Baden-Baden Casino, Germany
Marlene Dietrich called it “the most beautiful casino in the world”. But the glamour, I imagine, loses its lustre if you’re not winning.
The great Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky immortalised it in his novel ‘The Gambler’, which he wrote to pay off debts he accumulated at its tables.
And so the famous Baden-Baden Casino became infamous and a getaway for the rich and powerful.
“In the nineteenth century Baden-Baden became internationally famous when people came here to the gambling house,” local guide Valeria Casagrandi tells me.
“At that time it was open only between May and October and that’s why Baden-Baden was the summer capital, or the summer residence, of Europe.”
We walk through the large glass doors and into a striking room with soft yellow lights, mirrors, and wood finishings.
“This is the oldest casino in Germany and one of the oldest in Europe and this is the reception,” Valeria says.
“In the afternoon if you want to come here to gamble you have to register yourself at the reception desk,” she says.
“The entrance fee is five euros, you have to show your identity card or your passport and you have to wear a tie and a jacket.”
It’s still the morning right now and this is when the casino is open for public tours. The tables are all shut, the bar is quiet, and it feels like a museum.
An extremely elegant museum, that is.
As we walk further into the casino, through the different rooms with their different games, I’m reminded of a recent visit to the Palace of Versailles near Paris.
It turns out that’s no coincidence. Valeria explains that the interior design was modelled on the grand French palaces, with their chandeliers, rich royal curtains and intricate wall decorations.
“The French loved gambling and we are close to France and so that’s why we have this French influence and in the nineteenth century people didn’t speak German here, they spoke French.”
The Baden-Baden casino was more elite back in those days. Today, anyone is welcome to spend the evening here (assuming you are dressed appropriately and at least 21 years old).
It may look like it should be full of high-rollers or James Bond-style gamblers, but it’s largely full of tourists… albeit visitors from nearby areas.
“Royalty is in the past,” Valeria tells me.
“But nowadays they are normal people.”
We stop at a roulette table, empty at the moment with so much promise of winnings and so much peril of loss.
It feels so indolent but hides an animation that will begin when the first customers arrive this afternoon. Fortunes are won and lost on this felt top.
“The minimum stake is depending on the table, two euros or five euros,” my guide explains. “Then you can also have – it’s unique in Germany – a chip which is worth 50,000 euros.”
“And here you can have fifteen people or seventy people and at this table there are four croupiers. And the croupiers work an hour 45 minutes at the table then they have 15 minutes break because they have to concentrate themselves.”
I don’t know how they concentrate even for that long. With so many distractions around them – in the architecture, the design, and the people – this is one of the most interesting places to visit in southwest Germany.
And maybe Marlene Dietrich was right, one of the most beautiful too.
It is open for gambling from 2pm to 2am (weekdays) and 2pm to 3:30am (weekends).