How I Mastered the Art of Bathing Nude in Public: Baden-Baden, Germany

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Central pool at Friedrichsbad, Baden- Baden: http://www.carasana.de

I’d been steamed, cleaned, brushed and creamed. My nakedness no longer fazed me as an attendant led me to a door for Step 16. He stopped, solemnly turned to me and put his index finger to his lips. What happened on the other side was the apex of an extraordinary experience.

This article was published in Canada’s The Globe and Mail newspaper. You can continue reading there, or keep going here. I have included photos in the blog post (not mine except for exterior photo) to help convey the grandeur of the place. 

Rewind two hours. My husband, Mike, and I enter the Friedrichsbad, a temple to the art of bathing in Germany’s capital of bathing, Baden-Baden. The enormous neoclassical bathhouse is over 140 years old, but people have been soaking in Baden-Baden’s mineral-rich hot springs since Roman emperor Caracalla found relief for his arthritis almost 2000 years ago.

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Friedrichsbad in Baden-Baden-Germany

The instructions are simple. No clothing. We’ve hit the baths on a co-ed day – men and women share the change room, showers, saunas, pools… Some days are segregated, but it’s nude 24-7. I’ve stripped down to my birthday suit save for the locker key attached to my wrist. I’m not a complete newbie to public nudity but it has been a while. I try to act nonchalant as a good-looking young attendant (fully clothed) explains the 17-step ritual.

We’re escorted to Step 1: the shower, a step that is repeated numerous times during the ritual. A large open space is lined with industrial strength showers. In very precise German manner, the instructions tell us to spend four minutes under the glorious downpour. Thankfully there appear to be no repercussions for ignoring the directive.

We move on to the dry heat rooms, spacious caverns adorned with painted tiles of exotic birds. I’m slowly beginning to unwind as the hot air envelops me. There’s a beautiful, comatose woman next to me with a deep full body tan – clearly no stranger to nudity or relaxation.

Another shower and we’ve made it to Step 5: the brush scrub. I’m instructed to lie face up on a white marble table. Face up, really? The attendant asks whether I’d like the hard or soft option. I’ve done my homework – “Go for the soft brush,” say the TripAdvisor reviews. My anxiety melts away as the warm, soapy water is ladled over my body. I stifle a laugh when the soles of my feet are brushed, but the rest is incredibly soothing. A friendly slap on the back indicates that time’s up. So soon! I wish the allocated eight minutes for this step was at least double.

The red lines on Mike’s back are a dead giveaway; he didn’t do his homework. He’s unperturbed though and happily sweating it out in the first of two steam rooms. According to the sign, this is the only bathhouse in the world that has a steam room heated entirely with thermal heat.

There’s a pyramid structure in the middle of the room and an elderly man is lying spread eagle on the top platform. My first reaction is “Oh gross,” but I admire his Roman emperor-like confidence. Nudity, it’s so natural for these Europeans. Young and old, goddess types and well-worn mortals, they all glide through the ritual with monastic calm.

Next come a series of thermal pools (Steps 9 through 11) in rooms with Roman statues and arched marble. I’m alone in the first pool, floating effortlessly, the warm water caressing my body. It feels like the temperature has been perfectly calibrated just for me. I could stay here forever but the bubbling whirlpool bath beckons my achy lower back. The pièce de résistance is the round, central pool directly under a magnificent 17-metre-high domed ceiling.

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The magnificent central pool, http://www.carasana.de

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Domed ceiling over central pool, http://www.carasana.de

This is like no spa I’ve ever been to. In fact, I’m reluctant to even call it a spa. There’s no Zen music, cushy bathrobes, eucalyptus-infused air or anti-aging treatments. The Friedrichsbad, in all its austere grandeur, is about the simple art of bathing, and ironically, despite German precision, losing track of time and place.

Hubby wimps out on Step 13: a cold pool plunge. I’m determined to follow the entire ritual. And this step is supposed to be especially good for you. Crap it’s cold!

One final shower and we’re handed wonderfully warm drying sheets. I giggle when I read the sign that says the prescribed time for the drying step is four minutes. Do they have some German bathing scientist studying the time for optimal dryness?

Now, at ease with my nudity, I discard my drying sheet. The attendant quickly hands me a fresh one explaining that I shouldn’t get chilled before the next step: the cream massage. Soon, I’m on a table, face up again. No big deal this time. Skilled hands gently massage a rich lotion into my skin. Damn that feels good!

I arrive at Step 16. The attendant opens the door to a dimly lit, circular room lined with several dozen simple beds. My brain is blissfully zoned out but it registers a few unmoving lumps under the thick blue blankets. I’m led to a bed where the attendant spreads a warm sheet and motions me to get in. He starts by folding the sheet and blanket over my feet, then tightly tucks both sides around my naked body. He gives my shoulder a gently pat that says “nighty night” and walks quietly out of the room.

I’m detached from my anxiety-riddled, middle-aged self – calm, safe and care-free, swaddled like an infant in my warm, cozy blanket. Could there be anything more sublime?

Then, I’m asleep. This is a miracle. I’m a terrible sleeper even in my own bed. There’s probably a prescribed time for this activity, but no one wakes me. When I arise from my dreamless slumber I have no idea how long I’ve been out, and I don’t care. There’s no clock on the wall or cell phone by my bedside. I linger, not wanting this marvellous experience to end.

I learn later that the Friedrichsbad inspired Mark Twain to say, “After 10 minutes you forget time, after 20 minutes, you forget the world.” So true.

How cruel it would be to abruptly end the ritual here. No doubt the art of bathing scientists have thought this through with the final step: No. 17, the reading room. Four hours after we started our bathing journey we’re lounging on comfy recliners, drinking herbal tea and leafing through magazines, a bridge that gently eases us back into the world outside the Friedrichsbad.

For opening times, prices and other info visit www.carasana.de 

For those who are following our cycle trip in France and Germany, our visit to Baden-Baden was our final stop…a perfect place to soothe our aches and pains. I’ve skipped ahead with  this post to coincide with the publishing of The Globe and Mail article but will return to our cycling in Alsace, France in my next post.

 

Categories: Germany | Tags: , , , | 47 Comments

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47 thoughts on “How I Mastered the Art of Bathing Nude in Public: Baden-Baden, Germany

  1. …good, & lovely writing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. HI Caroline, What a great post and what a wonderful, lush experience. But nup no nuddy for me. I would have to go next door. My blood runs prudey English so nudey rudey. I would love to be able to do though.
    Congratulations on article getting picked up by the Globe. Well deserved. Louise

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Louise! Haha, I know you are not alone. Unfortunately Mike and I didn’t have time to use the facilities next door but we did go take a look and it’s absolutely gorgeous. Nice to have options!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post! The German sauna experiences are so lovely but this one sounds incredible! Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Perhaps you would enjoy some of the amazing hot springs in the western US.I try to visit as often as I can and blog about it

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It reminds me of my time in a co-ed Turkish Bath in Selcuk Turkey. We were on a cycling trip but unlike you I did not do my research. One of the funniest, and ultimately cleanest, stories in our travels.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Mike Hohmann

    Great job with this post, Caroline. What a story, what a place! I’ll have to have my wife read it and see if she’s interested in a visit… but I think I already know the answer to that one! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  7. That sounds utterly delightful. I love that they let you nap afterwards!!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Caroline to say that we loved this post is an understatement at best! LOVED, LOVED this post. So well written, and we almost feel like we went through the 17 steps with you. It’s interesting as we sit here in India where only women massage women, and men for men to read about the co-ed experience. You make reference to it as a European experience but probably the Germans are particularly comfortable with nudity, more so than France, Spanish, Italian. Although we did see nude corners on most of the Spanish beaches we visited this summer.

    I have not been to Baden Baden, but Ben confirms that it is a very special place that you have conveyed well with your terming it austere grandeur. The infrastructure is indeed magnificent, although what Ben remembers most about Baden Baden was the amazing white asparagus rather than the baths themselves.

    Our favorite memories of communal baths and scrub downs are the ones we had in Morocco to be sure and of course they were never co-ed. We both wear glasses and so once those come off, it’s somehow easier to be less self conscious. And in Japan we went to the Ofuro, which of course is also segregated and quite an experience.

    Wonderful post, so enjoyed all of it….

    P.S. Mike, I can tell you that Ben completely relates to your avoidance of the icy water pools.. when we have been in outdoor hot springs, he avoids those like the plague, whereas I love the contrast and the cool off.

    P.P.S Mike, consider doing more homework next time to avoid those red marks and over eager scrubbers and beaters 🙂

    Peta

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Peta and Ben for all your lovely comments! I think you are correct about the Germans being at the forefront of comfort with nudity among the Europeans (not sure why this is though?). And, interesting as you remark about how different it is throughout the world.

      Ben’s comment about white asparagus brought a smile to my face. This was one of my parents absolute favourite foods. We ate them at many Sunday dinners—but from a glass jar because fresh ones weren’t available in Canada at that time (they’re still really difficult to find). This makes me think of another vegetable that they loved and also not common in N.America—black salsifies (yummy). But I digress.

      Mike has been to the baths in Morocco and has vivid memories of his scrub downs. A trip to Japan and an experience at an onsen is high on both our lists.

      Other than the cold plunges Mike is really starting to embrace the “spa” experience…perhaps it’s living in a cold, damp climate that we crave the comfort and warmth. I’m heading to the steam shower shortly…Cheers!

      Like

  9. What a great article! And the complete opposite of anything in India where you’re clothed head to toe! Reading your article, I think I could do that, go naked in public, but could I? It sounds like a nice treat though after our past 1 1/2 years.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! You guys have had such amazing travel adventures but I can imagine it has been stressful and tough going at times. A place like the Friedrichsbad would be a nice treat. I’m sure after all the mountains you’ve climbed and waters you’ve dived in, being naked in public would be easy-peasy.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I was carried along with you. What an experience! I would so love to do that – it sounds utterly blissful.
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

    • You and Don should add it on to your next Europe trip. It is a really neat experience and I felt so relaxed (plus great for all the little aches after more than three weeks on a bike).

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Valerie MacDonald

    Well strip me off and sign me up!! This is fabulous, Caroline, congratulations!!!🍾 So much fun to read.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Hey Caroline, Greetings from Germany, where everyone is naked 🙂
    I’m at different Saunas/SPAs frequently and as Berlin is very touristy, there are also a lot of Americans (and by that I mean from both continents) who embrace experimentation, giggling like hell because of their sudden nudity. I was curious how it must feel which was in my eyes prude and uptight, and I googled for “American, Berlin, naked, sauna” and found a lot of articles from bloggers about exactly this experience. What they all had in common: After a while, they said, nudity becomes kind of normal in those everybody-is-naked-atmospheres. There was always a “but” aswell :-).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, are you Germans parading around in the nude while hiking now 😉!? I can just imagine what your google search came up with! It is interesting, isn’t it, how the American/Canadian culture is so different in this respect?! Even though my German parents raised me to be comfortable with nudity, the cultural norms here have certainly influenced my relative prudishness. I haven’t visited Berlin in a long time but I’d love to return and check out some of your spas! Thanks for your great comments.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Monika MacNeill

    Fantastic article! and what an amazing experience it must have been! I feel like booking a trip right now.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Globetrotting Grandpa

    What a well-written piece. Congrats on having your story picked up. It’s below zero here in KC today, could use a nice hot bath.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Now I want to book us into Friedrichsbad, pronto. You wrote about it so well that I could imagine the attendant buffing my feet, them curling with pleasure at all the pampering. The nudist clause has me stop short because I have never gone in the buff in public before. But there is always a first time — and I suppose it would be not be such an intimidating thought when everyone else is in their birthday suit.
    Lastly, the luxury of being swaddled in a warm blanket after the hot and cold baths is all too irresistible. Fabulously written post, Caroline, along with that cheeky reference to the German penchant for precision. 🙂 xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Dippy! I’m sure you and Adi would embrace this experience. You’re right, it’s not so intimidating when everyone strips down to their birthday suits (and when you don’t know anyone else). It really is like no other “spa” I’ve been to and the town of Baden-Baden is a nice place to hang out in for a few days. I figured it was OK to poke fun at the Germans given my heritage. My dad was such a stickler for precision and punctuality. I keenly remember his wrath when I didn’t abide by timelines/curfews😉.

      Like

  16. Once again, you have conveyed place, time, mood, and overall ambiance so beautifully! Having had a few (semi-successful) bathhouse experiences myself, I applaud your all-in attitude when it comes to public nudity. Try as I might, I cannot get fully comfortable when I’m asked to be naked in public. And co-ed? I couldn’t do it. Congrats on the publication!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Lexie! Maybe it’s my upbringing—European parents with a rather nonchalant attitude about nudity. I forgot to mention that right next door to the Friedrichsbad is the Caracalla Bath, a gorgeous, modern bath house that is family-friendly and where bathing suits are actually mandatory. I wish we’d had the time to go there too. Baden-Baden, beyond the bath houses, is also a very lovely city.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. I’ve only been to a spa once, thanks to an outing to Bali organized by the people in my first office. I remember the moment I felt so relaxed and started falling asleep, the masseuse indicated that the session was over. In total I spent one hour, but it felt as if I was there only for ten minutes. Have you tried going to an onsen? I haven’t tried it myself, but that is one of the things I’d love to try the next time I go to Japan.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hate that when a wonderful massage ends. I always feel like saying “can’t you just continue for another hour” or “just let me sleep now”. Unfortunately massage treatment is rather expensive here and so will have to remain an occasional one-hour treat.
      I have not been to an onsen but it will be high on my list when we get to Japan. I have seen so many beautiful photos and read such glowing accounts of this experience. Hope you get to Japan again soon so you can give it a try.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Pingback: How I Mastered the Art of Bathing Nude in Public: Baden-Baden, Germany – FitandFunNow.com

  19. Great story. I think I’m going upstairs to take a bath! Exciting to see this in the Globe and Mail, too! Congrats:)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Shannon. I think you guys would get a kick out of it—a unique experience in a lovely town. I expected Baden-Baden to be busy, but it wasn’t at all (maybe mid-week in October helped). Hope you had a nice bath!

      Like

  20. Brian Foster

    Sorry, I fell asleep half way through your post. Transcendental bathing I must assume. Off to la la land now. P.S. I’m with Mike skipping the cold part. Hate cold water on my body especially when it’s hot. Cold is for drinking. What a blast. Four hours. Wow. What food and wines pairs well with hot bathing?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Baden-Baden has no shortage of wonderful cafes, restaurants and local wine. We staggered out of the bath house and immediately parked ourselves in an opulent cafe. We splurged on a fancy hotel and a gorgeous dinner. It was a great way to end our cycling tour.

      Like

  21. I can’t imagine taking part in a this bathing ritual… then again, it heavenly.
    Beautifully written Caroline

    Liked by 1 person

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