Before we begin, let me put it out there. This post is going to involve some talk about nudity, although fortunately no images of myself or anyone else in the nude. No sniggering at the back , please! Especially from the Brits. With that little disclaimer out-of-the-way, on we go.Why, you might wonder, are we talking about getting out of our clothes? So we can talk about something that is a huge part of life here in my adopted home of Germany; the sauna experience.
Germany has one of the biggest spa cultures in Europe, and it is supported by the German Healthcare system. Yep, that’s right. The German healthcare system can prescribe a variety of steam, massage or water treatments where appropriate. Try getting that on the NHS! However, if you seek out a sauna for leisure in Germany, your likely to go to the Thermal Baths, or Therme. A Therme is a collection of saunas, steam rooms and additional areas to relax and recuperate. You might find indoor and outdoor swimming, too. A day at the Therme is a delight, but there is etiquette to be mastered, and a few things to navigate in order to get the most out of your visit….especially if you hail from elsewhere and this is a whole new concept for you.
And that brings me back to the issue of nudity. When entering the Therme, park your inhibitions at the door. When sauna-ing, you will be naked. Swimsuits are a no-no, an artfully draped towel is fine. Some find this difficult. Brits in particular can be a bit prudish, up tight. We associate nakedness with sex. The Germans just don’t have the same association.But let me assure you, if you remain in your swimwear in the sauna you will quickly feel like the oddbod , and are likely to be challenged if not by staff then by a fellow sauna-user. When I first started out, I used to keep my swimsuit on and hide the swimsuit under a towel so as to simultaneously not be naked and yet not be seen to break the rules. I thought I was pretty liberal, until I left home, moved to the Continent and was confronted with Actual. Naked. People.
But there is no need to be alarmed, this co-ed nakedness is governed by some strict etiquette and expectations. Firstly, absolutely no sniggering, giggling, pointing or staring. A quick glance at the fine form is ok, a prolonged gaze is not. Actually, I find most people are too busy enjoying their own experience (or battling their own awkwardness) to be overly concerned with anyone else. So nudity is not without discretion.
Before entering the sauna or using the facilities, it’s a golden rule that you scrub and shower. Although the coming experience will result in you getting very sweaty, you need to start out very clean. Makes good hygienic sense, right? And that brings me neatly to my next point. No flesh on the sauna seating. So although your naked, you must have a towel big enough to sit/ lie on. And one to cover up, if you feel more comfortable that way. That’s personal preference; as long as you act within the etiquette your comfort zone will be respected.
Everyone is there to relax, so no talking above a whisper. Lots of couples sauna together, and that’s fine, but if your there with your other half don’t get too touchy-feely, for obvious reasons. Unless it’s a different kind of Sauna , but I’ll touch on that later….pardon the pun. Post Sauna, there is usually an area to relax before you leave or inbetween cycles. Drink some herbal tea or water, wrap up in a fluffy towel or blanket. Trust me, you’ll need it; all this wellness can tire a person out. For me, the post sauna snuggle is an important part of the ritual. On my last visit to a sauna, an older German Gent actually fell deep asleep in the relaxation lounge and began to snore like a bear. Being British, I was far too polite to wake him but did rant inwardly about him spoiling my relaxation, until his wife came in and smacked him unceremoniously with her book. I felt like high-fiving her.
Its taken me a few years to be really, genuinely comfortable getting naked in public. I’ve not always had brilliant body image; I worried about seeing people I knew; I worried about who was looking and what they thought. Now, I embrace it. And it pays benefits in unexpected ways. When you see people being comfortable naked, in all shapes and sizes, all ages, all just with the intension of doing something good for themselves it rubs off on you. You realise the bodies we see in the media are airbrushed and/or removed from reality. That people are different shapes, some are hairy, some have moles, some have stretch marks, some have none of those and it’s ALL ok. And for me personally, that’s worked wonders for my own self-image and esteem. That’s in addition to the physical health benefits of sauna use which include but aren’t limited to detoxification, a stronger immune system, better sleep patterns, clearer skin and improved circulation.
As a final word, there is another type of ‘sauna und wellness’ in Germany, of a sort less wholesome than the local therme. These places are basically brothels. If you stumble into the wrong one, the etiquette of nakedness might be the least of your worries. But you can usually tell by the literature and advertising what it is your dealing with. As a general rule if it keeps odd opening hours, has a high entrance fee and expects payment on a card then it’s not a wholesome kind of place!
On a serious note I hope you’ve enjoyed a little glimpse into the German sauna world, I hope I’ve convinced you it’s not to be feared; there is nothing sexual or seedy about it. If you’re traveling in Germany or blessed to live here, it’s a ritual worth embracing for all its benefits, or even just once- for the experience!
Until next time,