Travel blogger Bert Archer with a North American slant on European attitudes to nudity...
The countryside around Lake Constance in southern Germany is great for driving, and it was on one of several afternoon drives I took last summer with a friend that we ended up at a popular spa in Oberstaufen. As if suddenly remembering I was Canadian, Renate asked, as a footnote, “It’s naked. You don’t mind that, do you?”
Here are some of the things I learned on my first-ever visit to a naked spa.
1. Germans really like being naked.
2. Sixty-year-old breasts can look quite fine.
3. You’re not meant to notice things like this.
4. Not everyone suffers from shrinkage.
5. You’re not meant to notice that either.
6. It’s polite to say hallo upon entering, and tschuss upon exiting a sauna full of naked people, both while making eye contact.
7. You don’t talk above a whisper in the saunas and steam rooms.
8. You can go in as a naked couple, but touching should be kept to a minimum.
9. Germans will get naked at the slightest opportunity.
10. You’ve got to confront your own concerns or fears about children, adults and predators, as I realised when I saw two naked seven-year-old girls exit a steam room which, when I entered, I saw was filled with half a dozen naked men, none of whom appeared to be their father. No one was worried.
11. Though it is beyond all comprehension to a North American, it is possible to have naked teen and twentysomething males, in groups, be around naked teen and twentysomething women without so much as a comment or leer.
12. Naked German and Austrian sauna-goers think Swiss Germans, who sometimes hike naked, are ridiculous.
13. If rules 3 and 5 are too much for your post-Victorian self, there is a helpful cold shower outside every sauna and steam room.
I’d been to a naked beach once, in Denmark, that seemed like the set for the world’s largest underwear advert (minus the underwear). But German spas are different: intimate, without being sexual. (Well, not very, anyway.) It was a good primer in cultural differences, and an effective closet-opener on body issues and sexual hang-ups. And the sauna’s pretty good, too.