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 now ex-German partner) 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.

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.

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 Germans’ 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.

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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