My first visit to a German sauna, will likely also be my last visit to a German sauna. J.P. (my German fiance) 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 to go to the German sauna?” Eventually I gave in, I hate being called a “chicken” and I did want to experience a German sauna, 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 as J.P. kept 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 while in the sauna, 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 – so pretty much anyone that 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, which was Why I Was Scared to Have Surgery in a German Hospital since that’s just not something I’m used to being from Canada. I’m also Socially Awkward in Germany with my clothes on, so likely even more so when I’m buck naked. And 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.
Germans are much more comfortable with being naked than many of us are in 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 of it mortifies me. 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 and 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 since I hadn’t got all the health benefits. I lasted another 2 minutes and then left – health benefits or not, I didn’t think fainting was very healthy. It’s not uncommon 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 a interesting discussion ask someone from Finland, who are known for their love of saunas even more than the Germans, what they think about all the rules of a German sauna (hint – not so much) in the presence of a German who will then explain to the Finn why each of the rules is necessary, while the Finn then 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 to a German sauna (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, so I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything by forgoing regular visits to a German sauna. “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 German sauna, or would you consider going to one while in Germany?