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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!