englishman abroad, marriage

Hot Stone Massage

We’ve been married for just over a year now and my wife and I went to a spa to celebrate. This is the story of how British squeamishness came to a German ‘Wellness Centre’. It all started on the fifth of October, I took my wife out for an anniversary meal at a nice Italian restaurant and she revealed to me that she’d booked something for us as well. That weekend, she revealed, we were going to a ‘Wellness Centre’. Mindful of the catastrophe that befell me the last time we went to a sauna, I asked what we would be doing there. We would be getting a Hot Stone Massage!

“Cool!” I thought, “presumably there is absolutely no need to be completely bollock naked for such an endeavour!”

Here begins the story of how wrong I was:

The evening started in a building near our local swimming pool. Quite modern on the outside but full-blown Buddhist temple on the inside, as it turns out. Candles and Buddha statues and all sorts of associated flim-flam of the hippy-dippy variety. We sat down in the reception area and a hooded acolyte the receptionist lead us to a very charming room with a gigantic bath in it, filled with what looked like milk. Here we were to bathe as Cleopatra did, in asses’ milk. I did feel like quite the ass as it happens, but the receptionist left us to it and it was quite pleasant.

After this, we put on some very nice and fluffy robes and went into an adjacent room for the Hot Stone Massage, the main event. There were two nice ladies.

One of them explained that we were to disrobe and lie naked on the massage tables.

Then they waited.

I waited.

They waited.

My wife disrobed and lay on the massage table as instructed.

“Shit” I thought. “I’m an Englishman, I don’t do nakedness in front of strangers!”

“Please lay on the table so we can give you the hot Ständer – er – Stein Massage”

That Freudian slip there is an interesting lexical mix-up. Stein means stone, Ständer means boner.

“They think I’ve got a boner! I’ll be damned if they think I’m some priapic teenager!”

I begrudgingly half-took-off my robe to preserve my modesty, this did not work; I lay on the massage table and flopped about like a seal in a net trying to get the robe off. I looked like an arse. They saw my arse. They helped me off with the robe and dutifully covered my arse up again. Thankfully, the massage itself was great.

Not ‘hot Ständer’ great, but pretty great.


englishman abroad

Visiting a German Sauna

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.