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Bad seems to be a frequent component of German place names (e.g. Bad Bergzabern, Bad Doberan, Bad Schandau ...) Why is this, and what is the meaning of Bad in this context?

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The German "Bad" corresponds to the English "Spa". Towns containing a "Heilbad" may carry the protected title "Bad" and many of them do.

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    Fun fact: The German city Aachen used to be called Bad Aachen, until they removed the "Bad" from their name. People claim/joke that this was done so that Aachen will be the first city in any alphabetically ordered list. – Dirk Sep 1 '17 at 8:34
  • And indeed the English town Bath is for the same reason. – Jon Hanna Sep 1 '17 at 16:49
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    @DirkLiebhold Which helps a lot, but not all the way, because Aalen has a license plate city code of AA which precedes AC of Aachen. Just saying (Greetings from Aachen) – Martin Hennings Sep 1 '17 at 16:56
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    @MartinHennings of course you cannot beet Augsburg on the license plate. ;) – Gerhardh Sep 2 '17 at 1:16
  • @JonHanna Not to mention Leamington Spa and Matlock Bath. – Mike Scott Sep 2 '17 at 11:09
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German towns can participate in a certification process to allow to carry a rating as Bad in their town name.

By German federal law strict prerequisites have to be met by an applicant, e.g.:

  • presence of certain scientifically proven healing substances in the soil (like minerals, salts, radiation or the like)
  • regularly analyzed healthy climate
  • institutions that offer certain therapies or wellness facilities
  • some characteristics usually found in these towns (e.g. a town hall, parks)
  • scientifically acknowledged therapies and medical doctors who offer these treatments

So in summary a town prefixed by Bad is a certified spa.

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    Does that mean a town can also lose the right to use "Bad" as a part of its name? Has it happened? – Beta Sep 2 '17 at 7:40
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    This is one of the most German things I have ever read. :) – Federico Poloni Sep 2 '17 at 7:54
  • @Beta - not sure about that. I believe once granted it becomes an integral part of the name, hence is forever (which is not the case for the terms Kurort, Lufkurort etc.) - a now urban district of Stuttgart still is called Bad Cannstatt. – Takkat Sep 2 '17 at 8:03
  • @Takkat as far as I know, Bad Cannstatt still offers some therapy and there was a fountain which carried certain minerals there. So it should be a certified spa. And here is an article about a city that might lose its title: morgenpost.de/brandenburg-aktuell/article121268341/… – Armin Sep 4 '17 at 17:00
  • @Armin; yes, there still is a famous spa there but it is no longer an own town ;) – Takkat Sep 4 '17 at 17:41
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You asked only about Germany, and TimWolla's answer is also correct for Austria, but not for Switzerland. (These are the three biggest countries where German is an official language.)

The reason, why this is different in different countries, is, because this is a matter of statutory provisions, which are different from nation to nation. To put »Bad« in front of the name of a town has similarities to »Dr.« as part of a persons name.

The word Bad means bath, spa.

In Detail:

In Germany such towns may call themselves »Bad«, which contain a medical spa, that is approved by the national authorities. It also has to have the legal state of a »Stadt« (city).

In Austria, it's not the national authorities who decide which town may carry this title, but the states authorities (Austria has 9 states, Germany has 16 states), and they do it for medical spas, thermal baths and air spas. So you can find towns in Austria, which contain the word »Bad« in their name, but which just have fresh air, but no bath (i.e. no water spa). An example for such a town is Bad Goisern, which lays close to Bad Ischl and Bad Aussee, who both have conventional spas, while there is no conventional spa (but just fresh air) in Bad Goisern.

In Austria a Bad doesn't need to have the legal state of a »Stadt«. Bad Goisern, for example, is not a Stadt (city), it's just a Marktgemeinde (market community).

Italy (»Terme«), France (»les-Bains«), Poland (»Zdrój«) and Serbia (»banja«) have similar regulations for town-titles that refer to spas (which in all four nations stand behind the town's name). But German is not an official language in any of these nations, so there in no Bad in any other nation but Germany and Austria. (One exception is Südtirol, which is a part of Italy. German is an official language in this part of Italy, but city names are created there according to Italian laws, and so there is no Bad in Südtirol.)

German also has the state of an official language in Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg and Belgium, but non of these nations has regulations for town-titles of spas, so no town in those countries contain the word »Bad« in their name.


Bad Fucking

pronunciation: [baːd ˈfʊkɪŋ] (rhymes to "hard booking" in non-rhotic accents, i.e. when the r in hard is silent)

In Austria, there is a little village called Fucking, who's name accidentally is written identically to the progressive form of a famous English verb (but it is pronounced differently). Because of this accidentally similarity, the Austrian Author Kurt Palm wrote a novel named »Bad Fucking« in 2010, and in 2013 the Austrian movie director Harald Sicheritz made a movie (a comedy) with the same title out of this book:

Bad Fucking

But while the little village Fucking really exists, Bad Fucking is just a fictional place, and the part Bad refers to the fact, that this fictional village is an air spa (i.e. has fresh air).

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    Auch in Deutschland ist es Landesrecht, nicht Bundesrecht. Der Kinofilm, der hier die Hälfte Deines Antwortvolumens und durch das Bild den Löwnanteil der Bandbreite dieser gesamten Q&A ausmacht, mag zwar witzig sein, beantwortet die Frage aber nicht wirklich. – Takkat Sep 1 '17 at 7:18
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    ...und in Deutschland ist der Städtebeinamen "Bad" auch nicht automatisch (hauptsächlich) mit Wasser verbunden (auch wenn heutzutage fast jede Stadt wenigstens ein Schwimmbad hat.) - Bad Reichenhall z.B. wird jetzt nicht in erster Linie mit Plantschen verbunden, sondern mit Luft, die Stadt Bad Oldesloe ist gar kein Heilbad und hat den "Titel" nur im Namen. – tofro Sep 1 '17 at 7:29
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    "Bad" kann auch hintergestellt sein, wie z.B. in Karlsbad/Karlovy Vary in Böhmen – Beta Sep 1 '17 at 8:08
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    Und Bad ist nicht an das Stadtrecht geknüpft, wie zum Beispiel der Markt Bad Hindelang im Allgäu zeigt. – Jan Sep 1 '17 at 10:17
  • Und Aachen dürfte ein "Bad" tragen, verzichtet aber darauf, weil sie sonst nicht so weit vorne im Alphabet kommen würden. Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt ist ein "Bad", aber "nur" ein Stadtteil von Stuttgart. – tofro Sep 1 '17 at 13:24

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