Not Relaxing in Baden-Baden

  • Of course, on my first trip to Baden-Baden we shivered all week because of what turned out to be record cold temperatures. The only flowers blooming were in a mall.
  • It's weird. I'm not much of a coffee drinker, but every morning at Aqua Aurelia I had a latte and a few times I even had straight-up coffee—the high-test kind. Must have been the arctic weather.
  • Baden-Baden has some of the loveliest ironwork—found everywhere, including a family's home (above), storefronts, churches—that I've seen in a long time.
  • Some people have pictures of their beloved on beaches, in front of sunsets, on the Eiffel Tower. I have hundreds of pictures of my beloved—eating. Here it's bratwurst.
  • The One gave me his tour of Baden-Baden, which started at the gorgeous Pump Room, called Trinkhalle, where visitors can sip the water that has been burbling for more than 17,000 years.
  • We spent quite a lot of time huddled against the cold, watching people as they went in and out of the Pump Room. Sadly, the fountains weren't working, so no health-giving drinks.
  • The One and I went hunting for lunch, but made a quick detour when these ravishing bites whispered our names. How can you decide? Really? How? We didn't. One of each.
  • It seems anyone will do anything for a sweet German treat. This little guy was working the crowd in a small street behind the impressive Champs-Élysées-esque Sophienstrasse.
  • Apple strudel, which is everywhere in Baden-Baden, is The One's kryptonite. This strudel was as big as a lumberjack's arm. The One ate his slice all by himself.
  • At the food store Markthalle, in the Wagener Galerie, we watched as slice after slice of salmon loveliness was shaved off. Sadly, no amount of whimpering could snag us a sample.
  • Naturally, stuffing our faces with sweets meant that at some point we had to eat some sort of veggies. We were served these perky and potent radishes with griebenschmalz, or rendered pork fat.
  • Even though The One and I don't like beer, we adored this fräulein so much, we couldn't stop snapping photos. (I think it's the gap in her teeth that makes it so charming.)
  • The One and I spent many a day looking at, lusting after, splurging on, and inhaling all kinds of marvelous Bavarian sausages. Every single one a winner.
  • Chef Jean-Luc Braun-Ohlmann of Restaurant Rebstock in Oppenau is a man with an exceptional passion for locally sourced foods. The lunch he served was splendiferous.
  • On his day off, our concierge, Michael Lettner, took me on a Black Forest romp. We had lunch at Chef Jean-Luc's restaurant. This cream of white asparagus soup was my sublime first course.
  • Michael insisted I have this dish. "It's what Germany tastes like," he said. Well, if this wild boar ragú was any indication, I now have a huge appetite for the Germanic countryside.
  • Smoked trout was Michael's starter. It was simple, light, and oh-so-well-dressed, with onion, perfectly boiled egg, tomato, Gruyère, and caper berries.
  • It was just after Easter, so lamb was on every menu. Here it was braised in a veal demi-glace sauce and accompanied by the very first white asparagus of the season.
  • I've long been suspicious of spaetzle because it can be like eating lead pellets. But Chef Jean-Luc showed me how he mixes the dough and hand cranks the noodles. I'm a convert.
  • We passed by the delightful Café Koenig and pastry shop every day, and every day I stood there, nose against the window, deciding on my daily treat.
  • Café Koenig also had a window filled with these little delightful ladybugs. It's an Easter tradition and the town was simply crawling with bugs—chocolate ones.
  • The siren call of the coconut couldn't be resisted. These remarkably lifelike chocolate-coconut chestnuts were a Confiserie Rumpelmayer special.
  • These blushing beauties, also from Confiserie Rumpelmayer, were being replaced in the glass case as quickly as customers were buying them. Read: Very quickly.

“You can’t work,” pronounced The One as he leaned on his suitcase to close it. “Plain and simple.”

That was the directive delivered to me from on high a couple weeks ago on the very eve of our trip to the legendary spa town of Baden-Baden, Germany—and it wasn’t an unreasonable one. The last time The One and I were scheduled to vacation there with our friends Matty and Janet, I had to cancel the night before. While they winged it to Germany in business class, I was mired in work at home. Besides, how many times have I left the poor guy sitting at the table, alone with his dinner, while I hunched over my computer, every once in a while shouting, “Just a few more seconds, Mon Cher! Promise…”

While I couldn’t give up work entirely cold turkey—I had to do something—I did push away from the computer far more that week than I have in years. Lest you think it was for the baths–those ancient springs that purportedly have healing and life-giving properties–think again. How could I–someone as overcranked and ADD as I–sit in those pools for hours on end, like Matty, and not go stir-crazy? (He clocked an average of six hours a day in the baths. His overly tanned, 71-year-old skin looks like Gucci crocodile loafers when he finally deigns to exit the waters.) During my first dunk, I was so fidgety, so preoccupied with mentally playing out how I could bitch slap Mark Zuckerberg right out of Facebook and make it my own, that I could have created a tsunami.

It took only one more aqua descent before I realized that the water cure just isn’t for me. What calms me is work. What clears my mind is work. What causes huge fights at home is work. What compels me to go on vacation where all I do is work is work. (Jesus. I guess it’s time to go back to therapy.)

But for the sake of interpersonal vacation détente—translation: I was too scared to risk provoking the ire of The One—I left camera, tape recorder, reporter pad, pens, and business cards at the hotel. Instead I resorted to guerrilla reporting tactics, relying on my iPhone’s camera and GPS to chronicle our stay. So here it is: a just-for-the-hell-of-it slideshow devoted to Baden-Baden and the foods of the Black Forest and German state of Baden-Württemberg. Well, as much as I could manage to cram into my overaddled, waterlogged brain before The One suspected me of working.

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Since my video camera was in lockdown, I included this movie to give you a sense of the place.

Take a gander at my Baden-Baden gastro-adventure in a larger map.

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Hungry for more? Chow down on these:

  1. Anna Engdahl says:

    Thank you, that was great. Love your sense of humor.

  2. Barbara Ann Wright says:

    David I am jealous. Like you I would want to work when I went to Baden Baden however my idea of work is taking classes in pastry making so that I could reproduce those lovely small tarts you show. I also would enjoy learning more about German cooking. The baths look inviting but not until I’d finished a long day in cooking class and a good supper.

    • David Leite says:

      See, you think like me, Barbara Ann. Work first and let the baths be a reward for a long, hard day. I’m not sure where to find any pastry-making classes, but if I do, I’ll leave the info here. I think it could benefit many readers.

  3. Susan says:

    Well, I’m glad you defied orders and snuck a photo-journal of your trip. (Damn good for being done on a phone cam!) How could you not? It was a first time in that particular candy store…and you, a writer! What a lovely place Baden-Baden appears to be. What food! I get your annoyance about lollygagging around a pool while on vacation. Snore! Plus, pools, like beer, are for cooling off on a hot day; a quick dip or a quick sip, are all that are needed to revive. (I don’t like beer either, but an icy cold sip on a hot day does taste good for that second it hits the lips! Then, I’m done.)

    • David Leite says:

      Susan, you make me laugh. I was, indeed, a kid in a new candy store–figuratively and literally. And, I’m with you 100% when it comes to pools. These are heated mineral pools, to augment the therapeutic benefits, but I never felt anything. (Well, that’s not true. I did enjoy what Matty calls the “head bangers”: water that cascades down with tremendous force. It’s like an intense shoulder and neck massage.) He says I didn’t feel anything because I wasn’t in the water for very long. I say I wasn’t in the water for very long because I didn’t feel anything. Tomato, tomahto, I guess.

  4. Beth says:

    Oh, how charming! I’ve never had much interest in going to Germany. Until now. You can get a(nother) job as Baden-Baden’s director of tourism.

    • David Leite says:

      Beth, to be honest, I didn’t either. But I found the people to be very friendly and that they love feeding you. Also the area is beautiful, even though it was like Siberia.

  5. Pieri says:

    Oh my gawd. A dessert vacation!!!! I know where I am going next year–who cares about the waters–just leave me at the pastry.

  6. LOL Just like my father, you are a workaholic! You were in a place like that, and you couldn’t relax?! Wow! Well, I am drooling to see all the wonderful food showed in the video, and I am getting jealous. I think I’ll have to spend a vacation in Baden-Baden pretty soon…

    • David Leite says:

      But, Denise, is that a bad thing?! I’m not sure because I get so much pleasure out of being busy. I would suggest Baden-Baden, but in the warmer weather. #freezing

  7. Brooks says:

    Attempting to relax can be superfluous when work beckons. In your case, work is your spa. I found relaxation gawking at the carousel of revolving photos at the top of the post. Please tell me you sampled those glorious pastries, chocolates and confections.

    • David Leite says:

      Brooks, I thought of you while I was in Baden-Baden. Yes, my face was cream- and chocolate-smudged for most of the trip. I ate just about anything that wasn’t nailed down. Most of it was quite, quite good.

  8. What a lovely slideshow, David. The work we do is tricky because we can do it whenever we want, for as long as we want. I usually try to shut it off when my husband comes home but sometimes I just can’t help myself when I’m working on something interesting. At least we know we are doing something we love =)

    • David Leite says:

      Hey, Joanne. I hear you. I try to turn it off when The One comes home, but I’m not doing very well. #guilty.

  9. Martha in KS says:

    I could gain 10 lbs. in Baden-Baden (a town so good they named it twice). I’m glad you had a good vacation & “behaved” as much as possible for you. What did M.Z. do to you? lol

  10. Donna Turner says:

    Thank you so very much. I really enjoyed the movie. I don’t expect to ever get to Europe so I appreciate being able to live vicariously through friends and kindred souls.

    • David Leite says:

      Donna, just doing my job, ma’am. The movie is a great addition. I didn’t shoot it, but it gives you a good feeling for the place.

  11. Laura in Texas says:

    Thanks for sharing such great pictures. I agree, you shouldn’t have to choose your chocolates. One of everything is the way to go!

    • David Leite says:

      Howdy, Laura in Texas. You’re more than welcome. And, yes, I’m quite democratic when it comes to chocolate. The One even more so. (Yet he tends to be rather parsimonious when it comes to sharing.)

      • Laura in Texas says:

        I often give special chocolates to dear friends that specifically instruct the recipient that sharing is optional, but not encouraged if the person they are considering will not enjoy it as much or more than themselves. Of course, my husband knows there is no sharing when chocolate is on the line and we should order two if he wants to taste. :-) much less angst that way!

  12. Lora says:

    Baden Baden is such a peaceful town. A stroll around is just as refreshing as the baths (for me) Next time you should go the the horse race. It’s a huge scene!

    • David Leite says:

      Yes, really want to try the horse races. Our friends Matty and Janet are huge fans and go every year.

  13. I keep reaffirming the rule that we unplug at 9pm to have Couple Time, but I am pretty terrible about it. Makes me feel terrible. It’s one reason that I have an Idiot Phone. If my phone was smart, that would be Very Bad.

    I have, however, perfected the Sitting-on-the-divan-watching-Netflix-on-autoplay-and-eating-bon-bons style of relaxing. I can totally teach you how to do that!

  14. Monica says:

    What delectable pictures! I’m swooning over all the chocolates and pastries. That is my kind of vacation! : )

    • David Leite says:

      Dankeschön. You should print out the map. You never know when a little side trip to Germany will present itself….

  15. A simple observation…you are a chef. A person who spends time in a kitchen, but your description of ‘work’ is time spent in front of a computer.

    While I am aware of the story of the carpenter who loves to work with wood…becomes a general contractor…who spends more time studying to pass..who has to now hire people, do payroll, schedule jobs, figure out health benefits, learn promotion and advertising…but no longer works with wood. He makes more money, he has more stress, but he is successful. Seen this a hundred times. Happened to me…sorta.

    Food for thought.

    • David Leite says:

      dontcallmeachef, thanks for this. But I’m not a chef. Never was, never will be. To me, chefs are specially trained people with a distinct skill set. I’m but a food writer, so my rightful place is in front of the computer. But…your carpenter story hits home. THAT is indeed happening to me. So much so that I can’t write nearly as much as I’d like.

  16. jamie says:

    Your trip looks heavenly and delicious! We once spent 5 days in Budapest right down the street from the famous baths and spent almost all of our time in the market – with side trips to museums and tea salons. Wonderful! The images of your trip remind me of that. I must get to Germany, the food looks fabulous! And you know what I think? About vacations? Whatever makes us happy! We each have our own way to relax and destress. And if the baths don’t do it for us and food and recording our voyage do, then that’s what we should do. It looks like you had a great time despite not being able to work.

    • David Leite says:

      Jamie, hear, hear. I did have a lovely time, but The One isn’t convinced. But I’m not a relaxer, what can I say?! My way of de-stressing is to sleep. Sometimes in the middle of a horrid day, I flip the computer the bird, go upstairs, put on my pjs, and take a long nap. Life always seem better when I awake.

  17. Wow really David? no Sole water and thermal water for you? I feel the Badehaus causes a whole in my stomach and I like to munch on some goodies afterwards.Luckily the food is l ooking good there otherwise you would have had to go to Straßburg. ^.^

    • David Leite says:

      Helene, I “liked” the waters but didn’t “love” them. I could see going back and spending an hour or so each day in the baths. Not these marathon session Matty loves. And we did go to Strasbourg. We adored it and are going back soon.

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