Germany has a long history of wellness pursuits with nearly 900 spa resorts including mineral and mud spas, climatic health resorts, seaside resorts and hydrotherapy spa resorts. One of the best places to experience the spa culture is in the posh resort town of Baden-Baden. It was here where I shed my clothes and most of my inhibitions for an afternoon at the traditionally nude Friedrichsbad Spa. If this middle-aged Grandmom can do it, so can you.
Those who know me best will tell you, I’m fairly adventurous. I’ve tagged crocodiles in Belize, hung out in a brothel in Guatemala, fished for piranhas in Peru and even drank a shot of whiskey with a petrified human toe to be inducted into the Sour Toe Cocktail club…a Yukon Territory tradition. But taking my clothes off in public was something I never, ever thought I would do.
Bathing Traditions in Baden-Baden
Located in the foothills of the Black Forest, Baden-Baden is known for its elegant hotels, sophisticated lifestyle, health spas and mineral-thermal baths. Its most famous spa is Friedrichsbad. Opened in 1877, the Friedrichsbad spa was dubbed a "temple of wellbeing" and was considered the most modern bathing establishment in Europe at the time. The lavishly decorated Neo-Classical structure has hosted royalty, soldiers recovering from injuries and Mark Twain who once said, "Here at the Friedrichsbad you lose track of time within 10 minutes and track of the world within 20." Apparently Mark Twain was more comfortable naked than I am.
Going Station to Station
Friedrichsbad's Roman-Irish bathing experience is comprised of 17 stations varying from a sequence of warm and hot dry air baths, a soap and brush massage, steam baths, thermal showers and thermal pools. I checked in at the reception desk and signed up for the works. It was here that I learned I had arrived on co-ed day. It just keeps getting better, doesn’t it?
I entered the locker room where several men and women were wandering about in various stages of undress. Averting my eyes from a gentleman who was wearing his dress shirt and tie without anything on the bottom half of his body, I located my locker and began to undress. Inside the locker was the best thing I had seen all day – a large sheet that was to be used as my towel. I couldn’t wrap that thing around me fast enough.
My glee at being wrapped up in the sheet vanished at the first station – a room full of showers with no curtains. The sheet took its place on a hook and sent me off on my naked way alone, well, actually not alone, there were plenty of other naked bodies to keep me company.
Stations two and three were saunas with reclining cedar chaise lounges. I stretched out on one of them alongside several couples who were thrilled to be there on co-ed day for some quality naked togetherness.
From the dry hot saunas, I ventured into the first of several steam rooms and settled in on the ancient tiles to await the call for my body brushing and massage.
I must admit I was really looking forward to the body brushing and massage. Of course I was picturing a private massage room. Not a chance. My male attendant directed me to a marble table situated in the middle of the room. Lying on my back, naked on a marble slab all I could think was, "Is this what it’s like to be on an autopsy table?"
Even Grandmom Can Overcome
Initially I was very uncomfortable wandering about in the nude, but as I soaked in the tranquil thermal pools beneath elaborate frescoes surrounding a marvelous central dome, I forgot about all those body flaws I prefer to hide. The experience was worth the initial discomfort – besides Europeans are used to naked people, even middle-aged Grandmoms.
But, if you can’t bring yourself to shed your clothes there is another option. Named for Roman Emperor Caracalla, the Caracella Spa offers a rock grotto with hot and cold-water pools, a relaxing aroma steam bath, and a brine inhalation room. There are also outdoor marble pools, a water current channel and two whirlpools – and you can leave your swimsuit on.
Have you ever experienced Germany’s spa culture?
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