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The halcyon days of Anglo-German relations

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In Brenners, Germany’s grandest grand hotel, in Baden-Baden, Germany’s smartest spa town, there’s a corner of a foreign drawing room that is forever England. Above the fireplace hangs a portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds of the Honourable Mrs Beresford – a quintessential English Rose in a quintessential German Kaminhalle. At first sight it seems incongruous but in fact it’s rather fitting, for this hotel and this spa town epitomises the close relationship between the British and German upper classes, a relationship only slightly sullied by the awkward happenstance of two world wars.

Brenners has always been a home from home for the British aristocracy: its guest book boasts the signatures of Edward VII, Edward VIII and the late lamented Duke of Edinburgh. The hotel was founded in 1872, a year after Germany became a nation. One hundred and fifty years later, it still feels like a strange hybrid of Germanic Schloss and English Stately Home. Yet this hotel also sums up the contradiction at the heart of that relationship. Britons and Germans have a lot in common – too much in common to be easy bedfellows – and the history of Brenners, and Baden-Baden, bears this out.

The thing that made Baden-Baden so popular with posh Brits was its thermal springs, a big draw for foreign visitors ever since Roman times. Whether this hot smelly mineral water actually does you any good is debatable, but in Victorian times it was touted as a cure-all for virtually every ailment, and so loads of Britons came here to drink the stuff and bathe in it.A daily dip left plenty of free time for R&R, so all sorts of amusements sprang up to keep these pampered patients occupied. In 1838, two enterprising Frenchmen called Jacques and Edouard Benazet opened a casino here. For British visitors, this was a winning combination. You could come here on doctor’s orders, ostensibly to take the waters, and spend most of your time playing roulette in the palatial Kurhaus or loitering at the nearby racecourse.

Queen Victoria was far too puritanical for these guilty pleasures - she preferred to spend her holidays in strait-laced Coburg, where her beloved German husband, Prince Albert, was born and raised. However her fun-loving son, the Prince of Wales, adored Baden-Baden – the waters didn’t do much to trim his substantial waistline, but the casino helped to lighten his substantial wallet. Where royalty leads the middle classes are bound to follow, and so Baden-Baden became a go-to destination for the more affluent members of the British bourgeoisie. A good many of them ended up living here, and by the time Brenners opened, in 1872, Baden-Baden had a thriving Anglophone community, with its own newspaper and three Anglican churches.

The man who personified this friendly........

© The Spectator

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