Why are there so many “Bad” places in Germany (and are there any good ones)?

Bad Ems in Germany (photo by dierk schaefer - CC-BY)

There are a surprising number of placenames in Germany with the prefix “Bad”: Bad Kreuznach, Bad Orb, Bad Ems, Bad Godesberg to name just a few; also since 1991, Bad Wildbad (previously just Wildbad), which would seem to be bad coming and going. More surprising is that the residents of these Bad places are rather proud of the name and their town.

The reason, of course, is that “Bad” in German does not mean “evil or shoddy.” It means “bath” (except in the new anglicism “Bad Bank”). These towns, like Bath in England and Spa in Belgium, have spring waters that are considered to have a salutary effects for various ailments. Hot springs are generally used for actual baths, maybe with mud packing or in a slurry. Springs with various mineral salts are more likely to be taken orally. Water from salt springs is allowed to drain down a long wall of twigs and branches, the salt released

by evaporation being held to be good for respiratory problems, the equivalent of a cure on the seacoast, also once popular, before people went there to swim and sunbathe.

The residents are proud of their towns because in the 19th century “taking the waters” was a more highly recognized medical treatment than it is today, with the result that the small towns prospered from the people coming to take the cure, only those who could personally afford to. They wanted parks and entertainment during their stay – vacation ambiance. Thus most of these “Bad” places had hotels and restaurants, a theater, an a English style park, a band shell for daily concerts, maybe a casino, and, of course, a few fountains. The towns gained an infrastructure that to some extent still exists, surprising when one visits one in a remote area. Furthermore, they can pride themselves on a list of the European nobility and notable personages who were guests, often regular guests, also for the socializing. A few such towns had and have a Russian Orthodox church to serve the guests from St. Petersburg and Moscow. Not so bad.

Why did Wildbad only become Bad Wildbad in 1991? The use of the prefix is dependent upon the recognized properties of the water and the quality of the facilities being certified by the local state’s economics ministry. As the waters have become less used, in many places rehabilitation clinics for everything from joint replacement to depression have been established.

So what about the “Good” places? In German, “Gut” means not only “good” but also “goods,” “property,” a “manor.” “Gut” can describe a larger agricultural property, often with an appropriately large house. In northern Germany, there are many places on a large scale map with the prefix “Gut,” obviously in rural areas. There may be a few other houses with the address. In some cases, the hamlet has now been amalgamated with the nearest town for administrative purposes. The owners of a “Gut” that is on the map are naturally proud of their address, which may have been the family’s traditional residence for generations.

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