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?”
Bathing suits are not allowed (for sanitary 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 a “chicken.”
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 Actual German Sauna Experience
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 first sight of any character I deemed unsavoury. Basically anyone of the opposite sex.
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. 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 and will result in a public tongue-lashing. So I’ve heard.
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 bodies regardless of their shape (not all Germans have hard beach bodies), it’s not something I see myself embracing anytime soon.
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 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, then cooling off. You can choose between jumping in a cold pool, going outside if it’s cold outside, 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 of German sauna rules. 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. 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!
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.
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?