The new conversation house
At the end of the 1821 season, preparations for the construction of the new conversation house began on the instructions of Grand Duke Ludwig. Together with a large hall, the new building was to include a reading room, gambling rooms, a restaurant, a theatre and side rooms for smaller balls and private parties.
Friedrich Weinbrenner was once more entrusted with the planning work. The first cost estimate amounted to 92,453 guilders. The work was to be funded primarily from the income generated by casino taxation.
This construction phase also included the striking columns across the front of the main building. In those days, local materials were used for construction projects, so that the mighty Kurhaus columns were made of Murgtal sandstone. The magnificent conversation room was built behind the columns; this is today's Weinbrennersaal. It was intended to be used mainly by spa guests so that they could promenade even in bad weather. Promenading entailed taking a gentle stroll, enjoying a little conversation and listening to music, as well as risking a few guilders now and then at the gambling tables set up in the side rooms. To start with, just a few chairs were placed at the walls. The extensive construction work was completed in 1824.
Baden-Baden saw a continuous increase in tourism through to 1850. While there were 1,555 spa guests in 1801, there were already 7,750 tourists by 1825 and even 15,500 by 1835.
The balls in the conversation house were very popular with international guests in those days, as reported in 1831 by Hyppolit Schreiber in his city guidebook: "Balls of this nature really offer a quite splendid spectacle. Elegant spa guests gather here from all over Europe: visitors from England, France, Italy, Holland and Germany can be found in this bright and shining building, and even the princely persons who often come to Baden-Baden do not spurn attending this casual, social pleasure".
The Bénazet era
In 1838, the conversation house was taken over by Jacques Bénazet who continued to expand the function rooms to create space for additional gambling tables and facilities for a cultural programme. From 1841 onwards, the season extended from 10 May to the end of October. Thanks to the gambling prohibition imposed in France in 1837, tourism continued to increase, also due to the railway connection that was completed in 1844. By 1847, already 32,943 visitors were counted.
After the death of Jacques Bénazet in 1848, his son Edouard took on the lease for the conversation house. Until his death in 1867, he shaped an important era in Baden-Baden's tourism history. He continued and even surpassed his father's work in promoting the cultural and social programme.
Although Baden was in a state of war in 1850, it once again welcomed around 30,000 spa guests. The government had even issued an exemption to allow the spa guests to dance, despite the dancing prohibition imposed on all the people of Baden. While the whole country lived in destitution, caused by a combination of crop failures, devaluation, unemployment and natural disasters, Monsieur Bénazet offered the rich and super-rich a fine time.
Source: Robert Erhard "Aus der Chronik der Kaiserallee", part 2