The town’s emblem is the mighty castle of the Counts of Bentheim, the Burg Bentheim, which was first mentioned in a document from 1116. About 1711, curative sulphur springs were discovered, from which grew the spa with its thermal brine and clinic.
In 1895, Queen Emma of the Netherlands and her 15-year-old daughter Wilhelmina spent several weeks at Bentheim’s baths. Before this, both Otto von Bismarck and Kaiser Wilhelm I had stayed there. In Otto von Bismarck’s honour, a sandstone statue in his likeness was raised on the square that also bears his name, Bismarckplatz, in Bentheim’s inner town. It still stands today, right beneath the castle.
Since 1865, Bentheim has held town rights. In the course of municipal reform in Lower Saxony, the town of Bentheim, the Samtgemeinde (a municipality made up of several centres) of Gildehaus (whose member communities were Gildehaus, Achterberg, Hagelshoek, Holt und Haar, Waldseite and Westenberg) and the communities of Bardel and Sieringhoek merged on 1 March 1974 to form the unified Town of Bentheim. Since 1979, it has been called Bad Bentheim. The constituent community of Gildehaus has been a state-recognized health resort (Erholungsort) since 1982.
After the Second World War, the whole area, along with many other border areas in Germany, would have been annexed by the Netherlands under the Bakker-Schut plan in 1945, but this plan was scuttled by US objections.
Bentheim’s sandstone, known as Bentheimer Gold, which is or was quarried in the main town and Gildehaus, was shipped beyond the old county’s borders between the 15th and 18th centuries into the Münsterland, to East Frisia, into the Netherlands and to Belgium and Denmark. A few examples of important buildings made of this sandstone are the Royal Palace in Amsterdam, the theatre and the Church of Our Lady in Antwerp, the Catholic church in Århus, the Martini Church’s tower in Groningen (completed in 1482) and the City Hall in Münster.
Supposedly, the pedestal on which stands New York’s Statue of Liberty is even made out of Bentheim sandstone, but other German towns, among them Obernkirchen, claim that they furnished the stone for that undertaking.
The golden balls stem from the district’s arms, although it is unclear what they mean there. This same charge is also seen in several other coats of arms from Bentheim district, among them those borne by Nordhorn, Neuenhaus, De Wijk and Geldermalsen.
In the early 19th century, the bearing of these arms was banned. Later, in the late 19th century, the arms consisted simply of 18 golden balls on a red background, without the monogram. In 1955, the town was granted approval by the Lower Saxony ministry of the interior to bear once again the arms originally bestowed upon the town by Count Ernst Wilhelm in the 17th century.
The town’s most prominent emblem, the castle – Burg Bentheim – stands in the town’s centre where it simply cannot be overlooked. The popular tourist site can be visited nowadays as a museum, with or without a guide. The high keep, known as the Pulverturm, or “Powder Tower”, affords visitors a good view over Bad Bentheim.
The Bad Bentheim Sandstone Museum (Bad Bentheimer Sandsteinmuseum) is a museum housed in an historic Bentheim farmer’s townhouse (the farmer in this case was an Ackerbürger, who lived in town and had a townsman’s rights, unlike many farmers ) with additions, which shows the history of Bentheim sandstone (quarrying and use, trade and work) and the stone’s geology. Exhibits like, for instance, Romanesque baptismal fonts from the 12th and 13th centuries or fossils, to mention the two permanent exhibits, may be seen here.
Another museum is the Museum for Radio and Broadcasting History (Museum für Radio- und Funkgeschichte) in the Haus des Gastes (“The Guest’s House”) right beneath the castle on Schlossstraße, which runs alongside it. In the same building is also found the tourist information centre.
The Franzosenschlucht (“Frenchman’s Gorge”) is found right next to the open-air theatre, the so-called Bentheimer Freilichtbühne (open-air stage). The Bad Bentheim open-air plays have an unusual venue set in three disused quarries, thereby offering an extraordinary natural backdrop. In summer plays are staged here. Often special events are held here such as nighttime performances.
The Haus Westerhoff is said to be one of the town’s loveliest farmer’s townhouses (Ackerbürgerhäuser), with its beginnings in 1656. Between 1989 and 1991, it was professionally restored. Today, artists and craftsmen display their works there.
Also worth seeing is the Evangelical Reformed church with its Calvinistic interior décor, within which, among others, Count Arnold II zu Bentheim-Tecklenburg lies buried. It was built in 1696 on the site of the former early Gothic church from 1321, of which only bits are now maintained, such as a Gothic room and the Count’s crypt that lies thereunder. Today it is a plain Baroque church in the middle of which stands an old stone pulpit. In the graveyard around the church are found impressive, centuries-old gravestones of importance to art history.
The Roman Catholic Church of St. John the Baptist (Kirche St. Johannes Baptist) with its Baroque interior lies west of the Schlosspark and comes from the time of the Counterreformation. At Count Ernst Wilhelm’s behest, it was built in 1670 from Bentheim sandstone.
Outside, the building is rather plain, but inside there are stately, early Baroque altars and remains of the original glazing in the windows in the north wall.
Other sightseeing highlights include:
The so-called Weggen wegbringen is an old tradition still practised in Bad Bentheim and the old county. The Weggen is a metre-long loaf of raisin bread brought by friends and neighbours after a child’s birth to the family to celebrate the newborn’s future. The Weggen is borne for this endeavour on a ladder.
Another cultural “hallmark”, in this case culinary, is the Bentheimer Moppen. These are rather hard, long-keeping biscuits baked with a great deal of caraway, and are eaten in Bad Bentheim and Schüttorf, as well as the neighbouring areas, mainly around Christmastime. They are supposed to be an especial treat if dipped beforehand in coffee. The caraway gives them a flavour that sets them very much apart from the usual Christmastime treats.
There has been recent talk of connecting Oldenzaal and Bad Bentheim with a trainservice. Full details are not yet known, but both cities show great interest in this connection.
The town’s biggest employers are:
In summer a water fountain runs in the Schlosspark, which shoots up into the air from a flat, sandstone basin. In winter, the water is pumped out and the fountain does not run. This fountain is surrounded by symmetrically laid-out rosebeds, themselves enclosed by hedges. In winter, the towsfolk, especially the younger ones, come to the park to run their sleds down the steep slopes in the south part of the park, right beneath the castle. In late summer (on the last Saturday in August), the Bad Bentheim flea market is held. Even by early morning, traders and private dealers are on their way to market so that they can be sure of getting a good place.
Since 2006, there has been a high rope course in the southwestern part of the park, not far from the children’s playground.
The same carpark, near which also stands the Bad Bentheim Sandstone Museum, is free the year round for cars and caravans when special events are not being held. These include the aforesaid kermises and the flea market, as well as the town shooting festival, which is only held every other year.
Also Herr Dr. h. c. Hans-Carl Deilmann was awarded the town’s honours when his business, Deilmann AG (now KCA Deutag), employing more than 8,000 in the 1970s, took a leading part in the economic upswing in Bentheim and the old county. To honour Deilmann, Deilmannstraße in Bad Bentheim was named after him.