Bad Antogast is a small village located in the Black Forest in southwestern Germany, close to the French border and the city of Strasbourg. It consists of less than a dozen houses and farms, all nestled into a narrow valley and surrounded by lush forest.
The name "Bad Antogast" intrigues many visitors. "Bad" simply refers to a place wherea natural spring with medicinal water can be found. The word "Antogast" is comprised of two parts. The first two syllables, "Anto," refer to Saint Antonius, a hermit who is said to have lived before 1300 AD. According to the historian Josef Boersig, a chapel dedicated to Saint Antonius was constructed in this same valley in the Black Forest around 1300. The names "Antegast" and "Antengast" can be found in records dating from as early as 1316. The factthat a chapel was constructed so long ago in such a remote valley prompts historians to believe that, even in ancient times, people came to the area for the healing water.
Saint Antonius is known as the patron saint of cattle breeders and medieval hospitals. This might indicate that a small harborage for people seeking recovery already existed when the chapel was built. The last syllable "gast" (from German "Gischt" = froth) may refer to carbonic acid in the water of the natural spring, which makes the water sparkle. It could also simply refer to "guest" ("Gast" in German), giving the whole name the meaning: "Guest of Antonius". The Antonius spring was dicovered around 1250, and isthe oldest of five natural springs in this area. Bad Antogast is mentioned in a treatise about healing springs, written by Dr. Phriess in 1519 and praising the good qualities of the water: "healing and widely famous acidulous mineral water...used internally and externally for drinking and bathing". Beginning around 1590, bishop Johann IV. of Strassburg started promoting the region's healing springs, especially the one known as Antogast.
Detailed records from the Generallandesarchiv in Karlsruhe note many changes in ownership of the spring and adjacent buildings over the centuries. The estate was sold on the 23rd of June 1642 for 700 gulden (pieces of gold), then in 1661 for 1900 gulden. Just four years later, the property was sold again. Between 1640 and 1761, Bad Antogast changed ownership five times, selling for ever-increasing sums. From 1761 until the first World War, the "acidulous spring" belonged to the Huber family from Maisach, a small village close to Bad Antogast. The Huber family enlarged the property, and from 1850-1914 Bad Antogast blossomed to become a fashionable Spa with wide recognition. Guests from the Netherlands, France, England, Russia and America came to the noblemen and royalty of that time, to have their hot chocolate in the dining hall of the exclusive SPA Bad Antogast. During his stay at the health Spa in Bad Peterstal in 1871, even the Russian tzar Alexander II and his cortege visited Bad Antogast. After some additions had been made to the buildings, a 150-year jubilee celebration of "Bad Antogast in possession of the Huber family" was held in 1911. Only three years later, in 1914, the Hubers sold the Spa.
From 1914 until 1918, Bad Antogast was the property of the Mannheim Health Fund. They in turn sold it to the Insurance Agency of Baden County who decided to convert the Spa to a lung-care center. After the second World War, Bad Antogast became a refugee camp. Both the worker uprising on the 17th of June 1953 in Eastern Germany, and the Hungarian revolt of 1956 sent waves of refugees into the remote valley. In 1964, the complex was acquired by Dr. Herbert Kienle and, after some renovation work, was developed into a Spa-hotel. The older generation in the area still enjoys remembering having coffee and dance parties at Bad Antogast during that time. When the regional council officially recognized the Antonius spring as a medicinal spring in 1969 – which also officially granted the privilege of carrying the title "Bad" in the name, the local populace rejoiced at having Bad Antogast re-established. On the 22nd of May that same year, the Ministry of Economy of Baden-Würtemberg awarded the appellation "Medicinal spring – Spa" to Bad Antogast.
In the 1980s, however, Bad Antogast fell into decline. Under proprietor Hubert Froehlich, who purchased the House in 1990, it was used for housing late resettlers from eastern Europe and the former USSR for four years. Finally, in 1995, the Art of Living Foundation, formerly called "society for inner growth" in Germany, acquired the complex. Dr. Eberhard Baumann, who had been instructed by Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar to find a place for a European Center for the Art of Living, recalls his first visit with Gurudev and a few others to the derelict buildings of Bad Antogast: "There was rubbish everywhere. The facade over the courtyard was only held in place by chains and ropes." In most of the rooms they found heaps of trash, which had accumulated for more than five decades. Most of the sanitary facilities had been damaged by severe winter frosts. After the tour, nobody in the group still thought about buying the place. Nobody but one: "Go ahead, buy it!" Gurudev whispered to Baumann three times.
Since that day, the complex has been thoroughly renovated and refurbished by volunteers from all over the world. The first volunteers faced truly harsh conditions, Baumann remembers : "They were hanging the new wallpaper at eight degrees below zero. We had to remove the ice from the walls with gas torches first." However, the preparations for the first big celebration had to be finished in time.
Many big celebrations have happened in Bad Antogast since then. Those among us who have already been to Bad Antogast will remember the nicely renovated and decorated rooms and reception area. The main hall for satsangs and courses and the spring hall (where the healing spring is located) are now perfect places for meditation and celebration. When Swami Yogananda, who was 101 years old at the time, visited the Center in 2010, he noticed that the surroundings looked just like the lower Himalayas. And that really is a good description for this beautiful place and the serene, relaxing atmosphere it exudes – perfect for going into silence and retreat. Yet, it is not as hard to reach as the actual Himalayas, and open to the world! Today the Center has rooms for many guests.
Visitors to the Center have become an important element in the regional tourism business.
The Center focuses on buying exclusively locally grown foods and services, strengthening the local economy in the adjacent village of Oppenau and forming strong connections with villagers in the area. This might also be one of the reasons that the Center, its inhabitants and guests are warmly welcomed by the locals, and that occasions like the day of open doors are happily seized upon by them.
Finally, this place is most blessed to have Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar visiting quite often, and who once said: "Bangalore Ashram is my office, Bad Antogast is my home."