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Dinner with the Baron:
a Wiesbaden

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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. It is beyond question one of Germany’s – if not the world’s - most prestigious, elegant spa resorts.
Wiesbaden (whose name means "meadow baths") is justifiably famous
for the healing powers of its hot springs. The city is at once elegant, aristocratic, spacious and 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-
baden will always be an extraordinarily inviting city, a captivating city.
It is an expansive city, one which beckons the visitor to partake of its
myriad of pleasures and then gently urges its guests to relax, to enjoy,
and, most of all, to linger.
First and foremost, it is the city which introduced me to the Baron.
My introduction to the many delights of Wiesbaden came at the tender
age 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.
There would be ancient ruins longing to tell their secrets - silent, tear-
stained tombs enshrouding for all time the tragedies of lost loves. And
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 heart.
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!
I envisioned Wiesbaden as a wise, compassionate dowager, not unlike
the young Gigi's Aunt Alicia, who would take me under her wing and
enlighten me, polish my rough edges, ripen me. I knew beyond doubt
that my life was about to be radically transformed.
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
waddling along the meandering paths, gladly sharing them with strolling
pedestrians of all ages. Every manicured flower bed was an explosion of
brilliant color.
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
replace 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 every detail.
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 affectionately as
"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 come.
As we entered the dining room, we entered the Europe of my dreams.
My extravagantly romantic fantasies sprang to life, as though decreed
by an invisible beneficent Stage Director. The room and the moment
are permanently engraved upon my memory, an etching of my private
adolescent fantasies.
There before me was a room more magnificent, more dazzlingly seductive than anything in my fantasies: marble columns, crystal chandeliers dimmed
to provide just the right enhancement to the room's shimmering candlelight;
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
crystal.  Each table was further adorned by glimmering candles and a
small vase of fresh roses.
This elegant atmosphere, already overwhelming to me, was further heightened by the strains of Brahms in the background, music so
hauntingly beautiful I was sure it could only have been heaven-sent,
even though my eyes told me it emanated from a discreetly situated,
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
was 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
and delicately flavored, poached salmon mousseline garnished with fresh
white asparagus tips, tender moist veal chops with foie gras and tissue-
thin slices of 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.
As I was introduced to "our friend, Baron Jean-Pierre du Barry", I was
struck mute, mesmerized, paralyzed from head to toe. Sensing my loss
of composure, the Baron smiled kindly and reached for my hand, which
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 pronounced,
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 itself.
My intoxication would have been total without the wine. He politely described for me, at my father's prompting, his estate (a villa on the
Rhine, no less), his stables, his music room (he was partial to Chopin,
Rachmaninoff, Brahms and Ravel, and was an accomplished pianist),
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, no!
"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 his
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
or no Anastasia), hoping the magical night would never end.
Days went by. Endless, agonizing days. Empty, insignificant days, filled
with triviality. The phone did not ring. The Baron did not magically appear
at our door. He did not send his Mercedes limousine to fetch me. My
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 him."
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,
the Baron, and a dark, slender, mysteriously beautiful companion who
surely must be the Baroness Anastasia.
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 me?"
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 our dearest friends, Stan and
Ann Perry..."
Horrified, and overcome by tears, I 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. She'll never
forgive either of you!"
I spent the remainder of the evening alone, engulfed in misery as only
a teenage girl can be. I remained deaf to my mother's entreaties to join
the festivities. Festivities, indeed! Such deceit, such betrayal, such
cruelty! My 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
was a Bostonian of Greek heritage. The five of us were inseparable that
summer, visiting castles on the Rhine, lolling away quiet afternoons under
a canopy 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 to beguile
its leisurely strollers, and the parks retain their rejuvenating powers,
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 the Baron Jean-Pierre du Barry for me. No doubt it will work its very special magic on
you as well. Who knows, perhaps Wiesbaden even has a baron in store
for you. And perhaps yours will be real.

Dinner with the Baron, continued:
Recipes reminiscent of the Wiesbaden Kurhaus

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