When travel guides draw up their top 10 most glamorous casinos in the world list, you'll often see the Ritz Casino in London on there, and Casino de Monte Carlo of course. But there is often one gaming establishment that you may not have heard of- and that's the Kurhaus or Casino Baden Baden, which sits on the outskirts of the Black Forest in Germany.
It's around 2 hours south of Frankfurt, 1.5 hours from Stuttgart and 2.5 hours north of Zurich.
This is a spa and casino rolled into one (well, not literally). “Baden” in German means bathe. Baden Baden is a quiet town that is tucked away on the outskirts of the Black Forest and it became fashionable among the aristocracy of Europe in the Prussian era. As you tour through the casino, through the various rooms with their different games, you can't help thinking of the Palace of Versailles near Paris. And that’s no coincidence: the whole place was inspired by the grand French palaces, with their chandeliers, luxurious curtains and delicate wall decor. In the nineteenth century people spoke French here.
Marlene Dietrich once referred to it as “the most beautiful casino in the world” and it maintains a feeling of luxury and exclusivity when you step through the doors. OK, so that was in the times before people were playing roulette at Encore Casino in Las Vegas, and all of those other gambling palaces on the Strip. Baden Baden is more Old School luxury.
Special customers can request a chip that is unique in Germany – one that is worth €50,000 euros.
The décor exudes style- deep red carpets welcome you, the walls are covered with works of art and huge crystal chandeliers are everywhere. This is like Monte-Carlo Casino on steroids- the place is dripping in gold - much of which is worn by the clientele.
Like Casino de Monte Carlo, they have certain standards to uphold, so forget about wearing your jeans and t-shirt. Gentlemen are required to wear a jacket and shirt to play roulette (or even better a tie). You'll see some pretty fantastic dresses on the ladies too.
Baden-Baden is world famous for its roulette tables- they offer French and American roulette here (play the former- the odds on French roulette are better).
Baden Baden Casino has a lot of history when it comes to roulette. Leo Tolstoy lost heavily here playing roulette- and ended up in debt to fellow novelist Ivan Turgenev. And in the fifties, to celebrate the casino's 100th anniversary- the casino chips where made from real silver and gold. This didn't last long, however, as many of the guests pocketed them for souvenirs. Even the rich can have light fingers (some would say especially the rich!)
It's not all gambling here. As the name suggests, there are some famous spas nearby such as the Caracalla Spa: an enormous well-being complex with thermal waters in grottos, whirlpools and saunas, plus plenty of massage and facial treatments on tap.
If you are body shy, this may not be for you. While the casino stipulates that you must wear evening dress at the tables, some of the spas like the Friedrichsbad stipulate a different kind of suit- your Birthday Suit. Men and women bathe together only on certain days. On other days they are separated.
Playing Roulette at Baden Baden
You can play roulette from 2pm to 2am (3.30am on Friday and Saturday)- There is a €5 admission to the table areas. You must be 21 and over and have a valid passport or ID card.
Minimum bet: €2
"Nicht gehts mehr," means "No More Bets"
One table, minimum bet €2.
The croupier is called the chef de table.
Chips (or rather jetons in French) are available in denominations from €2 to €5,000.
When the chef de table calls "rien ne va plus" that's “no more bets.”
Roulette was first played here in 1748, but Baden-Baden's came of age when Paris banned casinos in 1838. 2 French brothers Jacques and Edouard Benazet, opened a grand casino in the neo-classical Kurhaus. Well heeled gamblers from across Europe came to play on the tables.
Famous clients include Fyodor Dostoyevsky (in fact, Baden Baden inspired him to write The Gambler) and Turgenev.
Russians are still flocking to Baden-Baden, but now they are the new moneyed class. "Roulette was devised especially for Russians," wrote Dostoyevsky.
The Brenners Hotel is a short walk across the park from the casino (Edward VII, another famous client at Casino Baden Baden, stayed here- it's still the most glamorous place to stay.