Spa visits are not a luxury but a necessity in Germany. The cornerstone of these visits are getting nude and sweating it...which can be very intimidating for newbies.
And - because this is Germany - there are rules. Follow these guidelines or ready yourself for the wrath of some seriously stern and very nude Germans. (That is one way to truly learn the German word "Schwanze".) Enjoy this cultural adventure with the guidelines of what to expect at a German sauna.
What is a German sauna?
Sauna usually refers to the wood or tile rooms where people sit and sweat it out. They may have benches or lounge chairs with the source of heat (either dry or steam) emanating from the center of the room.
Saunas are just one part of the overall spa experience and for an additional fee you can purchase a massage or treatments like facials, manicures and pedicures. There are women-only and mixed-gender saunas. Larger spas have several kinds of saunas so you can build up to the hottest temps with cool down periods. Germans will firmly tell you this is for your heath as your teeth chatter and you stew in your own sweat.
Etiquette at a German Sauna
It is the German belief that a sauna must be endured for at least 15 minutes. With heat topping 100 °C (212 °F), this is no easy feat.
Swimsuits are strictly verboten (except the pool, and even there most go FKK) as they are seen as a keeper of a bacteria. If you are going to the German sauna you are going to be naked.
What to Bring
A small towel must be taken with you to sit or lie on. Another towel should be used for drying off. If you don't bring a towel, rent one.
There will be sweat, but there is no reason to sit in someone else's puddle.
- Shower sandals
- Bottle of water
First thing is first, decide on your spa. Most work by electronic bracelet that allows for food purchase, services, etc. without having to dip back into your locker.
Find the locker room to stash your stuff and rinse off in the showers. This is no quick dip, you must be clean to enter the sauna. Soap and shampoo are provided.
"Dress" in your robe and sandals or just walk around in the buff like the German pros. Outside the sauna door, a hanging rack is waiting for your robe or drying towel and many people also leave their sandals. Open the door quickly and walk into a steamy room of nude Germans. This is no beauty contest so there is no reason to feel embarrassed, especially as the steam helps to hide any flushed cheeks.
Find an open spot - don't be shy! - and set out your towel. This isn't just to protect you, it also prevents the oils on your skin from damaging the wood. An alternative are steam saunas where you may sit on a mat or wash off your place upon leaving with a hose.
Aufguss, or infusions, are the scented oils used in the saunas and Germans believe they are an essential element.
Large saunas have a Saunameister who dictates the schedule of the Aufguss. The Aufguss is announced with the ringing of a bell and attentive Germans will quickly make their way to the fresh sauna to observe the pouring of the scented water and following steam. This small ceremony should not be interrupted.
Cooling off period
The cooling off sessions between saunas is a vital part of the experience. Cold showers, outdoor pools, Frischluftraum (open-air room) or even ice baths are considered part of the relaxation.
If you are still wary, refer to these expat's accounts:
- Travels of Adam's Getting Naked in Berlin
- Cheryl Howard's An Expat’s Account Of Getting Naked At A German Spa
- Monkeys and Mountains's The Shy Girl’s Guide to the Naked German Sauna
- Back to Berlin...and Beyond!'s Berlin's Tropical Island & Getting Naked with Germans