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The German sauna ‘Survival Guide’

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Yes, that’s what German saunas are like. The norm, really.

Today, I’m not persuading or recommending anyone to go for a sauna experience in Germany. This is because I think as adults we can make informed decisions. I know many foreigners might be hesitant to visit a sauna in Germany because they’ve heard of many ‘rules’ which are different from whatever they’re used to back home. Some are extremely uncomfortable with nudity. And it probably doesn’t help to know that these saunas are mixed. Ok, I imagine my mum feeling her heart in her throat now.

We visited Panoramabad in Bornheim today. It’s an ordinary sports center with a huge swimming hall and a separate sauna area. Feeling the need to chill out and loosen those tight back and neck muscles, what could do us more good than a good sauna session? If you too ever fancy a sauna in Germany but isn’t too sure what to expect, read on for some tips.

Tips on what to bring

1. Bring 2 bath towels. One’s for you to wrap yourself as you walk around and the other to dry yourself.

2. Bring a waterproof slipper so you don’t walk around barefooted.

3. Bottled water to keep yourself well hydrated.

I didn’t forget about bringing a swimsuit. You don’t need it and if you insist on wearing one, just go swimming.

What to expect in the sauna

1. Contrary to what people do anywhere else, you don’t wear a swimsuit or wrap yourself up in a towel when you enter the sauna. The Germans believe that you’re supposed to sweat it all out and having some sort of garment on isn’t beneficial for your health. (Cringe all you want because your imagination is running wild already)

2. Wooden sauna room: Do lay your towel on your seat before sitting. I read somewhere that perspiration isn’t good for the wood so everyone brings in a towel to sit on. They also had rooms of various temperatures (45 – 95 degrees Celsius). If you haven’t been to a sauna lately or are a first timer, go for the cooler room first and work your way up.

3. Sauna room with tiles: DO NOT BRING YOUR TOWEL IN! Yes, we learnt it the hard way. Walked straight in with a towel and got told by two men that that wasn’t allowed (don’t go eeeeeeewwwww). There are water hoses in the sauna which you’re supposed to use to hose the seats before and after sitting on them.

4. Time in sauna: I would say spend 5-12mins in each room but not consecutively. The Germans do spend a longer time in there as they believe that’s how they can achieve the full health benefits. However, listen to your body. If you don’t feel right, LEAVE to cool down.

5. Cold baths/showers: After each sauna experience, take a cold shower to cool down and then dry yourself. As excited as you might be for your next sauna experience, do not pop straight into a sauna room. There will be places to relax – read a book, have a drink or just take a nap. Enjoy!

Nudity

Apart from my Japanese onsen experience years ago, I’ve never been to a nude sauna. It was daunting in Japan when I visited a Japanese hot bath with my friends. It took us all girls 6hrs (plus some Japanese osake) before we walked into the onsen. We realised that the Japanese didn’t care!

Similarly, the Germans didn’t care either. People were there to relax and chill out. They aren’t there to check people out. Everyone was there either with their partners or friends. Sitting in a steamy room helped make everyone’s vision poorer, I believe.

It helps that it’s the norm to be naked in that environment. On the contrary, you might feel more self conscious if you were the only clothed one!

Mixed?!?!

Yes, this is what most people are uncomfortable with. Perhaps even more so than being nude. This is probably why most women are put off by German saunas too. Well, check out your local sauna to see if they have ‘Women only’ sessions. They usually do.

Like I’ve said, it’s all steamy. You can hardly see anything even if you wanted to. You also do not have to have any skin contact with any stranger. If a particular room is too crowded for your liking, go to another room or have a warm foot bath. No one will force you to sit close to a stranger if you don’t want to. We all love our personal space even when clothed!

One last tip

DO NOT STARE!

Let me know if a particular culture condones staring. This is pretty much common sense to me. We’re all there to relax and mind our own business. If you don’t like people staring at you, it probably means others don’t either.

Price

Our sauna experience cost us 7 Euros each for 2 hours. You could combine it with swimming (with a swimsuit of course) for 9 Euros and you can hang around for 3 hours.

Afterthoughts

We truly enjoyed our first German sauna experience as we haven’t felt as relaxed for ages! To me it’s not merely leisure but also a huge cultural experience. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. So when we’re in Germany, do as the Germans do! Just like when we were in Japan, we tried to do as the Japanese do! By engaging in activities like this, we learn a different culture.

Hmmm…planning our next sauna session! At least we now know of a good place to hang out in winter!

P.S. Do not ever let anyone force you go for a German sauna. Go when you’re mentally prepared so that you can enjoy the experience. It would be a shame to strike something as relaxing as a German sauna off the list just because you didn’t have right company to go with!

 

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  16. Great guide! I wish I had known some of these things before I jumped in at the deep end! The funniest thing is that I saw people wearing swimsuits and they were getting some very funny looks indeed :)

  17. Thursday night is Ladie’s night in all Frankfurt saunas! The only one that still mixes Thursday night is Rebstock because it is so large but they do reserve 1/3 for women only the area is screened off. The men that still go on Thursdays are usually gay men. Panorama Bad in Bornheim fills up quickly Thursday evenings so get there at the beginning or go to Rebstock for a larger selection.

  18. Loved your post. Reminded me of when I took my English wife to a Belgian spa a few weeks ago. She was a bit shocked as well. Too say the least. I think saunas are naked pretty much all over mainland Europe. There is only one thing that is worse than being the only person that is covered up: being the only person that is naked. Happened to me on my first visit to a UK sauna in the hotel I was staying in. You should have seen the panic in the staff’s eyes.
    Very embarrassing!!!

    1. Thank you! Oh my goodness! How did the Brits respond to that unexpected exposure?! Poor you! If that happened to me I would have demanded my husband to book another hotel just because I would be too embarrassed to bump into anyone at the sauna in the hotel. Hehe… So, it looks like you’re an expert in Infrared therapy? I’ve seen it once in the UK (at Center Parcs) when we went for a spa holiday. There wasn’t really any information on it at the spa and we didn’t know what it was about and hence, didn’t give it a go. But I guess I can find out more about it from your website now!

    1. Thanks for dropping by! Panorama Bad is like a simple local swimming and sauna place, nothing fanciful about it. But I enjoyed myself there. We tried one in Rebstockbad on Sunday and really liked it too. It has a Japanese theme throughout and an outdoor pool to swim in. It costs €13 per person for 3 hours. The only down side was that most rooms were not scented (except the steam room). At Panorama Bad most of the rooms had a unique scent and I found that relaxing. There’s a rather fancy one called Rhein Main Therme – would so love to try that out one day!

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