Why My First Visit to a German Sauna Will Be My Last One

People enjoying a German sauna

My first visit to a German sauna, will likely also be my last.

J.P. (my then German fiance, now husband) loves the sauna and kept persuading me to go with him.  Knowing that not only is everyone nude, but that bathing suits are not allowed (for health reasons, of all reasons)   I needed some convincing.   Knowing how competitive I am, he resorted to challenging me  “Are you too chicken?”   Eventually I gave in, I hate being called a “chicken”. Besides, I did want the whole sauna experience. But I did it on my terms – in our small hotel in Dresden, over 500km from Stuttgart, where my chances of running into anyone we knew would be extremely low.

When we entered the sauna there was only one other woman there.  I was extremely relieved that we would have our space.  J.P. had been chiding me with stories about how sometimes the sauna is so packed that you’re sitting skin to skin next to sweaty strangers on either side.  The idea repulsed me.  I like my personal space when I’m fully clothed, let alone when I’m completely naked.  Although the idea is to relax and unwind, I kept my eye suspiciously on the door at all times. Ready to make a quick exit at the first sight of any character I deemed unsavory and did not wish to sweat with in the small enclosed wooden sauna.  In other words,  pretty much anyone who entered.

In fairness to the German sauna experience, it’s not creepy as I am making it out to be.  I just feel extremely uncomfortable being naked in the presence of strangers,.  It was for the same reason  Why I Was Scared to Have Surgery in a German Hospital.  I’m also Socially Awkward in Germany with my clothes on, so I’m guessing even more so when I’m buck naked.  But despite being naked, there is nothing sexual about saunas in Germany.  Staring is not acceptable behavior and will result in a strong public tongue lashing. So I’ve heard.

Germans are much more comfortable with being naked than many of us are who come from North America.  On several occasions J.P. has asked me if I want to go to the sauna with him and his friends.  Let me think about that for a moment….Do I want to see his friends naked?  No.  Do I want them to see me naked? Definitely not – the thought  is completely mortifying.  When I asked J.P. whether it would bother him if his friends saw me naked he responded with a rather confused “Why would it?”  This surprised me because most men I know in North America definitely do not want their friends seeing their significant other naked.  Being naked in Germany is not a big deal. While I appreciate and admire many German’s ability to feel comfortable with their bodies regardless of their shape (not all Germans have hard beach bodies), it’s not something I see myself embracing anytime soon, even in a hospital – Culture Shock in a German Hospital.

The other interesting thing, although perhaps not surprising thing about German saunas are all the rules.  Many Germans believe that you need to stay in the sauna at least 15 minutes to get all the health benefits a sauna offers.  When I started feeling faint after 5 minutes, J.P. insisted I couldn’t leave for another 10 minutes.  I lasted another 2 minutes and then left – health benefits or not, I didn’t think fainting was very healthy.  It’s common for Germans to spend several hours at a sauna. Alternating between the sauna, the cooling off, either by jumping in a cold pool, going outside if it’s cold outside or taking a cold shower, then relaxing and there’s a set period of time before you should go in the sauna again.  I’ve forgotten what it is, along with many of the other German sauna rules, but I know there are a lot of them.

If you ever want to get into an interesting discussion ask someone from Finland, who love their saunas even more than the Germans,  what they think about all the rules of a German sauna.  Hint – not so much.  Do this in the presence of  a German who will then explain to the Finn why each of the rules is necessary. meanwhile the Finn rebuffs each of the explanations.  Some of the finest entertainment I’ve had while in Germany and educational too!

I’m glad that I’ve experienced a German sauna, but I’m not sad that my first visit will likely be my last visit (never say never).  Even with a bathing suit on, I don’t enjoy saunas since after a few minutes I feel like I’m going to faint. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything by not going.  “Nicht für mich (not for me), but having said, a lot of people do enjoy a sauna and find it extremely relaxing.

Have you been to a sauna in Germany?

 

Comments

  1. says

    The idea of sitting so close to naked strangers repulses me too! Haha, and I’m not sure fainting is really worth these supposed “health benefits”

  2. says

    I have been to saunas, though not in Germany. You really shouldn’t wear a bathing suit – you can use a towel for modesty but you don’t want lycra sticking to you! But the ones I’ve been to have mostly been single sex. I have no desire to sweat it out with strange men either, though I’m fine with partial nudity in front of other women. It’s just like getting changed at the pool.

  3. Galimir says

    Yeah,those funny Americans again…First of all for all those who wander at our European speedos-well,we wonder at these big shorts all the Americans are wearing at the beach-what after getting wet are the most uncomfortable thing to wear I can imagine…Especially thinking I love beoing nude everywhere,epsecially on the beach and in the sauna,where is hot and some stupid little wet piece of cloth is really bothering me,as Ive got to used of not wearing it for many years and feel very unnatural this funny custom to wear clothes where unnesesary.As for the reasons beside the simply practical ones-the social ones.Well its all social conditioning,nothing more.Human body is sacred and beautiful and there is nothing dirty or ugly about (of course if its not fat and out of shape-but it doesnn really make a difference if you see an old fat German man with or without bathing suit-its the same ugliness :) I rather have really a problem with the funny American customs-its OK to see violence,blood and porn on the media from all sides,but its not OK to see somebodys simple innocent naked butt! Isnt it funny? So being a Bulgarian,who has lived for 15 years in Czech Republic(and working as a masseur professionally:),I can tell you a lots about saunas… Czech sauna is pretty much like German,probably with less rules.. Czechs also dont have problem with nudity and get naked very quickly and without any special bothering:) What I found really great,as I naturally always have been this way,even before in Bulgaria,what is a bit more conservative in this relation…. So we use to go very often during the cold months to sauna in Prague with my Czech wife,and she enjoyed it exactly as much as me,as well as the nudist beaches in the summer…The saunas have never been packed like this described in Germany…Except probably one indian one we organized in Northern Czech in the forrest in a teepee,where everybody was butt naked (mixed sex) and so packed inside skin to skin in the dark I could hardly breath.But it was awesome experience!
    Funny,but we almost got fine with my wife on a beach in Washington State just after 911 for being naked-we dont even understand how the rangers got the signal,as we were pretty much alone on an empty beach few hundred meters in each direction,not bothering anyone… I guess some crazy American bible belt grandma got scandalized from seeing us naked from few hundred meters away …or something… Its a crazy country over there… I would not give away the Central and Northern European sauna and beach culture for anything! Thats my thoughts about it.Have a nice sauna! I am in Stuttgart right now and cant wait to try the German saunas!

    • says

      @Galimir – Yeah, the cultural differences are interesting. I’m Canadian and find public nudity a bit off, but you’re right, I’m so used to seeing the violence on TV that it doesn’t bother me in the least.

      I didn’t realize that the Czech Republic was so open to nudity. Very interesting observations, thank you for sharing.

      • Galimir says

        Yep,one year in Stuttgart is behind me and lots of naked hours too :) First I tryed the FKK section of the public swimming pool Unterturkheim,what was great and much less stuffed with millions of ppl than the textile section,who go there in the summer,attracted from the good facilities and the cheap price – 4.10 EUR per day! But now the sun is a bit dissapearing and I tryed Leuze Minerallbad-very cool spa,with lots of different saunas,pools with mineral water (where you can even drink from the pipe filling the pool-bubbly water coming from underground downtown Stuttgart!) and outdoor area. The evening hours one can swim naked even in some of the pools,what is cool! The aromatic infusions by the tough guys coming to the sauna and swirling those wet towls towards the naked croud waves of hellish hot vapour0first time I didnt know what to expect and how long it will take so at certain moment thought I would pass out from the heat,if it keeps going like this for much longer (under the approving groans of the old sauna addicts “ja ja..gut!”..).But after the delivery outside it feels really like a reborn-I cant cool down for quite a while after this heatshock-one needs to take a cold shower,wiping with artificial snow,evaporating a bit in the outdoor area (on a terrace looking towards the river Neckar) and jumping probably to the cold pool! Very cool place for a comparatively cheap price – 10EUR/3h,15 EUR/whole day(you can definitely spent many hours around the area,there are nice quite rooms where one can even get a nap and keep going.Definitely recommended,even though I find the atmosphere in the German sauna a bit more uptight than the Czech,more tensed and strict in term of rules like the obligatory towl under you on the wooden benches in the sauna (got yelled at pretty rudely by some old man the first time,when I didnt have a towl and sat straight onthe bench like I got used from Czech)…

      • Galimir says

        Oh and one more thingy.I actully find the German ppl,both men and women,for some of the most assexual ppl Ive seen,much more than the Czechs,who are sometimes throwing pretty cheese sexual looks (Im noticing mostly the women of course! :) ) both on the nude beach or in sauna. So I really dont see any reason for worries of this kind in Germany.I as a man actually enjoy some eye contact or looks with unknown women in such situations(not that I am looking for it,or other things,but its just pleasant) and I even find it a bit boring in Germany,where looks like the women-even not only in saunas and alike but even on the street act like they dont care about anybody else then themselves or the eventual company with what they might be alking and talking… Its a bit hard to explain,but one of the things I absolutely loved in Czech Republic was that as a man one feels all the time “noticed” or “recognized” by women,who are very open for contact with unknown men and easy to access to,what is not like that even in my native Bulgaria,where much more eye contact is going on between ppl on the street,but the women are kind of nosy and harder to approach… In few cases in fact I was approached (being a handsome young man :) ) by some women directly on the nudist beach in Czech…I thought was dreaming,when I saw in one of these cases this beautiful young blondish Czech lady,bending over me with her naked breast in my face,asking me if I mind having a beer with her brunette friend over there (waving to me) in the nude caffee on the beach ! The 2 turned out to be extremely horny,and after the beer,they were all over me on their spot and almost drugged me with force in the nearby trees to fuck them :) Unfortunately back then I wasnt speaking good Czech,was still pretty unexperienced with women and was following a wrong strategy,not sure what exactly to do..and last but not least,I honestly got a bit scared,because of the unusuality of the situation-back in Bulgaria men go after women,not the other way round,so I guess I was pretty confused and unsecure of what to expect from the 2 charming Czech amazons :) I had few other cases,but not so direct.. So yeah,Czech girls are pretty hot and sexual sometimes… you can see how one can get bored easily in Germany :)

      • Galimir says

        Oh and the most important.I work now as a masseur in an FKK night club (like a brothell),so every day Im simply surrounded by around 40 young naked girls,trying to seduce me all the time (as pretty much the only normal good liking guy around,in difference of the old fat beer bellied German men,who come as their sex clients) and the normal German sauna is for me like a nice little innocent daisy pond of tranquility,where you can relax from the sexuality and the lust :) hehehe :)

  4. Dan says

    As an American who travels in Germany frequently, I’ve always wanted to try Sauna or a Spa/Therme, but have been really uncomfortable about the nudity. I am no Adonis and packing quite a few extra pounds…so there is the element of just being uncomfortable with my physique as well as being nude in front of other people. Nudity is totally sexualized in the US (and other Anglo-based cultures) and we are shamed by it in general, but I finally gave it a shot a few weeks ago.

    I was totally daunted by the fact that the sauna area was just out there in the open on the way to the public pool. A steam sauna cabin, a dry sauna cabin, and two shower stalls seperating them (with a clear glass divider between showers). You are on full display to anyone in the saunas or walking by as you disrobe, shower, etc. Luckily, I was the only one there to start with, shucked down, showered, dried off, and hit the steam sauna. Feeling totally exposed and utterly vulnerable, I sat hunched on the middle bench and slowly, slowly relaxed. Then…it happened…a nude German couple of 40 or so came in and sat on the top bench…the woman bumping her naked rump into me accidentally. After a little panic, I relaxed and got used to it.

    After a couple heat up/cool down rounds (cool down in the hotel pool…in a bathing suit) and seeing a lot of other naked people in various states of age and physique, I was over it.

    I was travelling for a month in Germany and returned to the hotel each weekend where I found a 3 hour session with mulitple runs in the dry and steam saunas with relaxation in between was fantastically relaxing and I look forward to doing it again and will definitely try one of the big Spa/Therme water park places with my wife or alone.

    Yeah, it was weird, nerve racking at first, and very odd for an American, but I got over it quick and realized that nobody was judging or looking…and if they were, so what, I’ll never see ‘em again. I can tell you that laying flat out naked on the top bench of the sauna with yer junk hanging out, having a conversation with a naked 70yr old lady (and her husband) who is looking up the length of you to see your face is pretty odd. lol. In those 3 weekends, I think more people saw my naked butt than had previously seen it ever…and I’m talking doctors, nurses, and all those relatives who changed my diapers, lol. Its no biggie when you get used to it.

    Am I ready to go to a German nudist summer camp or go naked sauna-ing with my coworkers (like the Finns)? Hells no…..but a few strangers in hotel sauna, sure.

    • says

      @Dan – I’m impressed for building up the courage, it’s not easy when you didn’t grow up with nudity. Glad to hear that it was an overall good experience. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Natalia says

    My husband and I enjoying German saunas every year. We have been to many thermens all over Germany. So far our favorite are Carolus Thermen in Aachen and Rupertus Therme in Bad-Reichenhall, Bavaria. As for being naked in sauna, nobody really cares. Germans are going to sauna for health benefits and relaxation, not for looking at the others bodies. Too bad we don’t have the sauna culture in Canada.

    • says

      @Natalia – Glad to hear that you enjoy them. Thanks for the recommendation. Bad-Reichenhall is not far from Munich so that’s good to know.

  6. says

    Cool Post. I live in Germany and feel bad if I miss my weekly Sauna day. In fact, it’s healthy. But never stay longer inside then you feel comfortable. The rules are not fixed. You can go in, out, relax, shower, sweat or cool down in any order you like it. After a while you will find your personal style. Don’t be afraid of the others. They are just naked humans.

    • says

      @Crischo – Good advice, thank you. I’ve gone a few more times since and enjoy it a bit more when I stay for shorter periods of time, but I think I’ve realized I’m not a sauna person.

      • says

        I totally agree with crischo. The rule of 15 minutes use only like recommendation. But sauna should be comfortable. I personally start with 8 minutes in dry finish sauna, cool down in pool. Second round I usually go for longer time. But it should be still comfortable. If you feel any problems, or its just too much for you – just leave a sauna and cool down your body.

    • says

      @Matt – Fully acknoledge that I’m uptight about the nudity thing. Although could also point out that Germans are uptight about other things. I think it’s a cultural thing.

  7. Mary says

    My boyfriend is german and he once mentioned me about “mixed saunas” and had a controversial conversation about it. I am from Mexico so for me was shocking that this was even possible!! Isn´t human nature to be turned on just my watching naked bodies?? I think Germans don´t mind being naked because most of them have nice bodies..or good shaped. I personally even feel uncomfortable by being with naked girls. I guess in my country is just not acceptable and we were never raised to see each other naked as normal. Even if its your brother or sister. I wouldn’t like strangers to see me naked! At the end, guys are guys. I think for girls this kind of saunas are not comfortable at all. Definitely in Mexico this could never exist hahahha, but i guess europeans have more descipline regarding following rules..

  8. Yasmine K says

    I quite feel for you. I went into a changing room in South Korea and had a huge shock when the towels were way too small to cover anyone’s modesty, even mine (I am EXTREMELY short. EXTREMELY.) So I just ran really fast hoping to reach the speed of light and all anyone would see is nothing (and I wouldn’t see anything either)

    It bugs me that people out there do go nude. While I’m quite liberal at the IDEA of public nudity, the actual thing just provokes extreme discomfort on my part.

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