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Bad Ems is a small spa town (Kurort) in North-East Rhineland-Palatinate whose main claim to fame and indeed paragraph in world history is being the site of the "Ems Dispatch", a telegram that played an important part in the outbreak of the 1870 Franco-Prussian war and thus the foundation of modern Germany, indirectly leading to World War I and World War II. Bad Ems is one of 11 "Great Spa Towns of Europe", an international UNESCO world heritage site that includes famous Belle Epoque Spas throughout Europe.



Ems Dispatch—making world history while on Kur

In the summer of 1870, the Prussian King Wilhelm (born 1797) spent his well earned Kur in Bad Ems, a town Prussia had only recently acquired in the 1866 Austro-Prussian War. Unfortunately for him, business did not rest and he was approached by French ambassador Vincent Benedetti about a long simmering diplomatic issue—the vacant Spanish throne. A member of Wilhelm's extended family, Leopold, Prince of Hohenzollern, had been put forth by Spanish revolutionaries as a candidate for the Spanish kingship and France under Napoleon III coming from what it perceived to be numerous diplomatic or military defeats wanted to avoid being "encircled" by German princes on its western and eastern border. While Leopold himself had already rejected the offer, the French foreign minister instructed his ambassador to demand of Wilhelm a categorical rejection of any German claim to the Spanish throne now and in the future. Wilhelm, while polite and noncommittal, refused to agree to such a demand and told the ambassador as much. When the ambassador came to ask the same question again (Wilhelm had meanwhile received notice that Leopold's family had officially rejected the offer), he had his adjutant (roughly equivalent to an aide de camp) Anton von Radziwill tell the French ambassador that all that needed to be said had been said and the King's decision would not change and that he would not grant another audience to the ambassador.

While these events in and of themselves may not seem like a diplomatic "incident" of any kind and indeed weren't even by the standards of the time, Heinrich Abeken, a civil servant present in Bad Ems at the time, wrote a dispatch to inform Prussian prime minister Otto von Bismarck, who remained in Berlin, of the events. This dispatch has come to be known in history as the "Ems Dispatch" or Emser Depesche. The original dispatch contained a suggestion to inform the press of the events which Wilhelm had apparently made and Bismarck did just that, releasing the original dispatch in a shortened and redacted form, that made it appear as if Wilhelm had been rude to the French ambassador and which furthermore made the demand of the French ambassador seem entirely unreasonable. It also made it appear as if von Radziwill were some minor clerk, and given that it was he who told Benedetti that a further audience had been denied this must have been perceived as an insult by the French government. Both the German and the French press quickly published this Bismarckian version of the dispatch, fueling nationalistic fervor and leading France to declare war on Prussia on 19 July. France did not expect the Southern German states to ally with Prussia and had expected to find allies in Russia or Austria or Great Britain, but found itself without allies. The Prussian army was able to mobilize rapidly with an advanced railroad network, beating the main body of the French army within two months, and Napoleon III was captured near Sedan in early September. The war raged on until 1871 with the residents of Paris being reduced to consuming rats and zoo animals, which later led to the Paris Commune uprising, which was bloodily suppressed by the new Third Republic. France ultimately lost Alsace and parts of Lorraine, a German state was declared in Versailles with Bismarck the chancellor and the humiliating defeat led to a sense of revanchism in France that erupted in the First World War some forty-four years after the Ems Dispatch.

Apparently the Roman Empire maintained a small military garrison in this town of which nothing remains, however. The extant settlement is first mentioned in 880 CE but was likely settled by the Franks in the 6th century CE already.

It gained the privilege to call itself "city" in 1324. Subsequently the town became an important Kurort which could be translated as "spa". Basically a "Kur" is a rather uniquely German thing where a person plagued by various real or supposed illnesses goes to a place whose air, water or both is reputed to be a cure of said ailments, returning in best health or at least somewhat rejuvenated. To this day German health insurers often pay for (part of) the costs of such treatments when medically indicated. During the heyday of Bad Ems a Kur was however largely a preserve of the rich and the famous and indeed it was during a Kur of Prussian King Wilhelm (soon to be German Emperor Wilhelm I) that this town earned itself its place in European and perhaps world history. Ems, which gained the title "Bad" (literally "bath" but could be translated as "spa-town") in 1913 remained a favorite hangout for the rich and the famous and people like Czar Nicholas I of Russia, the aforementioned Wilhelm I of Germany, Czar Alexander II of Russia, composer Richard Wagner, writer Fyodor Dostoevsky and artist Vasily Vereshchagin spent time here.

Get in


By train

  • 1 Bad Ems station. Quite a beautiful (and heritage listed) station despite the small size of the town, built in the 19th century for the various Kurgäste to arrive in style. Bad Ems station (Q17310439) on Wikidata Bad Ems station on Wikipedia

Get around

Map of Bad Ems

The town is small and should be walkable, except for some hills that are a bit on the steep side. Thankfully there is the 1 Kurwaldbahn Kurwaldbahn on Wikipedia to get you up one of those hills.


  • 1 Kurhaus. Kurhaus Bad Ems (Q1385323) on Wikidata
  • 2 Künstlerhaus Schloss Balmoral. Schloss Balmoral (Q1676612) on Wikidata
  • 3 Karlsburg (Vier-Türme-Haus ("Four tower house")). (Q1733911) on Wikidata
  • 4 Bismarckturm. Like many, many towns in Germany—most of them with only tenuous connections to the statesman—Bad Ems has its very own "Bismarck Tower". This one opened in 1901. It is some 12.5 m (41 ft) tall, but cannot be climbed, as the stairs inside it were removed. It is still a somewhat interesting architectural feature, and unlike in other towns, Bad Ems can actually claim a (telegraphic) link to Bismarck Bismarck Tower (Bad Ems) (Q866487) on Wikidata


  • 1 Emser Therme. A public bath opened in December 2012 Emser Therme (Q24706437) on Wikidata











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