The Russo – German Fairytale of Baden-Baden (1/2)

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Baden – Baden is a dainty town of the state Baden – Württemberg in southwest Germany, and can be reached from both France and Switzerland around two hours by train. The territory spans 140.18 km2 with a population of 53,000. It situates by the Oos River, and adjacent to the north of the Black Forest. It was called “Baden” since the Middle Ages, and in 1931 was given the name “Baden – Baden” officially, as a short form of “Baden in Baden”. It is also a sister city with Sochi, Yalta and Karlovy Vary, all of which share the similarity of renowned hot springs.

The word “baden” in German refers to “bath”, and this demonstrates evidently how this place came to the known. The local springs have been recorded since the Roman Emperor Caracalla, and some remains of the Roman baths were recovered in 1847. It was the residence of the margraves of Baden from the fourteenth century to the seventeenth, and has been constantly under fire during combats, including the Thirty Years’ War and the Nine Years’ War. From early eighteenth century, it reappeared as a spa – resort, obtaining popularity among the powers and the riches. In the nineteenth century, it was nicknamed as the summer capital of Europe, while Côte d’Azur as the winter one.

Resort paradise not only have hot springs that enhance health, but also leisure that amuses. Hence, Baden – Baden has the biggest and the oldest casino in Germany, which locates right next to the Kurhaus. The Festspielhaus Baden – Baden is the biggest opera and concert house in Germany, and the second biggest in Europe. Sammlung Frieder Burda has one of the most extensive collections of Modern Art in the country, and the Fabergé Museum collects luxuriously exquisite art crafts from Carl Fabergé, the first Russian Imperial Court Jeweler. Aside from being an internationally and historically renowned spa resort, Baden – Baden is also known as the most Russian town in Germany.

The tie between Baden – Baden and Russia may trace back to early nineteenth century, when Tsar Alexander the First of Russia married Tsarina Elizabeth, who was born as Princess Louise of Baden. The marriage was arranged by his grandmother, Catherine the Second of Russia, who was a princess from Pomerania, Prussia. The marriage was praised as the union of Cupid and Psyche by Catherine the Second herself, which was full of happiness at the beginning, but they had love affairs with others respectively, however the love was retained before they passed away. The connection between Baden – Baden was established through arranged marriage, and then fostered by aristocrats and artists alike afterwards. In the nineteenth century, Russian writers not only enjoyed their holidays in the paradise by the Oos, but also many of which were inspired by this very place, which serves as background in their master pieces.

Tolstoy once wrote in his diary that he lost all the money in the splendid casino of Baden – Baden, but as a man of means and a wealthy aristocrat, financial issues were not as difficult as those life lessons in his works. He crafted scenes in Anna Karenina based on Baden – Baden, though appeared in a different name. Turgenev lived constantly between here and Paris, in order to pertain proximity with Pauline Viardot, a famous French mezzo – soprano, with whom he had a life– long affair. Turgenev’s novel Smoke takes place in Baden – Baden. Grigory Litvinov, a young Russian, who comes to Baden – Baden waiting for his betrothed Tatiana Shestov arriving from Dresden. He encounters local Russian crowds and has discussions with the people from both ends of the spectrum – Westernizers and Slavophiles. Moreover, he comes across his stunningly gorgeous old flame Irina Osinin, now married to a general from the highest rank of Russian nobility. Grigory vacillates between Tatiana and Irina. Tatiana senses his abnormal behaviors, and upon his confessions of the fondness for Irina, she left Baden – Baden. However, Irina refuses to abandon her current life and status for Grigory. He returns to his estate in Russia, watching the smoke from the train, ethereal as love and political ideas. After his return to Moscow, he learns that Tatiana happens to stay in the neighborhood, and pays her a visit. He falls at her feet, and the story ends. The story takes place mostly in Baden – Baden, and the depictions of local sites render Russian readers for a pilgrimage in town. Smoke deliberates a typical image of the Russian aristocrats and intelligentsias in the nineteenth century. They usually had refined western educations and multilingual abilities, which resemble their European counterparts. Nonetheless, they were burdened by a sense of inability for changing their country.

Dostoyevsky wrote The Gambler based on his personal experience after losing almost everything including his wedding ring in the grandeur casino and under the pressure of the deadline from his publisher. The story begins with Alexei Ivanovich, a tutor in a Russian general’s family, which resides in a luxurious hotel in Baden – Baden. The general is in serious debt, and waiting on the death of his wealthy aunt for an inheritance of large amount. Alexei has unrequited love for the general’s stepdaughter Polina, and she asks him for placing a bet for her at a roulette table. Upon his winnings, he devotes all the money to her, while she still treats him indifferently. The general’s aunt arrives in Baden – Baden in good health, saying that she knows all about his debts, and he is not going to get a single ruble from her. She asks for Alexei’s local guide to the casino, which she wins at the beginning, but loses a large amount of money later on. Polina asks Alexei to gamble for her once more, but when he returns with gold and bank notes, she leaves him and claims that she hates him. Alexei starts to gamble for survival. Incidentally learning that Polina is in Switzerland, he considers of finding her there, and recalls why he starts to gamble.

The depictions of Baden – Baden have been conveyed through quills of masters, and lived in hearts of Russians one generation after another. It is inevitable that though royalties have been long gone, the image in literature transcends the stream of times and lives until nowadays. Fashions led by royalties and aristocrats and depictions in literature of fundamental writers have carved Baden – Baden into a myth in Russia. It is glittering in a legendary aura when Russians speak of it. The Russian literature takes place in Baden – Baden is not just a few novels, but a miniature of an era. Literature and history interweave into a common memory of the Russians.

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