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La Belle Cuisine
Dinner with the Baron:
A Wiesbaden Reminiscence
by Michele W. Gerhard
The city of Wiesbaden, Germany, snuggled cozily
between the renowned Rhine River and the foothills of the Taunus Mountains,
projects quite an
intriguing combination of characteristics.
beyond question one of Germany’s – if not the world’s - most
prestigious, elegant spa resorts.
Wiesbaden (whose name means "meadow baths") is
the healing powers of its hot springs. The city is at once elegant, aristocratic, spacious
friendly, which, no doubt accounts in large
part for its elusive charm.
Located approximately 35 kilometers west of
Frankfurt, Wiesbaden is
the capital of
the German state of Hesse. Being situated in the heart of
the Rhine-Main region (nestled in
the triangle formed by the Rivers
Rhine and Main), it is among the most
important business centers in
Europe. Thanks to the convenience of its infrastructure, the city has
become a much sought after
venue for conventions and trade fairs.
In addition, Wiesbaden has become
an important cultural center, and
is celebrated as the "gateway to the Rheingau", one of Germany's
most prestigious wine-producing regions.
These significant facts are certainly noteworthy,
but for me they are overshadowed by the city's enchanting personality.
In my eyes, Wies-
will always be
an extraordinarily inviting
city, a captivating city.
It is an expansive city, one which beckons the visitor to partake
myriad of pleasures
and then gently urges its guests to relax, to enjoy,
and, most of all, to
First and foremost, it is the city which introduced me to
My introduction to the many delights of Wiesbaden
came at the tender
of fifteen, when I was fortunate enough to be able
to spend an entire
summer there. With
the unbridled excitement and unabashedly romantic
idealism found only in
the very young, I arrived in Germany with fond fantasies of red-roofed
villages, idyllic farms, and elegantly sophisticated
cities bustling with
commerce, passion and intrigue.
would be ancient ruins longing to tell their secrets - silent, tear-
stained tombs enshrouding for all time the tragedies of lost loves.
what fifteen-year-old girl doesn't dream of romance? If not THE grand
passion, certainly there would be innocent flirtation!
I was eager to play apprentice to Mother Europe's lessons of the
There would be waltzes
in grand salons and narrow, mysterious, cobble-
stoned side streets leading to
secluded courtyards. Magnificent boulevards
lined with chestnut trees in
full bloom would lead to coffeehouses fre-quented by infamous courtesans and the
decadent, intellectual elite. Life,
in all its pain and glory!
envisioned Wiesbaden as a wise, compassionate dowager, not unlike
young Gigi's Aunt Alicia, who would take me under her wing and
me, polish my rough edges,
ripen me. I knew beyond doubt
that my life was about to be
The actualization of my adolescent reveries
began as I approached the
heart of Wiesbaden for the first time. Could there be anything more utterly romantic than the city's
beloved "Rue", the Wilhelmstrasse, in early sum-mer? To my left was one of the most delightful promenades in Germany,
with its specialty shops and exclusive boutiques interspersed with
sidewalk cafes; to my right was a seemingly endless expanse of
jewel-studded green. The park
was bursting with life of all kinds, yet remained curiously tranquil.
The lush green grass was strewn with a profusion of wildflowers,
swans were gliding along
the willow-lined ponds, families of ducks were
the meandering paths, gladly sharing them with strolling
all ages. Every manicured flower bed was an explosion of
En route to the Kurhaus, where we were to dine
that evening, we passed
one magnificent edifice after another. First was the Museum, built to
a crown prince's
palace. The gold mosaics of
its dome glittered in
the sunlight, and a seated granite figure of Johann
Wolfgang von Goethe,
a frequent visitor to Wiesbaden, bade us welcome. There were marvelous
villas with spectacular facades, whose walls
no doubt concealed tantalizing
secrets of former aristocratic inhabitants.
Then came the crown jewel,
the cultural heartbeat of the area: the
splendidly Baroque Hessisches Staatstheater (State Theater), exquisite in
We rounded the corner to be greeted by a large
expanse of lush green lawn surrounding immense sparkling fountains.
Their effervescence was matched only by my soaring spirits.
In the background, an elegant, imposing building, known
"the world's loveliest Kurhaus". Lovely
indeed, with its Ionic-columned
portico crowned by a
cupola, more reminiscent of a state edifice than a
structure designed for
indulgence of the senses. Guests
are reminded of
Wiesbaden's ancient history as a Roman spa as they pass
beneath the portico's inscription "Aquis Mittiacis". I found the entrance hall breath-
taking in its marbled splendor, but
it was only a whisper,
a vague insin-
uation of the magnificence yet to
As we entered the dining room, we entered the
Europe of my dreams.
extravagantly romantic fantasies sprang to life, as though decreed
invisible beneficent Stage Director.
The room and the moment
are permanently engraved upon my memory, an
etching of my private
There before me was a room more magnificent,
seductive than anything in my fantasies: marble columns,
to provide just the right enhancement to the room's
walls the color of thick, rich cream, elegantly adorned by
gilded mirrors and
sconces. As we were led to our designated table, the tuxedoed staff
greeted us warmly, as though our arrival had been eagerly anticipated.
And what a magnificent table is was, set to
perfection with fine immacu-
late linen, heavy, sparkling silver, delicate
china, and a glittering array of
Each table was further adorned by glimmering candles and a
vase of fresh roses.
This elegant atmosphere, already overwhelming
to me, was further heightened by the strains of Brahms in the background,
hauntingly beautiful I was sure it could only have been
even though my eyes told me it emanated from a discreetly
formally attired string quartet.
Never before had I experienced such
unadulterated opulence. This
heady atmosphere so satiated all of my senses that the idea of food
insignificant, but as the various courses began to arrive, I was once
again seduced by riches beyond my youthful imagination.
My father, in
his wisdom, had ordered for all of us. And what a meal it was! Food for
the gods, to be sure:
smoked trout mousse, oxtail soup, surprisingly light
flavored, poached salmon mousseline garnished with fresh
tips, tender moist veal chops with foie gras and tissue-
black truffles. Surely this
must be paradise!
Even more convincing was the unexpected entrance of a
startlingly distinguished, breathtakingly handsome gentleman.
My father exclaimed, "Look, I believe it's the Baron. What a delightful
surprise!" My heart raced. He
was approaching our table. Could
it be that
my parents actually knew this paragon? He was Maximilian Schell, Louis Jourdan, Cary Grant and
Gregory Peck, all rolled into one.
I was introduced to "our friend, Baron Jean-Pierre du Barry", I
struck mute, mesmerized, paralyzed from head to toe. Sensing my
of composure, the Baron smiled kindly and reached for my hand,
he raised to his lips.
"Michele, my dear girl, welcome to
Germany! We are delighted to
have you here."
My heart stopped.
The voice matched the countenance. A
enchanting French accent. This was too much. If
the world should end
at this precise instant, I would die happy.
The Baron joined us for a
while, ordered a special bottle of wine,
toasted my arrival in Germany,
my health, my youth, my beauty, and life
My intoxication would
have been total without the wine. He politely described for me, at my father's prompting,
villa on the
Rhine, no less), his stables, his music room (he
was partial to Chopin,
Rachmaninoff, Brahms and Ravel, and was an
and his formidable wine cellar.
"Just one question, if I may, Herr Baron.
I believe I detect just a hint
of a French accent. Are you a German or a French baron?"
"Ah, yes. Well
you see, my dear, I am an expatriate.
I am French, of
course, but my wife, the Baroness Anastasia,
couldn't bear to leave
her country. So
it is that we have settled here, but we make frequent
visits to my home, a
villa just outside Paris."
Gulp. Wife? The Baroness Anastasia? Oh,
"How lovely," I replied.
The Baron smiled. Would I be so kind as to pay them a visit at my earliest
convenience? He longed to
introduce me to his Germany. I almost replied, "Is the Pope catholic?" but caught
myself in time to mumble a polite expression of my gratitude for his kind
hospitality. The Baron took
leave, as graciously as he had arrived, and I prayed for coherence,
for prudence. The rest of the
evening was a blur to me (although I do, of
course, recall dessert: a
delectably creamy fresh strawberry terrine lightly flavored with Grand
Marnier). I also recall
repeated queries from my
mother, who no doubt feared for my sanity.
"Michele, are you sure you're all right? You're not eating, you're pale.
Do have a bite of veal, dear.
No, you may NOT have any more wine!"
I felt as though I were levitating, drifting in
rarefied air, so far removed
from reality that I was amazed when I
realized that somehow we had left
the Kurhaus, made our way to our
apartment, and prepared ourselves for
a much needed rest. I drifted away into dreams of the Baron (Anastasia
Anastasia), hoping the magical night would never end.
Days went by. Endless,
agonizing days. Empty,
insignificant days, filled
The phone did not ring. The
Baron did not magically appear
at our door. He did not send his Mercedes limousine to fetch me.
mother cleverly evaded my interminable stream of questions about
him, trying in vain to divert my attention elsewhere. She had just the thing,
she thought - a dinner party! She would invite her nearest and dearest friends, Stan and Ann
Perry. They were delightful,
I would adore them,
we would have such fun.
"But what about the Baron?"
"We'll just have to wait to hear from
The evening of my mother's much anticipated dinner party arrived. I tried
to be polite, but enthusiasm was beyond me, totally
displaced by my all-encompassing sense of ennui. As the time for our guests to arrive drew
near, I could sense my
mother's growing anxiety. When
at last the door-
bell rang, she urged me to answer it for her. And there stood, of course,
and a dark, slender,
mysteriously beautiful companion who
surely must be the Baroness
All sense of decorum left me. All I could do was scream, "Oh my God, Mother, it's the
Baron! Why didn't you tell
I turned to see my father standing behind me,
with an all too familiar mischievous sparkle in his eyes.
"Michele," he said, "I'd like you to meet
friends, Stan and
and overcome by tears,
ran to my room. Over my sobs. I
could hear my
mother in the background:
"Harold, how could you! I told you it would be like this.
forgive either of you!"
I spent the remainder of the evening alone, engulfed in misery
a teenage girl can be. I remained deaf to my mother's entreaties to
indeed! Such deceit, such
broken heart was beyond repair, I was sure. My life was
over! Would that it were...
Ah, the blessed resilience of youth. Of course, I did eventually leave my room. As a matter of fact, as things turned out, I became quite fond of
Stan and Ann. And by the way, her name really was Anastasia, as she
Bostonian of Greek heritage. The
five of us were inseparable that
summer, visiting castles on the Rhine,
lolling away quiet afternoons under
of linden trees, enjoying
luscious dollops of velvety ice cream floating in
iced coffee, celebrating
Bastille Day in Strasbourg. The
wine flowed, my
feet danced, my heart sang.
It was a glorious, enchanting, unforgettable interlude.
Wiesbaden still beckons.
Like the rest of the world, it has changed, but
the magic lingers
on. The "Rue", the Wilhelmstrasse continues
its leisurely strollers, and the parks retain their
providing a verdant oasis
for the world-weary. The Kurhaus is as lovely
as ever and still has a fine restaurant,
although the dining room, alas, is
not as I recall it.
The very mention of Wiesbaden still invokes memories of
Jean-Pierre du Barry
for me. No doubt it will work its very special magic
you as well. Who knows, perhaps Wiesbaden even has a baron in store
And perhaps yours will be real.
of the Wiesbaden Kurhaus
Dinner with the Baron, continued:
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