3 Ways I Embarrassed Myself at the German Sauna

Photo: Erin Porter

About to get N-A-K-E-D

Don’t worry guys, I brought a towel to sit (and sweat) on in the sauna and didn’t try to wear my swimsuit into the nude areas. I’m not a German sauna newbie. I’ve been once before.

That one time was at touristy Tropical Island. I highly recommend it if you are also a spa novice. It is a full-on water park with slides and waterfalls and artificial beach front. But deep in its center lies an area cloaked in palm trees and signs barring entry for those under 16. We waffled back and forth if we were actually going into this adult-only zone before putting on our big boy pants (or taking them off, in this case) and entering.

As Germans consider regular spa going a part of good health and not a luxury, the average Germ knows what to do in the sauna. Not so for a couple of expats from Seattle. We clumsily felt our way through the process of showering, storing our clothes in a cubby and dramatically dropping the towel to enter a steamy room full of naked Germans. And – no surprise for those who’ve done it before – it wasn’t so bad! We emerged thoroughly moist and with muscles that had deeply relaxed so that we were basically moving puddles. It was fabulous.

Our worry about not knowing what to do was largely for not. Most places have signs and pictures for the German illiterate and it is easy enough to do as the Germans do. Many expats needlessly freak-out about it the nudity. Because Germans are serious about their swim-suit free zones (as Jessica found out). From Tropical Island’s website:

In the heat of the sauna, you need to be able to sweat freely. As the moisture evaporates from your skin, it cools you down – otherwise you would not be able to stand the temperatures of 60-100°C. This means that you need to be naked or just wear a towel. Wearing a bathing costume would be very uncomfortable, as well as unhygienic.

Seriously guys – get over your fears about nudity. No one cares and the only way you will embarrass yourself is by trying to wear a swimsuit.

The other vital bit of info is that while you don’t need a swimsuit, you need something to separate your body from the seat. You sweat – a lot – in the sauna and lengthy signs describe how your sweat can damage the fine woods/stone/natural material. This means you’ll need to carry a towel to sit-on, as well as a towel to dry off. Loathe be the person who tries to sit their buns down without a towel.

We had the bare (forgive me) basics down. But on our second visit to the German sauna I still managed to mess up and embarrass myself. Learn from my mistakes fellow newbies.

1. Forgoing shower shoes

I had read the website’s list of what to bring and evaluated what I thought was necessary. I figured I could skip the shower shoes. I was wrong. I was the only one in the whole place without a slipper or sandal. Padding around with my naked feet I felt particularly uncovered. Apparently, I can get used to being naked but not to standing out.

Tulikivi_Nuoska_Sauna_Heater2. Missed the Aufguss 

We were so out of the loop our first time I don’t even know if there was an Aufguss. But since that time I have heard Germans describe the wonder of infusions and was determined to try it myself.

“What is the Aufguss?”, I hear you say. Basically, it’s the dousing of hot stones of the stove with cold or hot water in the sauna. The intense heat and introduction of fragrances (like eucalyptus and mint) are an integral part of the spa visit.

German spas have a schedule (of course they do) and a herd usually arrives several minutes before the Aufguss is to begin and settle in to sweat. I had read the schedule and positioned us in the Himalayan salt spa for the scheduled salt scrub. We waited…and waited. Suspecting the Germans wouldn’t run late, we peeked out to find the Aufguss happening in the sauna next door.

3. Nearly Lost my Mind When I Did Make it into the Aufguss

Disappointed by my earlier failure, I needed to make the next Aufguss. It was listed as “mild”. Perfect.

We arrived moments before the allotted time and tried to find a seat as our eyes adjusted to the dark. This was made difficult by two people lounging full-out on the bottom benches. Delicately, I made my way around them and their private parts, forced onto the top bench. This is the hottest seat in the house and I paid for it.

The ceremony began with an older guy in beach shorts stepping in and giving a brief spiel about what was to happen. I caught that the liquid would be poured three times as he struck a dong and began. The rise in temperature was immediate. He begun flapping what looked like an old carpet, pushing the heat directly into my soul. I made it through the first round and breathed in deeply, starting a dry coughing fit. The second infusion had me melting, feeling the sweat practically jump off to escape the furnace that had become my body. “This is mild!?” I thought deliriously as I wondered if there was a chance for escape. But my path was blocked by nude bodies and the Aufguss meister and I promised myself I just needed to make it through one more and I’d be free. One woman did make a hasty escape as there was another dong, another wafting of the air. Another woman was just clinging to life she passively took being hit in the face by the waving carpet.

Finally – it was over. I practically ran away and felt my heart beating out of my chest. I had done it. It hadn’t been very comfortable, there was a schedule and rules and it was oh-so-very-German.

Leave a Reply