German Sauna – is everyone going to be, like…Naked?! Are men and women in the same sauna? Americans cringe at the thought. Is the some kind of perverted ritual? Reading a American woman’s review of a German hotel recently, she stated “my daughter tried to use the sauna but inside was an old creepy guy – NAKED!!! Here’s a typical case of misunderstood custom. OK, maybe the old guy was creepy, but it is perfectly normal to be naked in a sauna. Imagine this – Germans think it absolutely disgusting that we Americans wear a bathing suit into a sauna. Do you have any idea, goes the thinking, of how much bacteria is accumulated in that fabric?! Think about it a bit and you’ll realize that there’s a valid argument there. So let’s discuss what you can expect if you swallow your puritan pride and venture into a German sauna…
Changing: Sometimes the changing areas are co-ed, but there are often little changing closets – you should go inside, take your clothes off and wrap a towel around yourself before you exit.
Towels: The towel is the key. When you enter the sauna, you will have the towel wrapped around yourself. When you find a place to sit, you spread out he towel taking care that no drop of your sweat will land on anything but the towel.
Aufguss: The “Aufguss” is almost a ceremony. At many saunas, there will be a list of the various saunas and an “Aufguss” schedule. At this time the Sauna Master comes in and puts water on the rocks. Then, he or she takes a large towel and swirls it around to ensure the heat is well distributed. You many also see some sit up straight and put their hands behind their head. This posture invites the Sauna Master to take his/her towel and direct a blast of hot, steamy air directly at you.
Exit: When you can’t take anymore, you need to exit the sauna quickly. Whatever you do, don’t hold the door open any longer than absolutely necessary. Directly outside the sauna, there will be showers. You are expected to wash yourself off in the shower.
Cool-down: Many saunas will have large swimming pools for you to swim and relax in between saunas visits. Some will have bubbles, waterfalls, and various fountains and you will see many people frolicking in them. There are also various chairs and you are invited to relax and even take a little snooze. All of this is quite the relaxing experience – all in the Roman tradition of Roman baths. In fact, you’ll see many Latin words that you should be familiar with: Tepidarium is a warm bath or a warm room for relaxation. Frigidarium is the cold bath and the Caldarium is like a hot tub. I’ve been in two large sauna complexes in Germany: Schwabenquellen in Stuttgart and Therme Erding, near Munich. These are massive complexes with many different styles of saunas. Some are traditional Finnish dry saunas, others are steam rooms, some are Turkish-styled Hammams. There are many saunas of different temperatures – some with new age music and lights. At Therme Erding, the Sauna area is separate from an indoor water park. To visit the water park, just put your trunks back on! The are other sauna options as well. In Bad Tölz, just south of Munich, there is an amazing water park called Alpamare. Here you can swim, slide, and even surf. They also have a small Sauna area and, in this case, the men and women are separate. The city of Munich offers its citizens a large selection of municipal swimming halls and Saunas:
- Bad Forstenrieder Park
- Müller´sches Volksbad
These typically offer indoor and sometimes outdoor swimming pools. Many of them also have co-ed saunas. However, there are is usually one or two days a week that the sauna is reserved for women only. This is called Damentag.Also, many of these municipal complexes in Munich also have a fitness area, so you can get in a full work-out before you relax. Personally, I really enjoy sauna. I live in a part of the country with a large population of Finns – people from Finland. Did you know that the only Finnish word used in English is the word “Sauna?” We are also very particular in the way we pronounce it here: It is correctly said SOW-na. The rest of you are completely wrong when you say SAW-na. Here in the U.P. it is also considered “normal” to take sauna naked, but co-ed sauna is reserved for families. A fixture of hunting camp, we’ll even do crazy things like run outside and roll around in the snow to cool off. I’ve even heard of a people cutting two holes in the ice in a lake and stringing a rope through them. You jump in one hole and pull yourself out through the next one! It’s also fairly common to have a sauna inside the room: I have an electric one in the basement and use it weekly in the winter time.
One of the best sauna experiences I ever had was in Siberia. There it’s called Banya. I visited our former Russian exchange student and his dad took me to their Bayna at their Dacha . The heat of the sauna was just like the Finnish sauna, but in this case you don’t just sit around. I was laid flat on a bench and then whacked with the branch of a birch tree, with the leaves still on. The leaves were super-heated in a bucket of water that had been in the Bayna the entire day. Every part of my back side was whacked in succession. After the beating, I was doused with a bucket of ice cold water. I was then allowed to go outside and was given a cold beer. Once the beer was gone, I was taken back inside and laid on my back this time. Again, I was beaten with the birch branch and got a rinse of cold water. Back outside, we had another beer and I was invited to sit in the sunshine. My legs were absolute jello and relaxation was complete. After a dinner of Shashlik and lots of vodka, the process was complete!