It all came naturally.
We requested an extra night stay in our Couchsurfing host's place, Sebastian said he had no problem but he had a sauna appointment with his friends that evening. And that's the first time we learnt about German sauna.
I was excited! I adore hot spring, aqua caliente, onsen and sauna and felt comfortably naked bathing in an all-female onsen in Japan. But Sebastian warned me about the norm in German sauna...mixed bath. What? Being naked with your male friend(s), 'in public'! That's embarrassing.
We checked out website of the sauna place Sebastian suggested Kurhessen Therme, which is very much like an aqua park with slide, pools, numerous saunas, entertainment zone, movie theatre, rest zone, solarium and restaurant...looked very nice.
I'm told that the place is also frequented by ladies and usually with a half half ratio; If I don't feel comfortable, I could cover up with a towel all the time; German treat nudity as a natural thing and sauna is not about sex, but about relaxing and health; when it comes to sauna, Germans believe that it is not healthy to block the skin, when toxins and sweat could be release from the naked skin; Everyone will be there minding their own business and it's not allowed to stare at others.
Okay! I'll have a try...
I do have the feeling that Germans craved for beaches and ocean. Even an outdoor cafe, inland, in Kassel, could have an area with sand and beach chairs.
German also take everything seriously, with rules, regulations, schedule and standard to follow. For instance, a 330cl coke in a restaurant would be served with a glass with maker, like that of a beer glass. This kind of seriousness also applies to their saunas. They take their relaxation seriously.
What are the rules?
1) You should take a shower before entering the sauna or dipping into the water
2) It's impolite to stare
3) Silence in the sauna all the time, it's a place to relax
4) Like the warm up exercise illustrations in a sports centre, they have an illustration poster telling you the best way to enjoy sauna: After steaming for about 15 minutes, you should cool down by having a cold shower; jumping into the cold outdoor swimming pool; pull a string to get a bucket of cold water splash all over; hoses with cold water to cool down, starting from feet, hands and all the way over your body; a cold room. Then rest a little while and go back to the steam room again. Repeat three to five time. And you will have your blood running.
5) when you open a sauna door, do it quickly, so the hot air would be kept
6) leave your shoes outside the sauna room
7) keep all your body parts, including feet, on the towel when sitting on the bench of the sauna. This is to avoid your sweat dripping onto the bench and some said skin oil is not good for the wood.
8) After the sauna, take a shower before jumping into the pool, so your sweat would not pollute the water.
Sebastian had not threatened us by giving all these instructions beforehand. He only note a few important points:
1) two towels are needed, one for drying up, the other for sitting.
2) bring some water, plastic bottle would be better and glass bottle not allowed
3) sandal recommended and swim suit needed (not all area are naked zone)
And it costs Eur14@ for 2 hours. (That was off season special, where normal price was Eur15@, however, we ended up exiting 10mins late and need to pay Eur1@more)
So off we go.
The Kurhessen Therme is about 15mins drive from downtown and on the hillside. The natural spring water was bumped from underground but we are not sure if it's naturally hot, despite the staff provide a list of water mineral content upon request.
The place is in fact an entertainment complex, with cinema (which we don't have time for), massage and solarium (which we don't want to pay extra). We paid and received a waistband with key for the locker and a card to pass the entrance gate. Since entrance fee is counted by hours, when exit, the card will not let you out if exceed the paid time and you need to settle the outstanding payment at the venting machine before you are let go.
First we get changed in the changing room, which is an unisex area. The changing rooms have 2 door, entrance on one side, lockers and pools, saunas and every service start with the other door.
We had shower (male and female shower areas separated) and with swim suits on, we found ourselves among jacuzzi, indoor and outdoor pools and a big waterslide. The water was lukewarm and a bit salty.
We warmed up in the pool and then head up to the second floor sauna.
They have a few section of indoor and outdoor rest area, solarium and over 10 different kinds of sauna and steam rooms, with different aroma, different temperature, indoor, outdoor, a steam room that you can rub yourself with salt, foot bath, cold water pool, jacuzzi and more.
I took off my swimsuit but kept the towel around all the time or hide behind Adley when we walked into the jacuzzi. There were naked men and women around and nobody seemed to care. We checked around sauna with different aroma. It was so steamy that it blurred your vision and you don't really see if these bodies were naked or not. Then we went into the Aufguss session, where I kept my towel wrapped tightly. Everyone naked and they don't mind if I have a towel or not. Then, the lady next to me reminded that my feet should be on the towel. Well, the only thing they mind is not to have our sweat or dirty feet over the wooden bench.
Well, Aufguss, it's the most enjoyable performance of the evening!
What is that? Aroma oils are used in different sauna rooms, called Aufguss, or infuse. There is a blackboard in the common area with a timetable of different sauna room having new fragrance every hour. A sauna staff referred as the 'bademeister' or 'saunameister' or 'aufgussmeister' will present the aroma and perform a series of aesthetic movements to bring sweet smell to the sauna room.
Sebastian invited us to one of them. We entered a 100C room, very crowded, found a space and the sauna master arrived on time. He said a few words of greeting, presenting the aroma, then elegantly pour some scented water over the coals. Next, he waved a towel in circle and figure eight in affirmative precision, sending the hot scented wind to all direction. The waving sound of the towel and the hot scented wind got into my head and made me sign in relief, which is rather tranquil and relaxing.
When the sauna master completed one circulated round of towel flipping, he said farewell and the audience applauded. It's almost like a ritual. After that, many will rush out with glowing red skin, feeling light and heated. Then we all queue up to take a cold shower and jumped into the icy outdoor pool. (Well, you would be stopped if you jumped into the pool right away.) I felt my blood rushing and didn't care if I'm naked anymore.
The seemingly unacceptable - nakedness, going into a 100C (boiling point) sauna and dipping into the icy water...turned out a rather pleasant experience and we are longing for more.