Germany is a cold, wet, cold, freezing, cloud-covered, cold, testicle shrinking, shivering, cold country. But it has really good beer and food so, you know, it’s a balance. I’ve lived here with Dagmar since about 2006. I think I could go on and on about Germany and Germans. Their little quirks, annoying things, stuff that is just bizarre, stuff I wish more Americans did (myself included) … it’s obviously a country with its own identity and culture.
This is about the German, or at least a part of the German, culture that has absolutely no aversion to nudity. Let me refine that a bit. At German saunas the people, both male and female, mingle nude and it’s not as weird as you would think. Or it is as weird as you would think, but they don’t care, they’re naked.
As any 10-year-old with the ability to set Google’s safe search option to “off” likely understands, beaches in Europe are generally topless. Actually I can get rid of the qualifying “generally” I think. It’s safe to say that on any given beach in Europe, you will find topless women.
Someone recently asked me why I was still here in Europe. The above paragraph is the reason. It’s topless beaches and beer. I can drink a beer and see lots and lots of boobies. And I like beer and boobies. Together … well it’s a little like heaven.
But back to saunas. Germans think there are health benefits to sauna going. I have no clue if they’re right or not, but I do know enjoy the sauna, particularly in the winter when the thermometer is pegging out at a high in the 20s.
The place I’m most familiar with is a water park named, oddly enough, Miramar. If you have kids I think you’ve been to a similar place. It has a giant wave pool, screaming children, water slides, screaming children, inner tube rides, screaming children and a snack bar/real bar occupied by, you guessed it, screaming children.
Why the hell would I go to a place infested with screaming children?. Because apart from the kids play area, they also have an area that consists of hot pools and quiet rooms and, most importantly, they have the nude side.
The Nude Side.
As you enter the nude side, the entrance to which is only sorta, kinda hidden from the clothed side (walking to one of the clothed pools you’re basically looking directly into the entrance of the nude side) you are immediately accosted by all shapes, sizes and ages of nakedness. Although there’s the line in the sand where you are expected to remove your bathing suit and stow in lockers any items you have like keys and wallets, there are, unsurprisingly, a lot of naked people.
After disrobing, because the Germans have a rule for everything (but this is a good rule), you’re expected to shower before entering the actual sauna and swimming area. Interestingly, or not, 99 percent of the sauna-goers don’t just walk around naked, they have a towel or more often a robe on between the saunas. This percentage drops considerably in the warmer months, but still, the general rule is if you’re not in a sauna or in the pool, you’re covered up.
To sum up the ‘textile free” or nude side, it consists of five indoor saunas, two tubs (one warmish and the other BONECHILLINGLY cold) two “quiet rooms” and a (’cause it’s Europe) snack bar/restaurant area devoid of any screaming children. Outside there is a pool, four smaller saunas, the “Sauna Maximus” (a HUGE sauna) and another quiet area.
Inside the non-special saunas, people come and go as they please. Some, like the Jagersauna outside, are super hot. Others, like the aroma sauna, have aromas like lemon or straw.
Inside these saunas everyone sits from toe to buttocks on a towel and … wait.
HOLY CRAP I’M NAKED!
I think this is the point where I need to address the naked part because some of you are thinking this is very weird, pervy or just fucking insane. You’re all wrong and you’re all right. Taking off your bathing suit is weird for the first time, for the first five minutes. After that you start to realize that the atmosphere in a German Sauna area is about as sexy as a hospital visit.
For a moment you think, ‘HOLY FUCKING JESUS I’M NAKED AND SO IS EVERYONE ELSE,” but then the discomfort fades because everyone is naked. You quickly realize that all men have a penis and when not erect it looks like, well, a non-erect penis. All girls have pronounced breasts and a vagina. Strip away (haha!) any hint of romance, lust or sex, and it’s as sexually stimulating as a medical text book. Besides there is a lot of looking straight ahead, lots of eye contact. No one, you can be reasonably sure, is checking you out** because you really don’t stand out, even though you’re naked.
Guys reading this might be thinking, but aren’t there some hot girls, hot naked girls?
Yes, there are, but again it’s simply not a sexual environment. I confess I have thought, “Wow, nice body,” but in a sea of bodies that’s akin to saying in a forest, “Wow, that’s a nice tree.”
(For the record, I’m rarely actually in a forest because it’s very hard to get a beer there unless you bring it yourself and then, what the fuck are you doing drinking in a forest retard? A bear is going to eat you.)
Every hour, on the hour, a special group sauna is held in either an indoor sauna or the Sauna Maximus outside. These group saunas are where it turns weird. Until now the saunas are basically sparsely populated. But during the special group saunas, it turns into a packed sauna where you will sit on your own towel, naked, shoulder to shoulder and leg to leg.
HOLY CRAP I’M NAKED WITH ABOUT 60 OTHER PEOPLE, ITS HOTTER THEN HELL AND SOME IDIOT IS MAKING IT HOTTER.
You have to get to the group saunas a good 10 minutes early or you’re going to have to fight for a seat or you might even be turned away. Contrary to what I said in the paragraph previous to this, there’s no actual skin to skin contact, but it’s close and yeah, you do bump into the person next to you. If you just said “Ewww!” swapping sweat with strangers, oh nooooes! Yeah it certainly happens but you shower immediately afterwards so …
At the scheduled time the sauna master comes in, closes the door and the fun begins. No shit, the place has people in charge of the sauna event. It is Germany after all. Usually there is a quick introduction, some joke I’m not likely to understand and then the buckets of water are poured onto the rocks cranking the heat up to 11. The sauna master, clothed in shorts and a T-shirt, then starts to wave a towel over his or her head while walking around the sauna in an effort to crank the heat up past the mystic 11 and into the unknown 12. They are successful. It gets up to “HOLY SHIT THIS IS HOT” temperatures in a short amount of time. Then, they usually do some sort of gimmick. Two of my favorites are the honey sauna and the salt sauna.
In the honey sauna they — no shit, I’m not making this up and I’m not drunk — pass out small cups of honey which you are then expected to rub on yourself. If you have never seen a room full of naked people vigorously rubbing themselves with honey while a clothed person twirls a towel over their heads, you haven’t been to a German sauna. I don’t need hallucinogens, I’ve rubbed honey on my naked body with total strangers. The purpose of this is to attract insects and/or to give your skin the ability to sweeten tea. Actually, I have no idea what the purpose is, but I’m sure it’s a skincare thing.
My other favorite (well the honey thing isn’t a favorite it just cracks me up – who the hell thought of that?) is the salt sauna. I actually like the salt sauna. I’m a heterosexual male and I realize that what I’m about to type will make everyone reading this question that statement, but the salt sauna makes your skin super smooth. Halfway through this sauna, just when you’re thinking that your body can’t really be producing the amount of sweat it is currently producing , they pass out small cups of rock salt.
Cup of salt in hand, you pour a bit on your leg, arm chest, everywhere and scrub. Words of caution, do not get this shit in your eyes and any little open wound (shaving nick, cut on a finger) is about to sting like hell. But the after effect is, (again I am a heterosexual male) really smooth skin. I find myself hours later going, “Why are my arms so smooth?”
Then, just when you feel faint, just when you can’t take another moment of heat, just when you think you’re about to catch on fire, the sauna master opens the door and everyone pours outside. Typically, they have some sort of refreshment available, a Popsicle or a glass of tea or a piece of candy.
This after–special sauna-moment is another one of those, “Am I really seeing/participating in this weird shit?” There you are, buck naked except for flip flops, a group of between 20 and 60 men and women sucking on a Popsicle, drinking tea and desperately trying to cool down. Immediately after a sauna Germans love, love, love to dunk themselves in cold water and there are showers and buckets everywhere for just that purpose. I’m interested in not having a heart attack or enticing my testicle to relocate into my abdomen, so except for a few experimental tries, I forgo this aspect of the sauna.
That’s the naked German sauna experience in a nutshell. After round after round of sweat like a man waiting on the results of the girlfriend’s pregnancy test, it’s time for a beer and maybe a bit to eat and then it’s over.
There is one other aspect of this experience that I’ll save for another day. That’s the two days a week that the whole damned place goes “textile free.” At 7 p.m. there is an announcement and magically everyone is naked … the transition is, to me at least, funny for its own reasons .. more about that next time.
* Yes. If you’ve known me more than 10 minutes, you fully understand that after the fifth beer I’m as likely to remove all of my clothing, regardless of the situation, as a 2-year old … I am unable, with beer, to resist nearly any dare. It’s a gift/curse.
** No one is checking you out unless you’ve done something that screams CHECK ME OUT. There is an older man, who Dagmar and I call “look at my penis man.” He is about 70 and I’m reasonably certain that he must have been a sailor in the 1970s as he’s covered in aged tattoos and, get this, has more piercings on his penis and scrotum than is reasonable or even sane. I have seen him engage with other Germans discussing his dick artwork (I assume, all parties involved were looking directly at his junk so I can’t imagine is a discussion about Greek debt). There are a few “personalities” at the sauna that Dagmar and I laugh about … more about them next time though.