I thought I knew everything about the sauna as I come from the country that invented it. But when I entered a German spa, I found another world I did not know anything about..
For our mini-break in Hamburg I chose a spa hotel for my husband and I as I love a hotel with a swimming pool. But at that time I was oblivious to what it actually means to go to a spa in Germany. My husband did try to subtly warn me but of course I didn’t listen. So now that I know, I will go on to tell you all about it so that you will be prepared for your German spa experience and won’t have a panic attack like I almost did.
The first thing you must know about a German spa is that they are mixed. Yes – this means that there is no “women/men only” type of thing going on like at the Yrjönkatu baths in Helsinki. This would technically not really be a problem if not for what I will tell you next.
The second and most important fact is that everyone is expected to be naked. In fact the saunas are textile free. This basically means that no swimsuits are allowed. So to clarify – yes, this means that there will be naked women AND men in the sauna. If there is a pool in the spa area, this also goes for that.
Even though the saunas are textile free, I saw people go in with their towels. I felt quite relieved as I thought I could just use the towel to cover myself. Silly me. The towel must be put on the bench and you must sit on it so that even your feet do not touch the wood paneling! If you want to sit upright and keep your feet on the lower bench, then you actually need two big towels. Your skin must not touch wood in any circumstance. Many people opt to spread out their towel on the bench and then just lie there and enjoy. Talk about awkward.
Thank goodness I did not know anyone at the spa apart from my husband. That would’ve been too much. But it seems that I do not fully appreciate how fun that could be. I saw many people hanging (omg.. excuse the pun!) out with their friends and colleagues without any awkwardness whatsoever.
Something us Finns must take into account is that you must NEVER throw water onto the sauna stove. Only someone called the Saunameister is allowed to do this. Apparently there is actually a five week course to become a Saunameister. The ritual of throwing the water is called Aufguss. First, the Saunameister will throw water on the stove and then proceed to twirl a towel to fan those in the sauna to circulate the steam. Seriously? For a Finn this kind of behaviour seems absolutely ridiculous! But let’s stay openminded.
You must also respect that others are there to relax and stay silent. Which is sometimes difficult for Finns because although otherwise quiet people, the sauna is a place where you exchange news with your friends.
Do not go to the spa with screaming children looking for water fun. If you must take your children to the spa, then you should check for special days when children are allowed or go to a water park. Germans go to the spa to relax, so whining children will not go down well. Do notice that all this nakedness will also be going on at any water park’s spa section.
And finally – do not stare at people!! The only one doing that will be you and it will be highly embarrassing. For Germans, being naked at the spa is not a big deal.
If you are going to try the spa at the Aspria in Hamburg (which I do recommend you do as it is very stylish and has many amenities), it will be good to know that the spa area is separate from the actual swimming pool and outdoor pool. You will first enter the changing room, which, thank goodness, is not unisex. When you exit there, you will be in the “normal” pool area and have the choice of either going swimming (with your swimming costume) or entering the spa. You should not cast off your robe until you are in the actual spa area – other guests will surely get a shock otherwise!
Still too nervous to try it out? Laurel at Monkeys and Mountains has some really good tips for German spa beginners. For another Finn’s thoughts on the German sauna culture do read Ritva’s post at Visit Sauna.
I did not have a chance to take photos of the spa – but a Finnish summer landscape is the Finnish equivalent of a spa, so we will have to make do with that. And yes, you can swim naked in the lake but not at a public beach please.