Me and Hosni Mubarak

Egypt is in an uproar. They're calling for the resignation of Honsni Mubarak, the person who has been their leader for 30 years. The first question that comes to mind is "what kind of democracy has the same leader for 30 years?" The second is, "what does one do when an angry mob forces you to step down?" Somehow I doubt that "retiring to the country house to do a little gardening" is the answer.

In today's Spiegel Online International - the English-language, online version of the German newspaper - a story ran about a possible exile location for Mr. Mubarak. The headline, "Possible Exile in Germany: Clinic Near Baden-Baden Considered.", intrigued me.

My favorite paragraph in the article is this one:
"The United States government's scenario for an end to the political chaos in Egypt appears to be this: President Hosni Mubarak travels to Germany for a "prolonged health check" that would offer the 82-year-old a dignified departure. Over the weekend, the New York Times reported that secret talks to that effect were being held between the US government and Egyptian military officials."
 So, Mr. Mubarak is 82 years old. I had no idea. The man must have a painting aging in a closet somewhere. And there have been rumors that he has cancer. So, I guess it makes sense that going to Germany for a "prolonged health check" at a luxury clinic would make some sort of sense.I kind of love how our government is trying to find a way to facilitate a "dignified departure" for this dude. I honestly don't know enough about the politics of the situation to speak intelligently about it but I just marvel at the fact that we, as a nation, feel it necessary to be the steward of EVERYTHING.

What does this have to do with me, you ask?

Baden-Baden - the possible future home of Mr. Mubarak - is one of my favorite places on earth. It's a small German town in the western foothills of the Black Forest and it has been a destination for health and restoration since the time of the Romans. "Baden" means "bath" and Baden-Baden's primary raison d'etre is to provide the best soak and schvitz in the world which, in my opinion, it does.

The "old" part of the city - where the Romans probably trod - is closed to car traffic and still retains the cobblestone streets. The High Street is filled with insanely expensive boutiques and lovely little cafes. But the real reason to go to Baden-Baden is the bath houses of which there are two:

Friedrichsbad, otherwise known as the "old" baths", was built in 1877 and is a crown jewel of a place. The mosaics in the saunas are, alone, worth the visit. The thing I find most quaint about this spa is that, as soon as the receptionist realizes I'm American, he or she starts emphatically reminding me that this is a "naked" spa. This is not "clothing optional" - this is "you don't get to wear clothes even if you want to." It's a little disconcerting at first but, eventually, you get over it and, when you do, you experience one of the most gloriously relaxing days of your life. Mineral showers, saunas, steam room, and various mineral baths, done in the correct order, will provide you with the optimal health benefit. Mark Twain famously said of Friedrichsbad, "“Here at the Friedrichsbad you lose track of time within 10 minutes, and track of the world within 20…”

The "new" baths were built in the mid-1980's and are called Caracalla, after a Roman leader who visited the area for help with his arthritis. It's very modern and lovely with great, warm pools to swim in and lots and lots of whirlpool areas to work your aches and pains. Caracalla is a bathing suit facility on the first floor where the pools and a few specialty steams are. If you choose to go to the second floor, you're required to shed your clothes. On the second floor, you're treated to eight different saunas/steams with varying heat and aromas. You can also enjoy two "relaxation rooms" that have comfortable lounge beds along with special lighting and sound pumped in.

During any visit to Baden-Baden, I'll go to both because, really, why wouldn't you? Both spas have their charm but, for my money, I prefer the history and beauty of Friedrichsbad.

I figure if Mr. Mubarak ends up relocating to Baden-Baden, and he's really as unwell as they're suggesting, I may just find myself sitting next to him in the pool or (heaven forbid) the sauna. One learns to keep their eyes to themselves when everyone in the room is naked.

- Alex