My scandalous (NSFW) visit to a naked German sauna; and tips to deal with it!

So when in Germany, do as the Germans do. Well, for me I could only follow this advice partially as I could barely join them in their good looking non-vegetarian meals, but I did try something that most tourists often shy away from - I went to sauna with my (unknown) German brethren.

What is the big deal about German sauna? There are saunas across the world, and I had already been to multiple ones in India. I actually quite like them as they are the prefect place to relax at the end of a long and tiring day, and apparently saunas also have health benefits. Things can't be any different in a German sauna as well, right? Well, I found out a hard way.

german nude naked sauna
A typical German sauna (Source: Wikipedia, photographer: Eugen Nosko)

So one day when I was dead tired after walking the entire day in Dresden, I decided to do something relaxing. I would have ideally preferred a massage, but I was sure the price would be prohibitive (without even checking) so instead decided to do something free - German sauna. Looking back now, I really think I should have googled a little bit more about the etiquette of visiting a Sauna in Germany.

I was a guest at the Swissotel Dresden Am Scholss and decided to use the sauna there itself (it was free). I picked my bathrobe, towel and took the lift to the basement where the Sauna was located. I think I can now blame the beautiful receptionist who told me at least twice that I could use the sauna till 10 PM and that it was completely free for guests for this visit.

german nude naked sauna dresden
The relaxing area at the sauna in my hotel at Dresden

Unlike the spas of India, the saunas in Germany are more like do-it-yourself spaces. I saw absolutely no one and that made me a little nervous. I saw two rooms - one said Herr and the other said Damien on the door. Herr sounded like a version of the English word ‘her’ and Damien sounded like a versions of another word ‘dame’. Confusing, right? I was completely sure that they both can’t be for the womenfolk, but was there a clue that I was missing?

Taking a leap of faith, I decided to walk into the one named ‘Herr’ and was relieved to see urinals at the end of the room. Thank God I didn’t bump into a woman changing clothes - that would have been a bit awkward. I quickly undressed, tied the towel across my waist, wore the towel gown and went out of the changing room from the other side. The place was really huge from inside, and I could hear the sound of hissing steam from a corner. This room had showers on the right and left and straight ahead were two sauna rooms.

Being a typically prude Indian, I was kind of relieved to see an empty shower area. I quickly stripped down to my birthday suit and enjoyed a few minutes of warm shower. After a long day walking in the cold, this was a perfect way to relax. Once done, I decided to hit the sauna and let all my body pores open, and my skin to rejuvenate. There were again two saunas, and I decided to go into the one that came first on my right.

However, I was in for a rather big surprise. The sauna was near full with young men wearing...errr...nothing. I think I took a moment to actually confirm that what I saw was actually true. I had two options now - flee (more practical) or join in (ridiculous). Being the only guy in the room with a towel on his waist and standing at the door looking unsure, I soon found everyone's gaze fixed at me, which made my next step even more weird. By this time I had decided that I won't flee and within seconds took off my towel, placed it on the wooden benches and for the first time walked naked and confidently in a group of complete strangers. The only embarrassing part was that everyone was looking at me :)

I realized sometime later that no one really looks when people walk in, and maybe I became a star attraction because of my initial inhibitions. The sauna was really really hot and almost completely full. By this time I had realised that there were things that I didn't know about German sauna and decided to observe what others did so that I could follow them later. Of course being an Indian in a German sauna meant that I was unable to sit for long and decided to walk out with the guy sitting next to me. We exchanged small pleasantries and he soon walked under a shower, and took a cold shower! I had heard of people in Scandinavia doing it, but this was a surprise.


Despite my best intentions of living the life of a local, I decided to skip the cold shower and took a lukewarm shower and then went to the second sauna room. I am not sure how this was different, but it seemed a bit more dry. A few minutes later it was time for another shower, but this time there was a bunch of older women as well. As it turned out, the sauna was not gender specific, but this time I was prepared and behaved as if this was a norm in my country as well.

As I ready to leave for the locker room, I saw some of my earlier companions, still walking in the buff, walking further deep into the sauna. The area looked much darker, and I could hear faint music playing somewhere far far away. I took my towel and decided to follow them. The short walk opened into a rather large room with relaxing chairs, falling water and cups of herb infused water. This was apparently the place to relax after sauna. I also took a recliner, and actually ended up taking a short nap.

I think it was close to midnight when I came back to my room, completely refreshed and relaxed. Any guesses what I did after that? Well, I took my camera and my tripod and went out for a walk to capture Dresden in the night. Here's an image from that awkwardly memorable night!

A post shared by The Wanderer (@siddharthajoshi) on


Of course, I did a bit of research about German sauna after coming back and my experience was rather typical. In fact I read many accounts of non-Europeans getting a bit of a cultural shock when they walked in to a naked sauna, especially the ones where men and women share the same space. However, that's not a big deal, it's a part of the German tradition and that's all that matters. In fact I would recommend trying it out if you visit Germany because it will certainly be a new experience, and a very relaxing one also after you get over the initial inhibitions. Trust me being naked in the company of many other naked people in close proximity is also a bit liberating, you are just as nature created you and it feels great to be comfortable with that!

Tips for Sauna in Germany

However, to help you plan a visit to the sauna better, here are some useful tips:

1. Drink lots of water before you go to the sauna and also after it.
2. It's best to carry your own towel, bath-robes and slippers. These will typically be available in your hotel room. If not, be prepared to shell out a few euros.
3. There is space to hang the bath-robe outside the sauna room, and you can take the towel inside. Keep the towel under you on the wooden bench, else you might suffer from burns in your butts! Some saunas don't allow towels inside at all and you need to wet the seat with water before you sit on it.
4. It's not acceptable to wear anything at all. Be prepared to be naked with a bunch of other naked people. And frankly, what's the big deal!
5. The saunas can get crowded at times, and there is a chance that you will be in close physical contact with another person. It is OK.
6. The saunas are often mixed saunas, like the one I visited. If you are not at all OK with it, some saunas also have women's only day so ask for these details.
7. It's good to spend anything between 10-15 minutes inside a sauna. However, if you are not comfortable, leave early.
8. There is often an instruction sheet, though it might not always be in English. The info-graphics are easy to understand - so if you are confused, just look for this sheet.
9. Do how the Germans do - hot saunas, cold shower. Repeat.
10. It is not good etiquette to look at someone for too long, especially down there. Keep your eyes at eye level and make new friends :)

In the end all I can say is that saunas in Germany are a different experience, but once you get used to their peculiarity, you can really enjoy them. Do give it a try :)

Comments

  1. Oh wow.. Sure sounds like one hellova experience.. :-)

    BTW think a photograph is missing after this sentence- "Here's an image from that awkwardly memorable night!"

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    1. Thanks Aarti for the heads-up about the image. Updated now :)

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    2. LOVE YOIR STORYS. TRUE BLUE BROTHER

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  2. Haha, this sounds like quite the experience. I hear Japanese onsen have the same custom - if you dare to wear a towel, you might jolly well be thrown out!

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  3. Great to hear how quickly you were able to "sweat out" your initial inhibitions and that the overall experience of non-sexual public nudity was a positive one. So many people just refuse to accept this could be the case without ever trying it. So what's next? Can I suggest clothing optional camping, a nude beach or maybe just sunbathing au naturel in the parks of Berlin. You will love these too I promise.

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  4. We Americans tend to be a little leary of the naked spa idea, because we're just not at all used to it. I guess I wish we had less inhibitions like the Germans. Good for you for trying it out the real way!

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  5. Oh wow, I could not handle a naked sauna! I would have been as shocked as you were. I'm so glad I read this post so I know what to expect/ avoid when I go there!

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  6. Welcome to Europe! ;) I've been plenty of times to saunas in Portugal, but never to a mixed sauna. I don't know how I would feel to be totally naked in front of completely strange men... but I guess if it's part of the culture, everybody is doing their thing and nobody really cares about you, right?

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  7. You forgot the most import part about being naked in public. Do a quick series of sit ups and push ups. It helps firm things up a bit. If you're going to, um... be out and about. Make sure you are looking good. Seriously though, funny post. I could imagine your discomfort and being the only dude in a towel doesn't help.

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  8. Well the Germans are not shy, so I m not surprised by this incident.

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  9. Ha, scandalous indeed! Thanks for the NSFW tag! Sounds like a relaxing time.

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  10. Thanks for share your experience. I live in The Netherlands and there's a lot of hotels with saunas and Spa's. I'd been traveling the last years inside Europe and saw also in Austria, Italia, France, Norway and Spain; of course also in Turkey. The most of the places where people use to go to ski has this kind of places too. After a cold day outside, it's always comfortable to enjoy a sauna.

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  11. That relaxing area of the sauna is simply soooo relaxing. I would love to chill there post sauna - the interiors are so cozy! Looks like a lovely experience.

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  12. WOW Sid..not that it really matters now, that you have witnessed it all and also been a part of the new Sauna style !!! However, those first couple of seconds...he he ...OMG, aab kya kaare !!! Different cultures, seeing thru ur eyes ..:) thanks dear..Awesome ..

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  13. I lived in Germany for a few years, and visited a couple of saunas, but always stayed on the "clothed" side. I never had the courage to venture over to the naked side. Good for you for going along with it!

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  14. sauna is taboo here in sub continent :)

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  15. I have noticed this tradition when i lived there. I didn't really like it and didn't go back but it's an interesting way of thinking... :)

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  16. Oh wow, I am not comfortable with this but I remember going to a bath in Budapest and the same thing happened.

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  17. Just one hint from a German: The word signifying loos for women is 'Damen', local plural form of 'Dame', parallel to English Dame/Dames. You'll also find the short forms D (Damen) und H (Herren).
    Germans in general are more comfortable with nudity in some areas of public life than e.g. US-Americans, although specific social rules always apply. For example, pre-school kids playing naked on the beaches are a common sight. And nudist beaches for all ages are also found quite often at the Baltic Sea.

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  18. I was looking for your realization at the end that Herr stands for Sir (Males) and Damen stands for women. Is it possible it wasn't mixed but that you went into the Men's Sauna???

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    1. Well, there was no men's sauna as I realised later on. The hotel only has mixed sauna but the changing rooms are different for men and women.

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  19. Haha here we see cultural difference. Im finnish but live in Sweden.
    Finnish sauna culture seems almost same as German. Even if Swedish people are more German (thinking of language etc). Swedish people are more shy, I reackt opposite way. "Why dont you shower properly" I see many who shower with swimsuit on.

    I also chocked out people in one swedish sauna.
    I was ofcourse naked people came in then they did go out.

    Happen also on beach in Sweden even small children is not ok to be naked.
    I once saw one naked bathing and guess what, they were Russian :)

    I guess in Germany they think as in Finland that this is not anyway sexual. I also think more important to be clean shower properly etc and in Sauna everyone is human. You dont see by uniform who each are...and many good discussions are run in sauna with people you normally would not talk with.

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    1. I also heard about Sweden in Finland...how people can be way more prudish about nakedness. Denmark though seems closer to Germany (only East I think) and Finland by looking at nakedness as a natural and sexual.

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  20. Hahaha. Nice post. Dude how on earth did you avoid a boner in this situation :D

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    1. Haha...maybe it's OK to have a boner. Thankfully it didn't happen to me...public nakedness is fine, boner would be a bit embarrassing for me :P

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    2. Agreed. Albeit, putting your pic would've been a better idea in place of the pic from wiki ;)

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    3. No inhibitions in putting up my pic, but it will certainly put many of my readers off ;)

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