As you cross the grandiose portico of the Kurhaus and enter Casino Baden-Baden, you will immediately sense the history permeating this fine establishment.
The Kurhaus has been an architectural landmark of the Black Forest town for almost two centuries. Baden-Baden is noted for its spa, horseracing and casino, and all of these are interconnected as everyone knows – if you say Kurhaus, you really mean Casino Baden-Baden. The roulette ball has been rolling around the wheel for a century and a half, positioning the casino in the crème de la crème of European, if not worldwide casinos. Nobility and splendour have survived to this day, albeit currently enriched with accents of modern styling, gambling and entertainment. Tradition and modernity have always been one – but it all started with small beginnings.
This little town in Baden had already earned its reputation as a spa town by the late medieval period and renaissance, but only a few hundred visitors actually made their way to the town’s thermal springs; Baden was to remain a blank spot on the map – it wasn’t just Baden, it was Baden near Rastatt. Even so, there was still a “promenade house” in these past times – a rural ballroom. This building was to become the Kurhaus, with hundreds of customers turning into millions – the early nineteenth century saw a boom in Baden like no other spa town. Little by little, Baden became the first address for Europe’s high society in the summer. They came and stayed for recuperation and company, or maybe the odd romantic interest. Many a lazy hour was spent chewing the fat over a beer with friends and companions in the taverns around town, while rooms in the better restaurants were set aside for gambling.
Here, the summer visitors would pass the time at games such as rouge et noir, ecarte and whist. Nobody would have entertained the idea of a roulette table at that time though – gambling was forbidden. But times changed – the authorities turned a blind eye to gambling in the spa baths. And not without a dose of self-interest – the Ministry in Karlsruhe raised a gaming tax from larger hotels from 1801 onwards. The tax went into the Badfond, or “bath fund”, that helped finance roads and paths. Increasing numbers of spa visitors brought on the pleasure of gambling, and the authorities took action – with concessions for two French colonels for the former Kurhaus, now named the maison de conversation; apart from that, the leaseholders at the promenade house were allowed to run a roulette table. And so, as the Napoleonic era drew to a close in Baden, there were two public casinos – one in the maison de conversation where the Town Hall now stands, and the promenade house where they played roulette, rouge et noir, and faro. Karlsruhe architect Friedrich Weinbrenner designed a classically inspired palace from 1821 to 1823, which is now the Kurhaus that has since become a symbol of Baden-Baden with its eight Corinthian columns.
Amusements and diversions
The Kurhaus provided dining rooms, lobbies and theatre, and a large banquet hall – the jewel in the crown of this magnificent edifice with its white columns, alcoves, and statues. The front part was used for gambling, and the rear for dancing; gaming and dancing already went hand-in-hand in those times. The casino has always been eager to move with the times with entertainment following on from amusement à la française. Today, the casino hosts shows and concerts, classical music and rock, dancing and party. If you want to celebrate the new year in an atmosphere of elegance, our Casino Baden-Baden is the place to be.
Louis Philippe, the Citizen King of France, had the gaming halls closed in the Parisian Palais Royal in 1838; the leaseholder at the time was Jacques Bénazet. Son of a blacksmith from the Pyrenees, Bénazet looked around for a new place to set up shop – and found it on the other side of the Rhine: the Ministry in Karlsruhe awarded him a concession for the casino in 1838. Bénazet was a financier with charitable inclinations, and the town of Baden-Baden was to flourish with the casino; he had the avenues expanded – and the town’s cultural scene. Authors and feature writers came from Paris, and Bénazet paid. And they found plenty of gold on their bedside tables every morning for them to gamble with. Even today, an oil painting hung up in the casino shows how Bénazet, the former clerk at the Commercial Court of Bordeaux, might have felt – as the Roi de Bade. His panache left its mark, and Baden-Baden boomed with prestigious hotel buildings full of glitz and glamour emerging.
Messieurs et patrons
Jacques Bénazet passed away in 1848, and his son Edouard Oscar Bénazet presided over Baden-Baden’s new belle époque – the spa town became an ever increasingly rarefied place for high society to meet and celebrate their savoir vivre in the villas and grand hotels, exercising their French like their croupiers. They welcomed patrons from five continents – Russian state councillors, English lords, Javanese plantation owners, and members of the Paris Clubs.
Edouard was as generous as his father; the father may have given Baden-Baden the Kurhaus and Trinkhalle drinking hall, but the younger patron brought a racecourse and theatre to Goetheplatz, and inaugurated new gaming halls in the right-hand wing of the Kurhaus in 1855 – halls to match the tastes of the casino’s patrons from the Second Empire, halls that are witnesses of a bygone era as most of the castles and villas built after 1850 have been demolished. The gaming rooms, however, still kept the style and charm of the era. This has had consequences – the casino attracts almost as many visitors as the fairytale castles of Ludwig II.
The casino faced a new break in its fortunes just a few years after Edouard Bénazet passed away, with French patrons eschewing the establishment after the Franco-German War of 1870/71. The Iron Chancellor Bismarck’s reign came with gambling prohibition in 1872, and things took on a decidedly more sedate pace in the once lively, glamorous summer capital of Europe. The years 1912 to 1916 saw the Kurhaus extended with funds from the Badfonds – the bel étage housing today's 1,000 square metre Bénazet Hall, the round hall and the hall of mirrors. But the casino didn’t reopen until 1933, after a 61-year break, only to close again in 1944 for six more years.
The casino opened its doors again in 1950, and turned over another new page in August 2003. The casino had only had private shareholders until the local government of Baden-Württemberg awarded the casino concession to the Baden-Württembergische Spielbanken GmbH & Co. KG, which directs the fortunes of all three of Baden-Württemberg’s casinos – Baden-Baden, Konstanz, Stuttgart.