As a young boy on holiday in Center Parcs, I happened across a strange wooden room adjacent to the swimming pool one day. This room had a bucket of water, a ladle and some hot coals, surrounded by some tasteful wooden seating. It was, of course, a sauna. I quite enjoyed the sauna, which was full of other families in their swimming costumes enjoying the heat and steam. How could my childhood memory of this special event be tarnished? By trying the same thing in Germany, of course!
A few months back my wife and I went to a wellness hotel in Willingen, which had an extensive spa. There was an ‘Experience Shower’, scented steam room, massage baths and a sauna. This was my first time in a German sauna and I presumed that it would be just like a British sauna. I wandered in wearing my swimming costume and sat down. To my alarm, my wife started to disrobe:
“Andrea, people might come in!”
“It’s a sauna Russell, you have to take your clothes off!”
“No! Put yours back on!”
“Look, those people are doing it too!”
Sure enough, through the glass door I could see several middle-aged, fat, hairy, naked German men entering a sauna opposite. They were quickly followed by several middle-aged, fat, hairy, naked German women. They disappeared into the hottest, steamiest sauna like gorillas in the mist.
With great reluctance and feeling somewhat like Mr Bean at the Beach, I disrobed and sat with my towel wrapped firmly around my waist. Call me prudish, but I just wasn’t comfortable.
This wasn’t my only experience of more liberal German attitudes to nudity, either.
A few years back we though it would be nice to have a picnic by a lake in Oldenburg. We sat down, unfolded the picnic blanket and were gazing at the water when, out from the woods came a very old, very wrinkly, very naked old man. Sitting down, I turned at the noise and was confronted with an eyeful of dangling wrinkles. He said something friendly along the lines of “aren’t you going to take your clothes off?” Before leaping into the lake and swimming away.
I completely and instantly lost my appetite for boiled eggs, to be honest. I’ve never been back to that lake.