Germany: Nude Spas Not for the Faint of Heart
An Uptight Canadian Visits a German Nude Spa
Yes, everybody is naked. And no, you can't keep your suit on!
By Carla Poertner
As a Canadian, I’m known, culturally, for living a bit of the frontier life, exploratory, open-minded, opposed to the strictures of tradition and convention, and perhaps just a little bit crass.
However, going to the nude spas in Germany, naked as the majority are, I was surprised to add to that list my own uniquely un-Canadian descriptor, “uptight.”
My partner, who was born and raised in Germany, explained to me in his patient and slightly condescending European manner that I had a lot of bunk in my head about the reality of these saunas, or spas as they are more broadly referred to. Because I had, to this point, held a certain discomfort about him attending these spas on his various trips home without me. Spas in Germany, he insists, aren't about sex.
“They are wellness,” he insists. “No one goes in a bathing suit. There is nothing sexual about it. You Canadians are so uptight about the body.”
Really, eh? Canadians are uptight?
Now, I am not sure which Canadians he refers to because this Canadian is pretty relaxed about her body. And when the proper mixture of climate and privacy it’s not unheard of to find me gardening topless or swimming in the nude.
And, I think, how do I separate my sexuality from my body? Is that not a slight bit fragmented? And is there something strange only about me that I think, this thing is made for lovin’, baby!
Besides, I’m not uptight, I just have no need to take off my clothes in front of strangers as a statement about my comfort with my body.
But something in me had to prove myself to my European boyfriend, and maybe to myself; I like to think I am self-reflective and see that if I had some reaction to the concept, it’s something I should explore. Besides, he had called my bluff. And since he’s dealing with a frontier woman, I said, “Okay mein Deutschmann, you are on.”
I think he might be right after all.
I was ready to do some myth busting, and to experience what my partner had described: typical spa playlist piping through the softly lit establishment, quietly meditative people, wrapped discretely in or sitting on fluffy white towels, lounging in heated cedar sauna rooms, breathing in the essence of eucalyptus.
So I was pretty surprised by this place.
We checked in to the massive and meticulous facility, which was set under a glass dome (“Was this an Olympic Stadium?” I asked, to be met with an eye roll). After paying for our admission, towels, and bathrobes, we entered a brightly lit co-ed changing area with row after row of lockers and a set of private change rooms running down the middle.
My partner changes into his trunks in the open area and I choose the private cubicle. After a quick rinse off in separate shower areas, we meet at the main entrance to the spa.
To our left is a large, naturally sunlit and orderly lounge area where rows of comfy seats are lined. On these lounge chairs are, of course, nude people, some alone reading books, some covered in towels, others intertwined in a somewhat private embrace. Scattered around are palm trees, and the glass dome makes it feel like the outdoors is inside. To my right is a small heated pool that is crowded with unclothed people, laying back and lounging, laughing, and chatting.
And in front of me stands an Ikea style, white, open shelf with many cubby areas. “Here’s where you take your stuff off,” he says.
We Gear Down
“Here? In this entrance way? Like, just drop it off and start walking around? No, I won’t!”
“But you have to,” he says, “It’s the rule.”
“You have to.”
“No one tells me I have to. I don’t have to do what everyone else does,” I say.
“Ack, it’s the spa. Come, let’s go.”
And he drops his shorts. Just like that. And pops them into the shelf.
Gingerly I peel off my bottoms then undo the top of my bikini and place it on the shelf. Then I slip off my robe and quickly wrap my towel around me in its place. There. Ready to go.
Moving past the entrance way I am greeted by two indoor-outdoor swimming pools (one nude and one for those in bathing suits). Each large pool is equipped with bars.
“Do you want a drink?” he asks.
“A strong one,” I say.
The place is packed. In the pool some couples are lounging together in the water, a few are lightly making out, other people are partying it up at the pool bar, laughing raucously. There are a number of families with children careening around the outskirts of the pools. Small clutches of twenty-something guys are checking out other small clutches of twenty-something girls who giggle and point.
And people are having so much fun. It really is a party. What is wrong with me? I just can’t relax. Am I supposed to relax?
And adjoining the pool area there is an assemblage of saunas, what I expect to be the heart of the spa experience. Where there is no bathing suit option, period. Take it off, or stay out.
Well, this is what we’re here for. Let’s do it
My towel firmly wrapped around me, we enter the sauna area, which is set up in a semi-circular design with an inner courtyard feel. Here attendees can sit and watch people walking from sauna to sauna (and they do), or just lounge with a book, or lay coupled together on the bed-like chairs.
Each sauna is, like the rest of the facility, meticulously kept, and has a different theme, with the decor and scent to match. The coffee house sauna smells like freshly roasted beans, there is a typical herbal scented sauna and an Asian spa. The steam sauna is predictably dark and steamy.
At one end of the semi-circle is the largest and biggest attraction. This sauna is huge, with theater-style seating, and opens only at timed intervals to let people in and out. At the front of the sauna-theatre, koi fish swim encased in the wall in large glass aquariums. Young male spa workers (bottom halves covered) are periodically waving towels around to circulate the air.
I look around and think, structurally, the place is lovely, if not a bit aggrandized. It’s just that the entire feel, an ambiance set by the people there, is so un-spa-like. It is more of a voyeuristic experience than a relaxing spa day.
I say voyeuristic with the understanding that it is I, first, who is the voyeur, watching, observing, making mental notes, and reacting to this new environment. I actually feel my heart start to speed up with mild anxiety. And I am interested in why.
I pick it apart and try to find the discomfort with me. When I look at my body, I like what I see. I see curves, I see a woman, I see sexuality, I see birth, and I see a gift. A gift that I give in a sacred container of my relationship. And being here nude, somehow I feel I am giving it to others. Oh, so you do see your own body as a commodity, I say to myself. To be apportioned only to those deserving of it. How exclusive.
Why, yes, I say back to me. That’s true. That’s exactly how I feel.
And as I look around I try not to judge, but to notice. And this is what I notice immediately.
The younger, and prettier the woman, the more likely she is to walk from sauna to sauna nude (many people keep their towels on in between the saunas). Or, if she does consider wrapping herself in a towel between saunas, she may open the glass door boldly, and with an exuberant flash of European pride, whip her towel off for the crowd. This only before she sprawls out on the most central bench, hands behind head, knees up and then, bam! often splayed open.
When I see this more than once, I feel a bubbling up of laughter. There is something both comic and entertaining about it. And this is not the appropriate place for a belly laugh. Most people are attempting to sit solemnly and quietly once in the sauna, which is not easy if they have already spent a fair amount of time sipping Mojitos.
What I notice next is that the young women’s extroversion is matched only by that of the considerably older men’s, who are as equally likely to display their genitals overtly as they are to unabashedly stare at the women.
It seems that only two groups of people are more likely to sit discretely. The older women and younger men. For what reason, I’m not sure. Is it self-consciousness, or is it the opposite, that they are secure enough not to feel a need to make a statement?
And why do I notice these juxtapositions so profoundly, when my partner doesn’t? Is he experiencing perceptual blindness, having become accustomed to it, and I see only what a foreigner sees? Or is it simply that I am uptight?
Whatever the case, I can’t help being an outsider, and by nature, I am an observer, and so I simply watch, as women watch each other, men watch women, women watch who is watching them, everyone just watching.
And while everyone seems to be enjoying themselves, except the Canadian, who appears wrapped too tightly, literally, and figuratively, how is it possible in this environment to actually relax?
There’s got to be a way to do it, I think.
Off comes the towel
So here’s what I do. I find a back corner, open my towel and lay it out and then sit down. Then I close my eyes and pretend I am somewhere else.
I imagine home.
Crouching in the soil of the garden on my farm tucked into the mountains of British Columbia, my t-shirt off, my sun hat and flip-flops on, tugging weeds from the dirt. This dirt, this soil rich with thousands of life forms, moves through my hands, grows the succulent carrots and those strawberries that when bitten into, drip warm red juice down your chin.
This soil that grows a variety of other tasty delicacies that delight our mouths, nurture our bodies. Make no mistake, I have created dishes from this garden that make a grown man groan. Sexual? Hell, I call that orgasmic.
And I think too of the unpopulated little spot a five-minute drive from my home, a gem of a beach with a surprising amount of fine white sand, set along the Slocan River. A place where the week before I had packed up my children and a basket of food and we had played, and swam for the day.
And where, in the heat of the midday sun, I had taken off my bikini and dove meters down through the clear water to the river bed to collect beautiful stones and handfuls of clay for our own little beachside spa. Peacefulness. Sacred communion. Uncomplicated beauty.
Ah, that’s better.
Packing it in
Despite the short escape of my imaginative reverie, my awkwardness in the new environment prevails and soon enough my partner says, “come on, time to go home.” And all that for a bill of about 75 Euros.
“It’s not like this, really,” he says.
“Oh,” I say, eyebrows raised. “It kind of seems like this is what it’s like.”
“No,” he shakes his head, “Not usually. Most of the spas here are much more subtle and peaceful. It’s really just wellness. I will show you, we will go,” he insists.
I laugh. “I don’t believe you,” I say, and fanning my forehead with my hand, add “wow, that was hot. No, not to a German, of course. All those vaginas were bore-ing. No, wait, that’s not boring, that’s wellness…
Oh, all these naked bodies must be confusing me. You know, it must be my animalistic, rogue, Canadian nature, but I can’t help thinking, ‘isn’t life is so deliciously sexual.’” Then I wink.
“And I don’t even know how I can believe that when I’m so uptight this,” and I gesture to my body, and then using my scarf as a mock towel, I whip it off with European flair, and begin an exaggerated striptease in the parking lot. And instead of rolling his eyes, he laughs. We Canadians may be uptight, but at least we are self-reflective enough to turn it into a little bit of fun.
Thermen & Badewelt Sinsheim, Badewelt 1, 74889, Sinsheim. badewelt-sinsheim.de . Telephone +49 (0) 7261/4028-0.
Carla Poertner is a life coach who lives in rural British Columbia, Canada. Visit her coaching website.
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