Grüner Baum Complaint

This is a report on several Austrian hotels. We highly recommend the following, as you have.

Hallstatt - Preferred Grüner Baum for lakeside view and good rooms, Zauner for good food. Salzburg - Trumer Stube. Vienna - Hotel Kärntnerhof (we had room 205 - excellent). Graz - Hotel Erzherzog Johann

Places you haven't recommended, but we do, include:

Dürnstein - Hotel Schloss Dürnstein for fabulous Danube view rooms. Food better at Richard Löwenherz, both owned and/or operated by siblings. Munich - Hotel Rothof, delightful, garden setting in business office area of the city. New, modern, friendly, excellent location and not far from U-bahn.

Disagreement: Grüner Baum (different from the one in Hallstatt) and Badgastein. Badgastein is a wonderful destination and the Grüner Baum was good, but I would not agree that it is the best in Europe. The food was among the best of our trip. The rooms were great, wonderful view up the valley. Great too was the location, the town and the valley into the Alps. The service, however, we found erratic and inexperienced. It was especially busy Friday and service was slow in the restaurant. Saturday night in the Stube, service was especially slow. No one was in the bar at 7:00 p.m. and we had to ask for a waiter. Fifteen minutes later we were told "someone is coming." A young table attendant finally arrived who was thoroughly confused by an order for sherry. She had to leave to ask somebody and came back five or 10 minutes later. Total of 30-plus minutes before we were served.

Another criticism of Grüner Baum is that one is charged for everything: from use (not purchase) of terrycloth robes to go to the swimming pool to tap water from the bar. We also found few Americans, or even English there. There are no big tour buses, possibly because it is a little difficult to get to. This is all to the good. On the other side, we had the feeling that there was class consciousness and that the richer Germans and Austrians were dealt with more promptly and more hospitably. Perhaps our marginal hotel/restaurant language ability contributed to this. We had a feeling that there was much false formality. It was not as classy an operation as, for example, The Schloss Hotel Dürnstein which was of equal expense and number of stars. The class consciousness seemed phony, not natural, and the atmosphere at least struck us as somewhat forced formality, incongruous with the Alpine setting. Nouveau Riche comes to mind.

Admittedly, the first weekend in October approaches the end of the season. Grüner Baum was not full, and perhaps not fully staffed. Nevertheless, the service atmosphere was found to be less appealing than the other hotels listed above.

Carolyn and Tom Reese

Palo Alto CA

(Ed. Note: Our own experiences with the Grüner Baum and the Schloss Hotel Dürnstein have been the exact opposite of the Reeses. We welcome your comments.)

The Grüner Baum's Response

We thank you very much for your fax letting us know the complaints of Mr Reese. We were quite upset to hear that some guests have left our house and haven't been satisfied. We have checked all the complaints Mr Reese was talking about. Of course, the service at the bar should have been faster and better. The girl got confused about the order, she didn't quite understand if they like a sherry dry or a cherry brandy. So maybe this explains the long service, but of course it shouldn't happen and we will do better for the next time.

It is true that this weekend in question was a very busy one and maybe Mr. and Mrs. Reese found the service too slow. For Friday night we had a candlelight gala dinner where we served five courses and of course we don't rush them one after the other, but we served the courses slowly on purpose. Also, as it is a gala dinner, people dress up a little more than usually.

At this time of the year we are not fully booked, but we have a lot of guests who come since many, many years. So of course this is a more personal friendly atmosphere with people we know very well, some of them are real friends and I am very sorry, that these new guests felt not treated in the same way than our other guests.

It is true that we charge for a bathrobe AS 100, which is about $10, no matter how long people are staying. It also is correct that we charge for our water, as this water is one of the best you can find in the Alps, perhaps much better than some water of a big brand. The taste is excellent and the service is the same if they drink mineral water or Coca Cola. We charge AS 20 for a half liter, which is $2. We always feel bad if a customer leaves Grüner Baum without real satisfaction and would like to apologize for it.

Family Blumschein

Hotel Grüner Baum,

Badgastein, Austria

Dresden/Prague Report

During a week's stay in Dresden, we found the Szeged Restaurant upstairs at Wildsruffer Str. 4-6 to be worth a second visit. Also, Rathskeller Restaurant served good food at reasonable prices, but even on a rather not-very-busy night, service was slow.

On our first visit to Prague since the change in government, we were pleasantly surprised by the many changes for the better: so many more restaurants and shops and so many more people who could speak German or English. We would recommend the 15-room, 3-suite Hotel U Tri Pstrosu (The Three Ostriches), at Drazickeho nam. 12, 118 00 Prague 1, tel. (02) 245 10 779, fax (02) 245 10 783), beautifully situated in an old but well maintained building right at the foot of the Charles Bridge in the old Mala Strana district. For a double unit with a view over the bridge, including breakfast, the rate is 4800 crowns, US $171.50, expensive but worth it. The hotel also serves dinner, but inexplicably requires hotel guests to eat at a set hour, while nonresidents can reserve a time of their choice. One very pleasant restaurant we found in downtown Prague is the Restaurant Modra Ruze in a cave-like setting at Rytirska 16.

For anyone desiring the service of a guide and/or driver in Prague or the surrounding countryside, we highly recommend the services of Josef Severyn, Pariska 22, 110 00 Prague. tel (02) 23 22 788. Mr Severyn is fluent in English, knowledgeable about his city and country and reliable and dependable. He charges US $7.00 per hour for his services and, if the use of his 4-seater Skoda automobile is desired, the rate is an additional US $.40/km.

H. Martin Ems

San Francisco CA

Bodensee Restaurants

Re the Swiss side of the Bodensee: should you decide to do the Swäbisch side, a detour to Schlier (Germany) is very rewarding. The Krone restaurant there beats the Hotel Krone in Gottlieben (Switzerland). I have tried them both - recently. This was probably the best meal - definitely the most pleasant - I have had in Germany, and this includes, in this area, the Hoyerberg Schlössle in Lindau and the Mönchs Posthotel in Herrenalb. It has the best and most reasonable wine list around. Try it, you'll like it!

Dr. Anatol Chari

Laguna Beach CA

(Ed Note: Dr. Chari's dinner for four, including two bottles of wine and cocktails, was $75 per person, not bad for a Michelin one-star. The other two restaurants he refers to also have a Michelin star.)

German Rail Bargain

Thank you for your very informative edition on rail travel in Europe of December, 1994.

I would, however, like to inform you and your readers of some special tickets on the German railway system which could lead to less expensive travel. Anyone, even foreigners, can purchase these tickets.

The first one is called a Bahnkarte (train card) which works as follows. A Bahnkarte can be purchased in any railway station and costs DM 220 (about $156), for young people under 26 and seniors over 60 only half that, DM 110 ($78). This card can be used to obtain a 50% discount on any and all rail fares in Germany and is valid for one year. I used this card on my three-week stay and more than paid for the card with two medium length trips. (I am a senior citizen). I would have saved more had I known about this Bahnkarte before my first train ride.

The second opportunity to save substantial sums while riding trains in Germany is to try and travel between the hours of 7 p.m. and 2 a.m. In that case you can get a Gutenabendkarte (good evening ticket) for DM 49 ($35). This ticket allows you to travel anywhere in Germany between 7 p.m. and 2 a.m. You can get almost anywhere in Germany in that time span.

John McClure

Bethesda, MD

Baden-Baden Difficulties

In November, I purchased a seven-night Baden-Baden Adventure Package, reviewed in your September issue, from the Baden-Baden Tourist Office. Please advise your readers that the Brenner's Park Hotel & Spa is NOT available in this package. Two of the Steigenberger hotels are available in the luxury category and Hotel am Sophienpark but not Brenners Park.

I stayed at the Steigenberger Europaischerhof. While the facility is nice, there are no on-site spa facilities and one must go either to the Steigenberger Avance Hotel (approximately two blocks away) or the public baths or spa facilities. Even though I was visiting off-season, obtaining an appointment for spa services, such as facials, massages, etc. was nearly impossible. Although in Baden-Baden for a week, I was only able to obtain an appointment for one 20-minute back massage at Caracalla Therme. A check of spa service availability at the Steigenberger Avance was also made and all appointment times were full. Please note I was completely flexible on the day and time. Anyone visiting Baden-Baden interested in using spa facilities, beyond soaking in a hot tub, should be advised to make any spa appointments in advance or immediately upon arrival.

Brenda Donaloio

Galveston TX

(Ed. Note: We erred. As Ms. Donaloio correctly states, the Brenner's Park is not part of the Baden-Baden tourist office's discount program. We apologize for any inconvenience we may have caused.)

Suggestions for Swabia

One of the duties of your subscribers is to come clean now and then about some of their secret places, especially when it seems the editor has given too much time and attention to multi-star attractions of Germany. I want to introduce my favorite town in the Stuttgart area, a small Tübingen without all the tourist buses.

Bietigheim-Bissingen is at the confluence of the little Metter and the Enz rivers, just before the latter empties into the Neckar some 20 miles north of Stuttgart, and has all the character that the towns along the Neckar Valley are noted for and then some. The town recently celebrated its 1200th anniversary. The Innenstadt is especially nice, with its extensive Fussgangerzone and large number of restored Fachwerk houses. A self-guided tour points out a number of local points of interest. The earlier fountains, parts of the original town wall and lower gate still exist. It has a nice little museum in a restored 16C building next to the Rathaus and a unique series of bronze statues set along the main part of the walking area, capped by a couple of controversial modern pieces at either end.

Only a few miles north, is the town of Besigheim, which also has an intimate Innenstadt with a nicely restored Rathaus. If you go, don't forget this is a wine region with its share of Stüble and that in the fall offers a number of Besenwirtschaften, or temporary restaurants at the farmhouses, offering local meat and drink specialties. Leave your calorie and cholesterol counter at home. Although the hotel accommodations directly in Bietigheim are perhaps a little modest for some tastes, I usually stay in the Hotel Rose, convenient to walking in the old town. There are others listed in the Michelin Guide.

To my mind the best accommodations and restaurant in the immediate area are in the Alder Asperg, which is certainly worth a stop for Swabian specialties. There are lots of other good restaurants in the region, including Gasthaus Schiller right on the Marktplatz in Bietigheim, the aforementioned Hotel Rose (try the salmon fillet on a bed of spinach) or the Enztal in Bissingen (with a north German cook), but then there's no sense in giving it all away.

Go and enjoy a bit of small city Swabia, but if you have started to understand the Swabian dialect, you've been at the bottle too hard ("staring into the glass too deeply", they say).

Robert Barbarin

Los Angeles CA

(U.S. Dollar prices quoted in this issue of Gemütlichkeit may be inaccurate for these reasons:

* Prices in local currency have not been updated since the date of publication of this newsletter, and...

* The dollar prices shown were obtained by using exchange rates in effect at the time of publication.)

March 1995