Inside the Nude German Sauna

Cooling down near sauna

Photo credit: Wikipedia

The terror begins as soon as you step into the changing room. This one is tiny, with a row of narrow lockers either side and shoes neatly stored underneath. From the number of shoes (all sensible flat boots – this is Germany) I calculate there must be a good 20 people using the sauna inside. No one is in the changing room, which brings a mixture of relief and panic. Relief because I can get undressed in private before working up the courage to join the other crazy nude people, and panic because I do not know the etiquette in German saunas and I could do with someone to copy. Do I just waltz in, naked? Bare boobs and all? Or should I go in my bikini first? Shall I hold my towel, wrap it around me, or drape it over my shoulder cheesy 80s style? I clearly didn’t think this through.

In a desperate search for answers, I peer through the window of the door to the sauna area. I see people! In dressing gowns! And sturdy flip flops!  Oh Scheisse. I didn’t bring either. I always manage to make a British fool out of myself in these German situations. I should have known about the ‘sauna shoes’. Germans are obsessed with wearing shoes inside, as I have learnt from their strict ‘house shoes’ policy. So trust the Germans to still be wearing shoes in the one place where all other clothes are forbidden. To the left I see a group of naked, middle-aged men and women having what looks like a good old natter over each others’ bits and bobs. “This is just too weird” I think, wondering if it’s not too late to chicken out. But I had come too far to do that. Plus I wanted to write about it on my blog.

I strip down to my bikini and wrap my towel firmly around me. If I’m going to get naked with the Germans then I will have to do it slowly.  I hold my head up high (as high as you can at 5ft 2ins) and open the door to the sauna area.

The group of naked natterers turn to stare at me. “Gruss Gott!” they all say in harmony. That’s a typical Bavarian greeting that means “greetings from God”  “Hallo!” I say back, trying not to sound nervous – or even worse – foreign. Then their eyes turn to my bare feet. Their smiles turn to looks of horror. Bare feet! Inside! Now they definitely know I’m not one of them.

I spot a toilet cubicle and make a dash for it. Finally somewhere I can have some privacy. I lock the door behind me and giggle uncontrollably like a schoolgirl. Quietly of course otherwise I could get into trouble. I don’t think Germans appreciate foreigners laughing at their naked sauna antics. I decide I have to get my immature giggles out before I open the door again, so I spend a few minutes whisper laughing while removing my bikini. Towel on, bikini in hand, I compose myself, open the door, and face the naked natterers again. Most of the women natterers are covering their modesty with dressing gowns now. But the men are definitely less shy. I try not to stare or even look in their direction, instead focussing my sight on some pigeon holes where I can leave my now very redundant bikini.

Now. Where to go next. I can feel the naked natterers’ eyes on me, so there’s no time to hesitate and look foreign. There are taps and sinks everywhere. I don’t know what for. Then I finally spot a door with ‘Sauna 1’ written on it. Some instructions I can understand! I’m going in.

There are two older men inside. Maybe in their fifties. Both naked of course. I keep my head down and find a spot in the sauna as far away from them as possible. I take a deep breath, remove my towel (eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek!) which means I am now naked! In front of strangers! I pretend to be super cool about this and lay my towel down to sit on. From the corner of my eye I can tell one of the men is sitting with his legs apart, letting it all show. The other is on his back. I intend to do neither, and find a sitting position that reveals as least of my naked self as possible. Thankfully I was a contortionist in a previous life.

After ten very long minutes of heat, sweat, palpitations and trying to avoid eye contact with the naked men, I decide my first session is over. Now it’s time to shower. But first I have to get up, grab my towel, wrap it around me and leave. It’s impossible to do this without the two men seeing me naked again. Crap. Moving will also bring attention to myself, so there’s no way I can do this in secret. Maybe they aren’t looking anyway, I tell myself. It’s too hot to stay. I have to leave before I faint while naked and that would be really embarrassing. I get up, grab my towel and attempt to wrap it around myself while hastily leaving the sauna. But major fail. Somehow my towel has folded itself in two, and there isn’t enough material to cover my bits. I end up leaving the room engulfed in a battle with my towel and most definitely naked. How horrifying (for a Brit).

Now, if I thought that bit of the naked German sauna was scary, this part was going to be even worse. The showers. I find them in a large circular room, with no doors, dividers, screens…just the showers. How cosy. The room with no boundaries reminds me of scenes in films where men get raped in prison. Plus I have to leave my towel outside unless I want it to get completely soaked. No hiding this time. This is where people will actually see me properly naked. And wet. A man and woman are using the showers, so again, I find a spot as far away from them as possible, and shower fast, as if I’m paying 20 Euro per drip.

I then find a plastic garden chair to sit on outside the sauna room (not far from the naked natterers, who are still naked and nattering, very quietly of course) where I can close my eyes and try and relax. Because that’s what you come to a sauna for isn’t it? To relax. I was far from relaxed. Us Brits are only used to being naked in front of others for sexual reasons, medical reasons, and for accidental reasons (window cleaners). So being naked in front of complete strangers for none of those reasons, plus being scared of doing something wrong and being shouted at in German, which I don’t understand well, was not a very relaxing experience. “Just go with it,” is some of the advice people have given on using the naked German sauna. Maybe I’m just a pathetic weakling. Sorry, but it’s just the way most of us are brought up in Britain. To be pathetic and weak.

As I contemplate this, a man aged about 70 wearing trunks comes waddling over to a set of scales positioned about three feet away from me. He stands on the scales and drops his Speedos in front of everyone. His hairy, wrinkly little bum thrusts itself in my direction. But as we’re in the naked German sauna, this is completely normal behaviour. I have no place to be offended. To my right there’s a door to an area outside. Despite the snow, there’s a naked man out there too, pacing around, cooling down after his sauna. I’m not sure I can get used to this. How strange would it be if you bumped into your old teacher in one of these things?

After using the sauna and rape shower again, I find a little room where about 10 people are lounging on deck chairs in various states of undress. Most are mature women reading magazines. Yes, sorry guys, no Heidi Klum lookalikes in the naked German sauna. Maybe this is why my Bavarian other-half never goes. It’s eerily quiet, like a library. Except ever so not like a library. I have a little sit down but the other women seem to be giving me weird ‘up and down’ looks as if I have broken some part of the naked dress code. I feel awkward and decide it’s time to leave.

If you’ve read this blog before you may be aware that I once stumbled into a nude German sauna by accident. However, I kept my bikini firmly on, much to the disgust of the other guests. I knew that if I wanted to go for a sauna in Germany again, I’d have to get my kit off. I was pleased that I had finally given it a go. But I don’t think I’ll be doing it again. I like to relax in the sauna, and this experience was far from relaxing. The facilities here are great – far superior to what we have back home. But I think I’ll wait until I visit England where it is acceptable to keep your swimwear on and the awkward silences are broken up with pointless conversations about the weather. Plus I won’t have to worry about offending anyone with my towel. Danke!

Great Bavarian Get-Away: Seefeld, Austria

Pretty Seefeld

One thing I really love about the Germans is the way they embrace their excruciatingly long, dark, and freezing cold winter. If it’s -15C outside you won’t find these lot panic buying at supermarkets or sat at home cuddling a water bottle. They will be out burning calories faster than Usain Bolt by going cross-country skiing, ice-skating on frozen lakes or hiking with those silly poles they even use on concrete. It seems most people in Bavaria own some kind of winter sports equipment, be it a snowboard, skis, ice-skates and half-a-dozen sledges (or sometimes all of those). In England only rich people have skis and snowboards, so I’m forever impressed when I see the contents of a Bavarian’s garage. In Bavaria there are plenty of places to ski and snowboard in winter, such as Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Mittenwald. But as Bavaria borders Austria many Germans bypass their own country’s resorts and head deeper into the Alps for even better conditions. Petrol is also cheaper in Austria, which is why the pumps close to the German/Austrian border are usually full of satisfied German drivers filling up their tanks. And it takes a lot to satisfy a German, particularly one that’s driving!

Last weekend some friends and I drove across the border into Austria – a 90 minute trip from our home near The Ammersee. As with most European border crossings the only way we could tell we had entered another country was a ‘Welcome to Austria’ sign and our mobiles frantically bleeping with text messages telling us it would now cost an arm and a leg to answer our own phones.

The drive was spectacular. The snowy German Alps were shrouded in an eerie light morning mist, which gradually lifted to reveal their full grandeur. Then as the road snaked higher into the range we were engulfed by a heavy snow storm, turning our surroundings into a wonderful winter wonderland. Pine trees stood tall sprinkled with white, while cute little log cabins with thick snowy roofs poked out from the blanketed countryside. Just lovely.

We ploughed through the blizzard to the Winter Olympic resort of Seefeld, a pretty postcard ski village just a few minutes drive over the border into Austria. As you can tell from the photographs, it’s a gorgeous little place.

To cater for the huge number of Germans who ‘drive and ski’ the resort has a multi-story car park with escalators to take you right to the bottom of the slopes. Everyone changes in their car or on the car park floor on arrival before purchasing their lift passes by the runs. So efficient, the system must have been designed by a German! There are also 25 ski lifts, 28 km of ski runs, and facilities for night-skiing.

Being a Sunday the resort was pretty busy and heaving with kids. Most of these children were extremely competent German skiers and snowboarders who annoyingly whizzed past me as I fell on the same part of my right butt cheek again and again and again (it’s been a while since I last snowboarded.) Ten days on and the huge purple bruise to my bottom – and ego – is still there. Still, the view from the top of the easiest run I could find was breath-taking. Between painful snowboarding sessions I sat on the snow, took in the scenery, and breathed in that beautiful fresh alpine air.

That great view

After some hearty food in a wooden Apres-Ski restaurant complete with smokers and pumping Austrian dance music, we dragged our sore bodies into the heart of Seefeld. The picturesque village boasts plenty of hotels (all proudly advertising their saunas), cute cafes, and souvenir shops bursting with cuckoo clocks.

We only had a day here but if you stayed for longer there would be plenty of fun to be had. The area is a popular destination for cross-country skiers, sledgers, climbers and hikers. There’s even a ‘Strudelfest’ on this July! I can’t wait to return and see more of Austria. Just remember to do as the Germans do, and stock up on petrol if you’re coming back this way.

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