"One day it occurred to me that it had been many years since the world had been afforded the spectacle of a man adventurous enough to undertake a journey through Germany on foot. After much thought, I decided that I was a person fitted to furnish to mankind this spectacle. So I determined to do it. This was in March, 1878." Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad


Baden-Baden 2: The Bathers

WARNING--VIEWER DISCRETION ADVISED: By titling this post 'The Bathers' I do not mean to refer to a Paul Cezanne painting. But the bathing I'm about to talk about is every bit as nude and every bit as public as anything Cezanne might have painted...Oh, and it involves us.

So this whole story starts with our anonymous donor. --Yes, we have an anonymous donor, and you, too, can become a donor, anonymous or named; we'll gladly accept your money and do frivilous or unfrivolous things with it, whatever you prefer. Just let us know...

Back to the story.

So our anonymous donor (you know who you are!) gave us a generous sum of money, but on one strict condition: we had to do something completely extravagant, completely indulgent, competely unneccesary with it.

So we did.

~~Welcome to Friedrichsbad~~

The modern Friedrichsbad opened in 1877 (being built on the site of the old Roman baths). Throughout its history it has been considered the Cadillac of European bath houses. The building certainly looks like a palace.
The bathing process at Friedrichsbad is rigorous and elaborate. From start to finish the course takes three hours and includes seventeen different stages. The various stages involve showers, baths, saunas, steam rooms, massages, lotions, and to top it off, a nap. In the words of Mark Twain--just one of the many famous Friedrichsbad bathers--"Here at Friedrichsbad you lose track of time within ten minutes and the world within twenty."

In our experience, this idea of "losing track of the world" is no exaggeration.

You see, Friedrichsbad isn't a run-of-the-mill spa. There's a catch. You're naked. That's right: No clothes. No towels. And you're not alone. As you can imagine, at first, this can be a bit disorienting.

In fact, the first part is probably the hardest. After paying for the bath we climbed the stairs of the palacial building and, following our instructions, turned left. Here you enter a changing room. This is where you leave your clothes and, at the end of the three hours, find them again. Just stripping yourself in a place where other men and women simply wander by is a tad unnerving, but we persisted. After you secure your clothes in the locker you are not yet stark naked because you have a sheet. The sheet is used in the first 4 stages, which are sauna stages. After this they take the sheet from you (but at least you get to hide your bits and pieces at the beginning!).

So clutching our sheets, we shuffled toward the enterance of the bath process. Here we were met by a young, fully clothed, and at least tri-lingual "bathing guide"; she welcomed us, explained the general outline of the process, and invited any questions we might have. We could only think about the odd sensation of standing basically naked before someone, about our age, whom we had never met, and who was fully clothed.

The odd sensation of the 'naked before the not naked' quickly changed, however, because in the next room you become just one naked body among many other, and very different, naked bodies (there was even a very pregnant woman in this first room). Strangely enough, after the first few rooms you gradually forget that you are without clothes, and being in the buff suddenly becomes normal, even comfortable and fun.

Now, back to the details.

Room 1: as mentioned, this is the introductory shower. This is where you must take leave of your sheet and rinse off before you're allowed to enter the rest of the spa. This was a bit uncomfortable for me as you're a mere few inches from other nude people. The interesting thing is that almost all the bathers we encountered throughout the process were our age and, well, mostly attractive (or not unattractive). At this point, however, I tried my best to keep my eyes down and my face turned towards the wall.

Room 2: Large sauna. After reclaiming your towel and quickly wrapping yourself in it, you slip on plastic sandals and walk into a large sauna room. The walls and ceiling are decorated with beautiful mosaics, and there are several wooden lounge chairs to relax on. Of course, just as I got comfortably wrapped up again in my towel, I had to unwrap myself and use the sheet to lay on instead. So there you are, sprawled out and fully exposed in a room of other nudes coming and going. Here, I was still feeling self-conscious, but the feeling gradually went away as I laid down, closed my eyes, and relaxed for the perscribed 15 minutes*.

*When you pay, you get to use the spa for up to 3 hours. As you go into each room, there is a recommended time amount for each stage and clocks on the wall to help keep you on track.

Room 3: Small, hot sauna. Here you walk through a curtain and enter a small room, which we shared with another couple (from Russia I think). The intense heat is an immediate shock. Once again, you lay down on your towel. By this time, I'm thinking that the naked thing isn't so bad; in fact, I'm a bit proud of myself that I am becoming so nonchalant about it. You only stay in here about 10 minutes, and by the end of it you are covered in sweat. So we gestured goodbye to our new found nude friends and moved on.

Room 4: Showers. Once again, you hang up your towel and step under the showers to rinse off. The showers have a huge shower head up top, but there is also a smaller shower head in the middle that hits you in the stomach or hip area, depending how tall you are. They also provide soap in a dispenser, if you are so inclined. We noticed that everyone was soaping up generously and washing all their parts, so we did as well--not wanting to appear unclean!

Room 5: Brush massage. If you want, you can pay 10 extra Euros to get what they call an "Irish Brush Massage." If you can get past the naked thing and the idea of someone from the opposite sex doing the massage, then I highly recommend it--though for some it will definately require an exercies in...ummmm...concentration. First, you lay down on the massage table on your back--sunny side up you might say. Then they squeeze out warm soapy water on you. Next they use a coarse brush (I asked for the soft brush, but it was still very rough) to give you an ivigorating scrub down. This is followed by a massage with lotion. Then you turn over on your stomach, and they repeat the process. And when I say that they massage you, I mean EVERY part--or just about. The most startling part is at the end. When they are done massaging your bum, they give it a nice slap and say, "Danke!", and send you on your way to shower again.

Room 6: Showers. Yes, once again you shower off and rinse away all the lotion stuff from the brush massage. But after you get out, you realize that you no longer have a towel to hide behind. You must give up your towel in exchange for a small, square mat.

Room 7: Mineral steam bath. This was one of our favorites. In the middle of the room is a three-level stone pyramid thing that you sit on (using your mat) and enjoy the hot steam infused with minerals. The steam comes from the ceiling, so if you sit on the top level, the heat is quite intense. The minerals gave the room a menthol smell that seemed to clear you out as you inhaled it--it really is quite intoxicating. There is also a little waterfall of spring water on one wall that provides a nice ambiance. You're supposed to stay in there for about 15 minutes. This room is really quite relaxed as all the couples sit around, bask in the steam, and hold quiet conversations with each other.

Room 8: Small mineral steam bath. As I look back over the spa map, I think we accidentally skipped this room. Or maybe all the minerals were clogging my brain, and I blanked out in this room. Anyways, it supposed to be similar to room 7, just a bit hotter.

Room 9: Large thermal pool. Before entering this room you must dispose of your mat. Now you really have nothing to hide behind. But I found that by this time, you are so acclimated and relaxed that you hardly notice you're nude. Plus, it's not like anyone gawks at you. Everyone around you acts normally and keeps to themselves; they may smile or gesture something or exchange small words, so you go along with it and do the same. Back to the pool. The pool is comfortably warm and fairly large. You spend about 15 minutes hanging out in the water, floating around and swimming about--and skinny dipping is always fun! This is the first of several pools.

Room 10: Thermal whirlpool. This is basically a large whirpool with strong jets. Again, about 15 minutes of relaxing in the warm mineral water. There was also a little drinking fountain next to the pool where you could have a sip of the mineral spring water. It's hot and has a strong salty taste--not exactly enjoyable but supposedly good for your health in small amounts.

Room 11: Thermal therapy pool.
This is the largest and most beautiful room. There is a huge circular pool and a beautiful dome overhead. The water felt pretty cool after being in the whirlpool. We were reluctant at first, but then decided to jump in and have a swim. We were actually the first couple we were aware of who made the plunge, but after this a few others followed; the father assured them it was not so bad. We didn't spend the full amount of recommended time in the pool, but we did spend awhile under one of the hot showers located in each corner of the room.

Room 12: Showers. To get to this room you have to retrace your steps through the maze of pool and steam rooms. It's actually the shower room where you first started--oh my you have come a long way since that first, awkward experience. Here you take a good, long shower; being around a bunch of other naked people like you has become old habit--even a bit freeing.

Room 13: Cold water bath. This is a small pool with very cold water. We got in as far as our toes and then promptly turned around and left. But all the more to you if you can stand to take a dunk and have the true Friedrichsbad Irish Spa experience!

Room 14: Warm towels. Ahhhh...the towels are back and warmer than ever! Here you stand and give yourself a good towelling off and then wrap yourself up and sit and relax for a few minutes.

Room 15: Lotion. This was a bit of an odd experience for me. You have to get rid of your towel and walk over to this section of the room that has floor-to-ceiling mirrrors and little dispensers of lotion. It's a strange feeling to be rubbing lotion all over your body next to other people doing the same thing (did I mention we all were nude at the time?). But I guess your skin is in desperate need of moisturizer after all the soaking and showering.

Room 16: Relaxation room. This is a large, dark , circular room with about 20 beds filling the space. Here you are personally escorted over to a bed. The person (fully clothed, while you are not) lays down a clean sheet for you. Then you lay down and he wraps you in the sheet and then in a large blanket. He tucks the blanket around you so only your head peeks out. You are supposed to relax in your little cocoon for 30 minutes. I personally had a hard time relaxing because someone next to me was making awful snoring sounds, but at some point I did doze off because the next thing I new the Father was poking me to say it was time to go.

Room 17: Reading Room. This room we opted out of. It's basically several lounge chairs surrounded by reading materials. You're supposed to spend 30 minutes here. Looking back, we both wished we would have spent a longer time in the earlier rooms instead of wasting our time at the end. Oh well, there's always a next time!

So there you have it. Three blissfull hours in a German spa. I know some of you are thinking of us as a bit crazy for doing this, but we decided that since we're in Germany we might as well do as the Germans do--call it a cultural learning experience, if you please. There is still so much more to tell, but these other stories and observations from our bath experience are probably best left to personal conversations and not a public blog. I can assure you that Father's version of the experience is worth hearing!

Thank you anonymous donor for this memorable experience! It was Just What we needed!

No comments:

Post a Comment