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

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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 – not wearing towels as pictured above, 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?”

friends meeting in a German sauna

Eventually, I gave in; I hate being a “chicken.”

Besides, I don’t have a sauna at home like this one for two people. Or even a portable one for one person where nudity isn’t an issue. It was time to experience a traditional sauna in Germany.

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. The last thing I wanted was to bump into anyone I know in a naked sauna.

Related Reading: Wellness Hotels in Germany to Check into for Ultimate Relaxation

many people find saunas very relaxing

The Actual German Sauna Experience

When we entered the mixed sauna, there was only one other woman on the sauna bench.  I was extremely relieved that we would have our space on the wooden benches.

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 of being that close to naked people 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 first sight of any character I deemed unsavoury. Basically anyone of the opposite sex.

In fairness to the German sauna experience, it’s not as creepy as I’m 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.  I guess even more so when I’m buck naked.

But despite being naked, there is nothing sexual about saunas in Germany.  Staring is not acceptable behaviour in German sauna culture and will result in a public tongue-lashing. So I’ve heard.

Check out these wellness hotels in the Bavarian Alps on Booking.com

outdoor sauna

Germans Vs. North Americans on Being Naked

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 utterly 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 do not want their friends seeing their significant other naked. It’s one of the shocks I’ve had as an expat in Germany.

Being naked in Germany is not a big deal. While I appreciate and admire many German’s abilities to feel comfortable with their naked bodies regardless of their shape (not all Germans have hard beach bodies), it’s not something I see myself embracing anytime soon.

Related Reading: What It’s Really Like to Stay in a Castle Hotel in Germany

people of all ages enjoy the benefits of saunas

Rules for the German Sauna

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 for 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.

Related Reading: 15 Most Romantic Hotels in Europe

Germans visit sauna’s on a regular basis and it’s common for Germans to spend several hours at a sauna. Alternating between the sauna, then cooling off. You can choose between taking a cold plunge in the indoor pool, going outside if it’s cold enough, or taking a cold shower.

Then you relax before entering the sauna again.  I’ve forgotten how long it is exactly. But it’s one of the many German sauna rules. There are a lot of them.

Check out these wellness hotels in the Bavarian Alps on Booking.com

German saunas are often co-ed

If you ever want to get into an interesting discussion, ask someone from Finland, who love their Finnish saunas even more than the Germans,  what they think about all the rules and German sauna etiquette.  Hint – not so much.

Do this in the presence of a German. They’ll then explain to the Finn why each of the rules is necessary. Meanwhile, the Finn rebuffs each of the explanations.  It’s some of the finest entertainment I’ve had while in Germany. And it’s educational!

Related Reading: Wellness Hotels in Germany to Check into for Ultimate Relaxation

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.

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 that, a lot of people do enjoy going to the sauna and find it incredibly relaxing.

If you’re a prude like me, check out my Shy Girl’s Guide to the German Sauna for tips to make your nude sauna visit more comfortable.

Check out this book for more insights into German Culture: German Men Sit Down To Pee And Other Insights Into German Culture 

UPDATE:  It took me two years after this experience, but I have gone again. Several times in fact.  While I still don’t love it, the right sauna can be very relaxing! And I’m a huge fan of wellness hotels, where alongside a sauna, offer treatments like massages.

Have you been to a sauna in Germany?

friends enjoying a sauna together
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90 thoughts on “Why My First Visit to a German Sauna Will Be My Last One”

  1. My wife and I are from NY and visited Germany for the first time. We went to a total of 5 different SPAs all co Ed nude. Some were very crowded but all were about 50/50 men women.

    We found being nude was much more conmfortable and logical when going from saunas to pools to steam rooms and hammams. Wish it was like that in America but you have to be a mature society with integrity. We observed no gawking and the Germans were just so relaxed and respectful

  2. I guess for a prude North American girl a german Sauna must be strange, also Italians or Spanish will look at you in shock. First things first, yes there are rules to German saunas, but the first rule is, you can break them. You needen’t stay in a Sauna for 15 mins. You can walk out whenever you like. Now other rules, are good. You must always keep a large – so called – Sauna towel – under your body, your body must not ever touch the wood. This makes sense, as you would not want to get in contact with a wet sweat patch someone else left. Otherwise, finnish Saunas aren’t too different from German ones (and this is from several Finish friends). Also why would you want to wear a bathing suite and sweat into them? That sounds gross at best or even worse, after visiting the Sauna you might want to take a swim in those seaty trunks? Yuck! Overall it’s a culture thing. I prefer the German sauna to US or Italian/Spanish regulations. The Finish way is the way a Sauna is meant to be, naked, natural. This doesn’t mean you have to sit there with your legs wide open. In fact be natural.

  3. My wife and I always go to a sauna when in Germany or Austria, being naked just feels natural and not at all sexual. I wouldn’t describe myself as a naturist but have always wondered why we choose cover up certain parts of our bodies. Swimming and sunbathing to me seems better naked. Of course there are plenty who don’t feel comfortable but please allow those who do to partake. I don’t believe it is exibishonist, just accept bodies for what they are and maybe they will do the same for you, and you might discover something liberating.

  4. Oh my god so many people are confused when it comes to nudity. It should be a normal part of our life. Violence and oppression is wrong, not nudity.
    On Facebook I can post any kind of violence, it is o.k. An image with naked breasts is deleted immediately, even if they are just painted. (Ridiculous)
    If someone feels naked uncomfortable, then do not go in the German sauna. It is that simple.

    • @Harry – Agreed, but it really is a cultural thing and what you’re used to. I’m glad I went to the German sauna, and have been a few times since, but for me I don’t think it will ever be “natural”, even though I completely get your point.

  5. My wife and I have just returned from a holiday in northern Italy, the hotel had a fantastic wellness suite of saunas and hammam. We are british and in our early sixties and have never been in a sauna in our life, we ventured down and the doors had notices saying no clothing to be worn in the sauna area. I asked my wife if she was comfortable with this, her reply was nobody would know us and she could keep a towel tightly wrapped around her self. In the communal changing area there were a number of naked bodies but all facing the wall, most then held a towel to their chest as they made their way to the sauna. The showers were for one at a time with tiled walls so complete privacy. Once inside some displayed the whole of their bodies, others kept themselves wrapped tightly in a towel and others at different stages in between. My wife was tightly wrapped for the first session, there were egg timers to give an idea of the time you were in there, after the first session of about 15 mins we showered and relaxed on recliners for about 20 mins and then showered and back in again for another 15 minute session. this was repeated again with the relaxation increasing to about 30 minutes. We both enjoyed ourselves and felt totally relaxed, neither of us felt that any one “looked” at us or we at them, it just felt totally natural. The second night was a repeat of the first but we also did the hammam, the steam was so thick no one would know if there was any one else in there so the nakedness was no problem, even my wife just relaxed totally uncovered. At the end of the third night we could do the whole thing naked, shower, walk to the sauna, gently cook, shower, rub our bodies with ice and go into the cold plunge pool.
    The whole point is that the whole process is about relaxing, it is not sexual in any way. No one looks and judges you, there were young, middle aged and others older than ourselves all having a relaxing end to a days sightseeing. y wife has gone fro some one who never wears low cut tops to enjoying a healthy sauna, so much so that she wants to go to more when we are on holiday again. Would we go with friends, work colleagues or family? no way but in front of strangers yes we would.
    As for those who cannot understand the why naked, it seems quite simple, you shower to go in with a clean body, you then sit on a towel to protect the wooden benches from your sweat, then you shower yourself clean and sweat free. Why would you want to wear swim wear? Wrap a towel around yourself and if and when your confidence rises uncover more of your body. In our experience no one took the slightest notice, except for a few couples who came in in one piece swimsuits, they normally left after one visit.
    Those who believe that all bacteria are killed off at high temperatures (ours was 85c) they are miss leading themselves, first of all that temperature is at the highest point in the sauna, it is a lot cooler lower down. Secondly that is an air temperature, if our bodies reached that level our skin would be burnt ant we would soon die. The latent heat of evaporation helps to cool us to a level where bacteria thrive, far better to have them on a towel on a hot wash than a swim suit on a 40 degree wash.


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