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!

Why Germans get Naked

Saturday afternoon. Prime time for family swimming back home in Britain. So I assumed it would be the same in Germany. With heavy snow outside and most other establishments closed, my German partner and I decided to take our baby son Max for his first dip in a swimming pool. What a lovely family occasion, I thought! We packed our swimming gear and drove to a small pool in a town not too far away called Peissenberg.

Twenty minutes later and there we were in the baby pool, surrounded by lots of naked German folk. Men proudly strode around with all their bits on show, while women sat on sun loungers having a good old chat over one another’s bosoms. Poor little Max didn’t know where to look! “Didn’t you know it was naked day?” I hissed at Markus. “It didn’t mention anything about it when I looked on their website!” he defended himself. “It’s Saturday afternoon!” I exclaimed. “Where are all the other families?” Besides Max, there was only one other child at the pools. She was aged about 7 and wore a swimming costume. She sat on the edge of the pool while a naked middle-aged man who she didn’t appear to know stood alongside her, waiting to dive in. A sight you definitely wouldn’t see in England. I remembered when I was about eight and my grandfather was almost thrown out of a swimming pool’s spectator area there for filming us diving with his video camera. “You might be a pervert,” staff told him. How different things were in Germany – over 20 years on. Having just had a baby, and more so for being shy and British, there was no way I was going to shed my bikini. But we were definitely the odd ones out for not going nude, and it seemed we were offending those there for wearing swimwear.

As we had paid to use the sauna I decided to pop in quickly. Bikini and all! I had it to myself until an older gentleman joined me. He was completely starker’s of course. We had a conversation which mainly involved me trying very hard not to look at his penis. “Ah!” he said, when I explained that I was English. He may as well have shouted “so that’s why you’re the only ones wearing clothes!” By that time I was ready to leave. Others joining us were giving me dirty looks for daring to wear anything in the sauna. To make matters worse I had committed a massive German faux pas by forgetting to bring a towel to sit on. Then I washed my feet in some sinks that I’m sure were actually for people’s faces. We left pretty quickly and haven’t been back since.

Besides the pool there have also been naked people discreetly sunbathing down at our local lake in the summer. Germans also seem to be obsessed with changing out of their swimwear the moment it gets wet. So expect to see lots of bare bottoms and other bits being flashed during clothing changes on the lakes. Then many other swimming pools have sauna areas where wearing swimwear is strictly forbidden. We obviously escaped lightly down at Peissenberg. Going naked in Germany does seem to be more popular among older people. So maybe this is a cultural difference that could soon die out.

I remember once in London I was in a gym’s mixed sauna when a man who had dared to go naked was chased out by another in trunks shouting “you bloody pervert!” I wonder if that poor guy was a bemused German. I think that helps to explain the difference between the British and the Germans when it comes to being naked in public. In Britain it’s seen as perverse. Sexual. We associate being naked with sex. We giggle about it like little kids. In Germany, they don’t. You’re naked because you were born that way. And it’s no big deal. At all! People do it. And it means nothing to them whatsoever. The Germans I have seen naked also seem completely happy with their bodies, no matter how ageing and overweight they are. They appear to have a better appreciation of nature, whereas the British wouldn’t dare to bare unless their bodies were magazine ‘perfect’. “Don’t they go naked in British saunas?” my Bavarian father-in-law asked me recently. “Only in sex saunas,” I replied. “No!” he said. “Here it is for freedom!” he added, raising his arms in the air like a flying bird.

I have also noticed that people in Germany are less paranoid about paedophiles than parents are in Britain. I’m not saying it is completely safe here, but we do feel a lot safer here in general.

What does surprise me is, why are many Germans happy to bare their bodies when many are also so shy about revealing their personalities? “Germans are generally very private people who don’t like others to know anything about them,” my German teacher once told me. I guess that’s another issue for another post. Please do enlighten me if you know the answer!

And although I haven’t quite worked up the courage to go naked just yet, I am warming up to the idea. Even if just for a very nervous British laugh.

UPDATE: I did it. Read all about it here.