I have never been a fan of sauna really. Generally I try to avoid sweating as best as I can, so I didn’t see the point in deliberately sitting in a 90C room just to sweat.
However since I spend a lot of my 2010 living in hotels I found a new liking for a relaxing sauna bath after running and/or fitness in the evening. In comes the key difference of sauna in Germany vs any other country I have visited so far.
You see, in Germany you sauna completely naked. No shorts, no slippers, nothing. And this isn’t just the preference of a few weird Germans. If you try to enter a sauna in shorts, best case you will receive a row of disgruntled looks, which Germans are very good at, or be flat out refused to enter should there be staff around.
There are some wild theories why this is the case ranging from just tradition (always a very convincing argument to Germans: It’s always been that way, period.), to bacteria that’s supposed to accumulate in your shorts through the constant sweating. Personally I think if you sweat bacteria that survives your typical chlorinated swimming pool you’ve got a whole new set of problems.
Well so far so good. However, another difference to I would think most countries is that sauna is also usually mixed genders. There isn’t a much better explanation for this either, and the reality of how this is usually set up appears rather comical. You usually have separate dressing rooms and showers for male and female, only to put both stark naked and dripping of sweat into the same room anyway.
Women participating in this demonstrate this schizophrenic attitude perfectly: They will undress in their shower room, meticulously cover every oh so indecent part of their bodies in a towel, gracefully enter the sauna room only to drop all towels and sit or lay down relaxed all womanly parts in full display.
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Let me at this point clear up with another typical stereotype about Germany/Europe: In a non-representative study conducted by the author 100% of female participants over the course of last year apply some sort of maintenance down there. No love for bush on this side of the Atlantic.
On their exit from the sauna room this procedure repeats in reverse. Carefully they completely wrap themselves in their towel again and quickly tippy-toe the 5m to the woman’s shower room.
It should be said that there are also female only spas (haven’t seen a male only one though so far), but in your usually confined hotel space it’s always mixed.
To Germans generally this isn’t something particularly exceptional. Actually in most instances I would say Germans have a very relaxed attitude towards nudity. Be it on prime time TV or mixed locker rooms, girls sunbathing topless in public parks, or sauna. How something like “Nipplegate” could ever be worth more than a paragraph on the page five gossip section is beyond us. While I have always realized that this might be strange to some foreigners, it wasn’t until a Middle Eastern customer told me about this part of his European vacation trip in visible shock and horror that I realized just how surprising this attitude might be.
Maybe I am off and my obviously extremely contrary experiences in the Middle East have influenced this column too much, but I would say most of the world doesn’t share such an unwound exposure to public nudity.
Random bits of knowledge about Germany
Ep1: Small Talk