Mariánské Lázně is a spa town located in the Karlovy Vary Region of the Czech Republic. It is a relatively young town and was not even declared a spa town until 1818. At one time, Mariánské Lázně was a marshy valley but during the mid 19th century it was transformed into a beautiful city which featured green parks, charming pavilions, and Neoclassical buildings.
Mariánské Lázně experienced its Golden Age between 1870 and 1914 when numerous hotels, spa houses, colonnades, and churches were built. The city is now known for its mineral springs, romantic parks, pleasant cafés, colonnades, pavilions, and luxury hotels.
The spa city has had many famous visitors including Frédéric Chopin, Thomas Edison, Friedrich Nietzsche, Antonín Dvořák, Franz Kafka, King Edward VII of England, the Russian Czar Nicholas II, Sigmund Freud, and American writer Mark Twain.
Mark Twain visited the Czech spa town of Mariánské Lázně with his family in the summer of 1891 on his tour of Europe. He wrote of his journey from the German town of Bayreuth to the Bohemian spa town of Mariánské Lázně (also known as Marienbad) as follows:
“A couple of hours from Bayreuth you cross into Bohemia, and before long you reach this Marienbad, and recognize another sharp change, the change from the long ago to to-day; that is to say from the very old to the spick and span new; from an architecture totally without shapeliness or ornament to an architecture attractively equipped with both; from universal dismalness as to color to universal brightness and beauty as to tint; from a town which seems made up of prisons to a town which is made up of gracious and graceful mansions proper to the light of heart and crimeless. It is like jumping out of Jerusalem into Chicago.”
Mark Twain described his stay at the spa town of Mariánské Lázně in a satirical article entitled “Marienbad – A Health Factory” (often retitled as: The Austrian Health Factory). At the time, the Czech Republic was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which explains why the article was often retitled as “The Austrian Health Factory”. The travel sketch was published in The London Illustrated News in 1892. You can read the article below.
This place is the village of Marienbad, Bohemia. It seems no very great distance from Annecy, in Haute-Savoie, to this place–you make it in less than thirty hours by these continental express trains–but the changes in the scenery are great; they are quite out of proportion to the distance covered. From Annecy by Aix to Geneva, you have blue lakes, with bold mountains springing from their borders, and far glimpses of snowy wastes lifted against the horizon beyond, while all about you is a garden cultivated to the last possibility of grace and beauty–a cultivation which doesn’t stop with the handy lower levels, but is carried right up the sheer steeps and propped there with ribs of masonry, and made to stay there in spite of Newton’s law. Beyond Geneva–beyond Lausanne, at any rate–you have for a while a country which noticeably resembles New England, and seems out of place and like an intruder–an intruder who is wearing his every-day clothes at a fancy-dress ball. But presently on your right, huge green mountain ramparts rise up, after that for hours you are absorbed in watching the rich shadow effects which they furnish, and are only dully aware that New England is gone and that you are flying past quaint and unspeakable old towns and towers. Next day you have the lake of Zurich, and presently the Rhine is swinging by you. How clean it is! How clear it is! How blue it is! How green it is! How swift and rollicking and insolent are its gait and style! How vivid and splendid its colors–beautiful wreck and chaos of all the soap bubbles in the universe! A person born on the Rhine must worship it.
I saw the blue Rhine sweep along; I heard, or seemed to hear,
The German songs we used to sing in chorus sweet and clear.
Yes, that is where his heart would be, that is where his last thoughts would be, the “soldier of the legion” who “lay dying in Algiers.”
And by and by you are in a German region, which you discover to be quite different from the recent Swiss lands behind you. You have a sea before you, that is to say; the green land goes rolling away, in ocean swells, to the horizon. And there is another new feature. Here and there at wide intervals you have islands, hills 200 and 300 feet high, of a haystack form, that rise abruptly out of the green plain, and are wooded solidly to the top. On the top there is just room for a ruined castle, and there it is, every time; above the summit you see the crumbling arches and broken towers projecting.
Beyond Stuttgart, next day, you find other changes still. By and by, approaching and leaving Nuremberg and down by Newhaus, your landscape is humped everywhere with scattered knobs of rock, unsociable crags of a rude, towerlike look, and thatched with grass and vines and bushes. And now and then you have gorges, too, of a modest pattern as to size, with precipice walls curiously carved and honeycombed by–I don’t know what–but water, no doubt.
The changes are not done yet, for the instant the country finds it is out of Wurtemberg and into Bavaria it discards one more thickness of soil to go with previous disrobings, and then nothing remains over the bones but the shift. There may be a poorer soil somewhere, but it is not likely.
A couple of hours from Bayreuth you cross into Bohemia, and before long you reach this Marienbad, and recognize another sharp change, the change from the long ago to to-day; that is to say from the very old to the spick and span new; from an architecture totally without shapeliness or ornament to an architecture attractively equipped with both; from universal dismalness as to color to universal brightness and beauty as to tint; from a town which seems made up of prisons to a town which is made up of gracious and graceful mansions proper to the light of heart and crimeless. It is like jumping out of Jerusalem into Chicago.
The more I think of these many changes, the more surprising the thing seems. I have never made so picturesque a journey before, and there cannot be another trip of like length in the world that can furnish so much variety and of so charming and interesting a sort.
There are only two or three streets here in this snug pocket in the hemlock hills, but they are handsome. When you stand at the foot of a street and look up at the slant of it you see only block fronts of graceful pattern, with happily broken lines and the pleasant accent of bay projections and balconies in orderly disorder and harmonious confusion, and always the color is fresh and cheery, various shades of cream, with softly contrasting trimmings of white, and now and then a touch of dim red. These blocks are all thick walled, solid, massive, tall for this Europe; but it is the brightest and newest looking town on the Continent, and as pretty as anybody could require. The steep hills spring high aloft from their very back doors and are clothed densely to their tops with hemlocks.
In Bavaria everybody is in uniform, and you wonder where the private citizens are, but here in Bohemia the uniforms are very rare. Occasionally one catches a glimpse of an Austrian officer, but it is only occasionally. Uniforms are so scarce that we seem to be in a republic. Almost the only striking figure is the Polish Jew. He is very frequent. He is tall and of grave countenance and wears a coat that reaches to his ankle bones, and he has a little wee curl or two in front of each ear. He has a prosperous look, and seems to be as much respected as anybody.
The crowds that drift along the promenade at music time twice a day are fashionably dressed after the Parisian pattern, and they look a good deal alike, but they speak a lot of languages which you have not encountered before, and no ignorant person can spell their names, and they can’t pronounce them themselves.
Marienbad–Mary’s Bath. The Mary is the Virgin. She is the patroness of these curative springs. They try to cure everything–gout, rheumatism, leanness, fatness, dyspepsia, and all the rest. The whole thing is the property of a convent, and has been for six or seven hundred years. However, there was never a boom here until a quarter of a century ago.
If a person has the gout, this is what they do with him: they have him out at 5.30 in the morning, and give him an egg and let him look at a cup of tea. At 6 he must be at his particular spring, with his tumbler hanging at his belt–and he will have plenty of company there. At the first note of the orchestra he must lift his tumbler and begin to sip his dreadful water with the rest. He must sip slowly and be a long time at it. Then he must tramp about the hills for an hour or so, and get all the exercise and fresh air possible. Then he takes his tub or wallows in his mud, if mud baths are his sort. By noon he has a fine appetite, and the rules allow him to turn himself loose and satisfy it, so long as he is careful and eats only such things as he doesn’t want. He puts in the afternoon walking the hills and filling up with fresh air. At night he is allowed to take three ounces of any kind of food he doesn’t like and drink one glass of any kind of liquor that he has a prejudice against; he may also smoke one pipe if he isn’t used to it. At 9:30 sharp he must be in bed and his candle out. Repeat the whole thing the next day. I don’t see any advantage in this over having the gout.
In the case of most diseases that is about what one is required to undergo, and if you have any pleasant habit that you value, they want that. They want that the first thing. They make you drop everything that gives an interest to life. Their idea is to reverse your whole system of existence and make a regenerating revolution. If you are a Republican, they make you talk free trade. If you are a Democrat they make you talk protection; if you are a Prohibitionist, you have got to go to bed drunk every night till you get well. They spare nothing, they spare nobody. Reform, reform, that is the whole song. If a person is an orator, they gag him; if he likes to read, they won’t let him; if he wants to sing, they make him whistle. They say they can cure any ailment, and they do seem to do it; but why should a patient come all the way here? Why shouldn’t he do these things at home and save the money? No disease would stay with a person who treated it like that.
I DID SEEM TO NOTICE IT
I didn’t come here to take baths, I only came to look around. But first one person, then another began to throw out hints, and pretty soon I was a good deal concerned about myself. One of these goutees here said I had a gouty look about the eye; next a person who has catarrh of the intestines asked me if I didn’t notice a dim sort of stomach ache when I sneezed. I hadn’t before, but I did seem to notice it then. A man that’s here for heart disease said he wouldn’t come downstairs so fast if he had my build and aspect. A person with an old gold complexion said a man died here in the mud bath last week that had a petrified liver–good deal such a looking man as I am, and the same initials, and so on, and so on.
Of course, there was nothing to be uneasy about, and I wasn’t what you may call really uneasy; but I was not feeling very well–that is, not brisk–and I went to bed. I suppose that that was not a good idea, because then they had me. I started in at the upper end of the mill and went through. I am said to be all right now, and free from disease, but this does not surprise me. What I have been through in these two weeks would free a person of pretty much everything in him that wasn’t nailed there–any loose thing, any unattached fragment of bone, or meat or morals, or disease or propensities or accomplishments, or what not. And I don’t say but that I feel well enough, I feel better than I would if I was dead, I reckon. And, besides, they say I am going to build up now and come right along and be all right. I am not saying anything, but I wish I had enough of my diseases back to make me aware of myself, and enough of my habits to make it worth while to live. To have nothing the matter with you and no habits is pretty tame, pretty colorless. It is just the way a saint feels, I reckon; it is at least the way he looks. I never could stand a saint. That reminds me that you see very few priests around here, and yet, as I have already said, this whole big enterprise is owned and managed by a convent. The few priests one does see here are dressed like human beings, and so there may be more of them than I imagine. Fifteen priests dressed like these could not attract as much of your attention as would one priest at Aix-les-Bains. You cannot pull your eye loose from the French priest as long as he is in sight, his dress is so fascinatingly ugly.
I seem to be wandering from the subject, but I am not. This is about the coldest place I ever saw, and the wettest, too. This August seems like an English November to me. Rain? Why, it seems to like to rain here. It seems to rain every time there is a chance. You are strictly required to be out airing and exercising whenever the sun is shining, so I hate to see the sun shining because I hate air and exercise–duty air and duty exercise taken for medicine. It seems ungenuine, out of season, degraded to sordid utilities, a subtle spiritual something gone from it which one can’t describe in words, but–don’t you understand? With that gone what is left but canned air, canned exercise, and you don’t want it.
When the sun does shine for a few moments or a few hours these people swarm out and flock through the streets and over the hills and through the pine woods, and make the most of the chance, and I have flocked out, too, on some of these occasions, but as a rule I stay in and try to get warm.
And what is there for means, besides heavy clothing and rugs, and the polished white tomb that stands lofty and heartless in the corner and thinks it is a stove? Of all the creations of human insanity this thing is the most forbidding. Whether it is heating the room or isn’t, the impression is the same–cold indifference. You can’t tell which it is doing without going and putting your hand on it. They burn little handfuls of kindlings in it, no substantial wood, and no coal.
The fire bums out every fifteen minutes, and there is no way to tell when this has happened. On these dismal days, with the rain steadily falling, it is no better company than a corpse. A roaring hickory fire, with the cordial flames leaping up the chimney–but I must not think of such things, they make a person homesick. This is a most strange place to come to get rid of disease.
That is what you think most of the time. But in the intervals, when the sun shines and you are tramping the hills and are comparatively warm, you get to be neutral, maybe even friendly. I went up to the Aussichtthurm the other day. This is a tower which stands on the summit of a steep hemlock mountain here; a tower which there isn’t the least use for, because the view is as good at the base of it as it is at the top of it. But Germanic people are just mad for views–they never get enough of a view–if, they owned Mount Blanc, they would build a tower on top of it.
The roads up that mountain through that hemlock forest are hard packed and smooth, and the grades are easy and comfortable. They are for walkers, not for carriages. You move through deep silence and twilight, and you seem to be in a million-columned temple; whether you look up the hill or down it you catch glimpses of distant figures flitting without sound, appearing and disappearing in the dim distances, among the stems of the trees, and it is all very spectral, and solemn and impressive. Now and then the gloom is accented and sized up to your comprehension in a striking way; a ray of sunshine finds its way down through and suddenly calls your attention, for where it falls, far up the hillslope in the brown duskiness, it lays a stripe that has a glare like lightning. The utter stillness of the forest depths, the soundless hush, the total absence of stir or motion of any kind in leaf or branch, are things which we have no experience of at home, and consequently no name for in our language. At home there would be the plaint of insects and the twittering of birds and vagrant breezes would quiver the foliage. Here it is the stillness of death. This is what the Germans are forever talking about, dreaming about, and despairingly trying to catch and imprison in a poem, or a picture, or a song–they adored Waldeinsamkeit, loneliness of the woods. But how catch it? It has not a body; it is a spirit. We don’t talk about it in America, or dream of it, or sing about it, because we haven’t it. Certainly there is something wonderfully alluring about it, beguiling, dreamy, unworldly. Where the gloom is softest and richest, and the peace and stillness deepest, far up on the side of that hemlock mountain, a spot where Goethe used to sit and dream, is marked by a granite obelisk, and on its side is carved this famous poem, which is the master’s idea of Waldeinsamkeit:
Ueber allen Gipfeln ist Ruh,
In allen Wipfeln spurest du
Kaum einen Hauch:
Die Vögelein schweigen im Walde,
Ruhest du auch.
It is raining again now. However, it was doing that before. I have been over to the establishment and had a tub bath with two kinds of pine juice in it. These fill the room with a pungent and most pleasant perfume; they also turn the water to a color of ink and cover it with a snowy suds, two or three inches deep. The bath is cool–about 75° or 80° F., and there is a cooler shower bath after it. While waiting in the reception room all by myself two men came in and began to talk. Politics, literature, religion? No, their ailments. There is no other subject here, apparently. Wherever two or three of these people are gathered together, there you have it, every time. The first that can get his mouth open contributes his disease and the condition of it, and the others follow with theirs. The two men just referred to were acquaintances, and they followed the custom. One of them was built like a gasometer and is here to reduce his girth; the other was built like a derrick and is here to fat up, as they express it, at this resort. They were well satisfied with the progress they were making. The gasometer had lost a quarter of a ton in ten days, and showed the record on his belt with pride, and he walked briskly across the room, smiling in a vast and luminous way, like a harvest moon, and said he couldn’t have done that when he arrived here. He buttoned his coat around his equator and showed how loose it was. It was pretty to see his happiness, it was so childlike and honest. He set his feet together and leaned out over his person and proved that he could see them. He said he hadn’t seen them from that point before for fifteen years. He had a hand like a boxing glove. And on one of his fingers he had just found a diamond ring which he had missed eleven years ago.
The minute the derrick got a chance he broke in and began to tell how he was piling on blubber right along-three-quarters of an ounce every four days; and he was still piping away when I was sent for. I left the fat man standing there panting and blowing, and swelling and collapsing like a balloon, his next speech all ready and urgent for delivery.
LEANNESS, FATNESS AND ALL THE REST
The patients are always at that sort of thing, trying to talk one another to death. The fat ones and the lean ones are nearly the worse at it, but not quite; the dyspeptics are the worst. They are at it all day and all night, and all along. They have more symptoms than all the others put together and so there is more variety of experience, more change of condition, more adventure, and consequently more play for the imagination, more scope for lying, and in every way a bigger field to talk. Go where you will, hide where you may, you cannot escape that word liver; you overhear it constantly–in the street, in the shop, in the theater, in the music grounds. Wherever you see two or a dozen people of ordinary bulk talking together, you know they are talking about their livers. When you first arrive here your new acquaintances seem sad and hard to talk to, but pretty soon you get the lay of the land and the hand of things, and after that you haven’t any more trouble. You look into the dreary dull eye and softly say:
“Well, how’s your liver?”
You will see that dim eye flash up with a grateful flame, and you will see that jaw begin to work, and you will recognize that nothing is required of you from this out but to listen as long as you remain conscious. After a few days you will begin to notice that out of these people’s talk a gospel is framing itself and next you will find yourself believing it. It is this–that a man is not what his rearing, his schooling, his beliefs, his principles make him, he is what his liver makes him; that with a healthy liver he will have the clear-seeing eye, the honest heart, the sincere mind, the loving spirit, the loyal soul, the truth and trust and faith that are based as Gibraltar is based, and that with an unhealthy liver he must and will have the opposite of all these, he will see nothing as it really is, he cannot trust anybody, or believe in anything, his moral foundations are gone from under him. Now, isn’t that interesting? I think it is.
Two days ago, perceiving that there was something unusual the matter with me, I went around from doctor to doctor, but without avail; they said they had never seen this kind of symptoms before–at least not all of them. They had seen some of them, but differently arranged. It was a new disease, as far as they could see. Apparently it was scrofulous, but of a new kind. That was as much as they felt able to say. Then they made a stethescopic examination and decided that if anything would dislodge it a mud bath was the thing. It was a very ingenious idea. I took the mud bath, and it did dislodge it. Here it is:
I ask not, “Is they heart still sure,
They love still warm, thy faith secure?”
I ask not, “Dream’st thou still of me?
Long’st away to fly with me?”
Ah, no-but as the sun includeth all
The good gifts of the giver,
I sum all these in asking thee.
“O, sweetheart, how’s your liver?”
For if they liver worketh right,
Thy faith stands sure, thy hope is bright,
Their dreams are sweet and I their god.
Doubt threats in vain–thou scorn’st his rod.
Keep only thy digestion clear,
No other foe my love doth fear.
But indigestion hath the power
To mar the soul’s serenest hour–
To crumble adamantine trust,
And turn its certainties to dust,
To dim the eye with the nameless grief,
To chill the heart with unbelief,
To banish hope, and faith, and love,
Place heaven below and hell above.
Then list–details are naught to me
So thou’st the sum-gift of the giver–
I ask thee all in asking thee,
“O darling, how’s your liver?”
Yes, it is easy to say it is scrofulous, but I don’t see the signs of it. In my opinion it is as good poetry as I have ever written. Experts say it isn’t poetry at all, because it lacks the element of fiction, but that is the voice of envy, I reckon. I call it good medical poetry, and I consider that I am a judge.
One of the most curious things in these countries is the street manners of the men and women. In meeting you they come straight on without swerving a hair’s breadth from the direct line and wholly ignoring your right to any part of the road. At the last moment you must yield up your share of it and step aside, or there will be a collision. I noticed this strange barbarism first in Geneva twelve years ago.
In Aix-les-Bains, where sidewalks are scarce and everybody walks in the streets, there is plenty of room, but that is no matter; you are always escaping collisions by mere quarter inches. A man or woman who is headed in such a way as to cross your course presently without a collision will actually alter his direction shade by shade and compel a collision unless at the last instant you jump out of the way. Those folks are not dressed as ladies and gentlemen. And they do not seem to be consciously crowding you out of the road; they seem to be innocently and stupidly unaware that they are doing it. But not so in Geneva. There this class, especially the men, crowd out men, women, and girls of all rank and raiment consciously and intentionally–crowd them off the sidewalk and into the gutter.
STRANGE STREET MANNERS
There was nothing of this sort in Bayreuth. But here–well, here the thing is astonishing. Collisions are unavoidable unless you do all the yielding yourself. Another odd thing–here this savagery is confined to the folk who wear the fine clothes; the others are courteous and considerate. A big burly Comanche, with all the signs about him of wealth and education, will tranquilly force young ladies to step off into the gutter to avoid being run down by him. It is a mistake that there is no bath that will cure people’s manners. But drowning would help.
However, perhaps one can’t look for any real showy amount of delicacy of feeling in a country where a person is brought up to contemplate without a shudder the spectacle of women harnessed up with dogs and hauling carts. The woman is on one side of the pole, the dog on the other, and they bend to the work and tug and pant and strain–and the man tramps leisurely alongside and smokes his pipe. Often the woman is old and gray, and the man is her grandson. The Austrian national ornithological device ought to be replaced by a grandmother harnessed to a slush cart with a dog. This merely in the interest of fact. Heraldic fancy has been a little too much overworked in these countries, anyway.
Lately one of those curious things happened here which justify the felicitous extravagances of the stage and help us to accept them. A despondent man, bankrupt, friendless, and desperate, dropped a dose of strychnia into a bottle of whisky and went out in the dusk to find a handy place for his purpose, which was suicide. In a lonely spot he was stopped by a tramp, who said he would kill him if he didn’t give up his money. Instead of jumping at the chance of getting himself killed and thus saving himself the impropriety and annoyance of suicide, he forgot all about his late project and attacked the tramp in a most sturdy and valiant fashion. He made a good fight, but failed to win. The night passed, the morning came, and he woke out of unconsciousness to find that he had been clubbed half to death and left to perish at his leisure. Then he reached for his bottle to add the finishing touch, but it was gone. He pulled himself together and went limping away, and presently came upon the tramp stretched out stone dead with the empty bottle beside him. He had drunk the whisky and committed suicide innocently. Now, while the man who had been cheated out of his suicide stood there bemoaning his hard luck and wondering how he might manage to raise money enough to buy some more whisky and poison, some people of the neighborhood came by and he told them about his curious adventure. They said that this tramp had been the scourge of the neighborhood and the dread of the constabulary. The inquest passed off quietly and to everybody’s satisfaction, and then the people, to testify their gratitude to the hero of the occasion, put him on the police, on a good-enough salary, and he is all right now and is not meditating suicide any more. Here are all the elements of the naivest Arabian tale; a man who resists robbery when he hasn’t anything to be robbed of does the very best to save his life when he has come out purposely to throw it away; and finally is victorious in defeat, killing his adversary in an effectual and poetic fashion after being already hors de combat himself. Now if you let him rise in the service and marry the chief of police’s daughter it has the requisite elements of the Oriental romance, lacking not a detail so far as I can see.