What to Expect at a German Sauna

Getting Nude in the German Sauna

German sauna
••• GettyImages / Alexander Hassenstein  

Spa visits are not a luxury but a necessity in Germany. The cornerstone of these visits is getting nude and sweating it...which can be very intimidating for sauna newbies.

And - because this is Germany - there are rules. Follow these guidelines or ready yourself for the wrath of some stern and very nude Germans. (That is one way to truly learn the German word "Schwanze".) Enjoy this necessary cultural adventure with the rules on 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. There are usually lounge areas, pools, hot tubs, and outdoor areas. Amenities like snack bars, restaurants, and attached hotels are also commonly available. For an additional fee you can purchase a massage or treatments like facials, manicures and pedicures.

Saunas are usually mixed-gender, but single sex are occasionally offered. Larger spas have several kinds of saunas so you can build up to the hottest temps in different soothing saunas with cool down periods in-between. Germans will firmly tell you this is for your heath as you alternate between teeth chatter stewing in your own sweat.

Etiquette at a German Sauna

Duration

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. There is usually a sand timer by the door. Turn that over once you enter and see if you can withstand.

Nudity

Nudity is the norm in the German sauna and only foreigners seem weirded out by this.

Germans find nothing alarming about nudity itself, or going nude with friends, co-workers or even mother-in-laws.

Swimsuits are strictly verboten (except the pool, and even there many go FKK) as they are seen as a holder 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's puddle.

Basic Sauna Gear:

  • Shower sandals
  • Robe
  • Bottle of water

Step-by-Step Instructions

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 often 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 with a space for your sandals. Open the door quickly and close it to keep the temps inside spicy hot. 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

Aufguss, or infusions, are the scented oils used in the saunas. They are periodically added at specific times listed on the schedule and experienced sauna-goers make sure to catch their favorite. The Aufguss is announced with the ringing of a bell and a Saunameister enters, explaining what will happen. They spread the heat and infusion with the flapping of a towel which can be quite intense. This small ceremony should not be interrupted so if you miss the start, you will need to wait for the next session.

Cooling off period

The cooling off sessions between saunas is a vital part of the experience.

Chilling showers, outdoor pools, frischluftraum (open-air room) or even ice baths are considered part of the relaxation.

Expat Accounts of Going to the Sauna in Germany

If you are still wary, refer to these foreigner accounts: