which finally led to the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War. A year later, the king returned as German Kaiser to his favourite resort.
Its past as one of the world prime health resorts is still visible everywhere in the town of Bad Ems. The central Kurhaus, or "spa house" with its baroque core, built 1711-1720 as the "Princely Nassau-Oranian Bath House" and the Casino opened in 1839 reflect their sumptuous facades in the river. In the small, but lavish marble hall, stars and superstars of the 19th century had their appearances: Clara Schumann, Franz Liszt and Jacques Offenbach. He kept returning to the Lahn over many years, with his orchestra from Paris or just as a bath visitor and casino regular. The casino is one of the oldest in Germany. The roulette table now residing innocently in the municipal museum has taken roubles, guilders and Thalers from spa visitors as early as 200 years ago.
While elegant facades of former hotels line up along the right hand bank of the Lahn, such as the "Russischer Hof" or the neo-classic "Englischer Hof" (which today houses the Malberg clinic), pretty villas were built on the left bank. One of the most beautiful of those is "Schloß Balmoral" built in 1868,which now houses Künstlerhaus Schloß Balmoral, an artists' residence. It was here that Richard Wagner resided during his cure in 1877. Even the churches reflect the international past: one the finest is the Russian Church which was inaugurated in 1876 in the presence of Tsar Alexander II.
Far off, the western part of town, finally, is in stark contrast to the elegant spa: It housed one of the most important lead and silver mining companies of the Rhineland. But in this spa town, even the industrial architecture is an eye-catcher: the former power supply station of the mines looks like a workers' cathedral.
Another contrast, and definitely a challenge to every contemporary artist, is the manifold symptoms of crisis and decay which show on some of the old buildings today.
by Hans-Jürgen Sarholz,
translation by Sofia Blind
Bad Ems Blick von Balmoral auf die Russisch Orthodoxe Kirche