Why Wiesbaden is called Nice of the North

by Thomas Panker
Stripes Europe

Let’s start by establishing a baseline. Nice, France is internationally renowned for its cosmopolitan mix of elite residents, fabulous markets, opulent old-world architecture, and location on the sun-drenched Mediterranean shoreline known as the Côte d’Azur. Ooh-la-la!

Wiesbaden has similar allure and is widely heralded as the “Nice of the North.” Now home to USAEUR and hailing the world’s biggest cuckoo clock, what else do we know and cherish about the spectacular city of Wiesbaden to rival its counterpart on the French Riviera?

Thousands of years ago, the Romans were first to document use of thermal hot springs in Wiesbaden, valuing its healing powers that inspired Caligula to build a fort there in 40 AD. Centuries later, German tribesmen drove the Romans out, and near the end of the Middle Ages, the business of spring bathing became an important commercial attraction for Wiesbaden.

By the turn of the 19th century, visitors outnumbered residents and more millionaires were living in Wiesbaden than in any other city in Germany. Soon thereafter, the city became equally notorious as a gambling mecca, establishing its Spielbank as a world-class venue to rival those of Nice’s neighbor, Monte Carlo. Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky nearly lost his family’s fortune playing roulette at the Spielbank (on display near the casino’s opulent entrance), which inspired him to write “The Gambler.” Today, nearby outside is a huge bust of him sculpted by fellow Russian, Gavriil Glikman.

These twin cities have inspired several musical and artistic geniuses over the years, such as Matisse, Monet, Brahms and Wagner, who composed parts of “Meistersinger von Nurnberg” nearby in the decadent Biebrich Palace. Legend also tells of his eviction due to the stench of his cigars during strolls. We also have Johannes Brahms to thank for penning his aptly titled “Wiesbaden Symphony” while visiting.

There also was a blue-sueded Sergeant Presley, better known as the king of rock-n-roll, who served in the U.S. Army between 1958-60. While Elvis was stationed in West Germany, he met and courted Priscilla, whose family was living in Wiesbaden.

Each city also endured the ravages of war. During the First World War, Nice was 600 miles from the front. During WW II, Nice became the frontline. In 1943, Wiesbaden suffered its first major attack from American and British bombers. Subsequent shellings targeted industrial plants, railroads, airfields, the city center and outlying districts. During these air assaults, many types of ordnances missed their targets, leveling non-military structures, heavily damaging churches and killing citizens dug in to their shelters on a daily basis.

In the years that followed, Nice and Wiesbaden were resurrected and rebuilt among the vast ruins. Wiesbaden has a lot to be proud of and offers many sensory delights of your choosing. Today, each city’s breathtaking outdoor spaces, stunning architecture and the inherent charisma of world-heritage localities prevails. Their rues and Strasses are labyrinths to behold and in their own way, each creates a symphonious stroll through historic antiquity. 

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