Forget the beerhalls, the Berlin Wall, or the Black Forest; one of the best things about Germany is the nudity, and the best place to get involved is in Stuttgart’s thermal baths.
When my travel buddy, Marty, announced he wanted to spend a few days in Stuttgart, I feared that my absolute lack of enthusiasm for cars (the city’s main claim to fame) was going to leave me a very bored girl. But when I found out that Stuttgart is home to the second largest collection of thermal baths in Europe, after Budapest, I agreed to stay.
When you first enter Stuttgart’s Mineralbader Leuze, the baths don’t look like anything special. The Szechenyi and Gellert Baths in Budapest are housed in Baroque buildings surrounded by intricate statues and ornate fountains, and their appearance is part of the charm. The Leuze baths, however, look like your everyday swimming pool, and I was a little underwhelmed.
When I’d had enough of the water, I convinced Marty to check out the saunas with me, expecting a dry sauna or two, and if we were lucky, a steam sauna. As soon as we pushed open the door, we saw the largest man either of us had ever seen in the nude. Marty was long gone before the door even shut. I, on the other hand, was curious. Was everyone in the saunas nude? Was it compulsory to go in nude? Was I ready to sit naked in a sweaty box with a bunch of naked, sweaty men?
Damn right I was!
I made Marty promise not to come into the saunas as long as I was in there (he happily agreed to never enter the place again). I took a deep breath, pushed open the door, and walked inside.
And there I was, surrounded by naked Germans as far as the eye could see. Men and women, young and old, all shapes and sizes, all nude. I knew that Germans were big fans of nudity (just try sailing along the Mediterranean coast without seeing a naked German man showering himself on the back of his boat!), but this was something else. It was so out there, so open. I couldn’t help but respect a people who aren’t afraid to get naked in the name of health and relaxation, without worrying what they looked like or who was looking at them.
And when I couldn’t philosophize about the whole thing anymore, I knew there was nothing left but to join them.
There are six different saunas; seucalyptus saunas, 100-degree Finnish saunas, an aromatherapy sauna emanating mandarin and eucalyptus, and more.
If you’ve been in a steam sauna before, you know that it takes a few moments for your eyes to adjust. I felt around (very carefully!) for a spare chair, took a seat, and dropped my towel. I’d done it, I was naked!
A few seconds later, my eyes adjusted, and figures started to emerge from the steam: six naked German men sitting opposite, nude, and staring at me.
It dawned on me that I hadn’t been able to understand the sign on the door apart from the ‘eucalyptus’. I had walked into an all-men sauna and exposed myself! I was up and out of there so fast, before they even realized what was happening the men would’ve seen only a white bum turning even whiter in horror as I bolted out the door.
Thankfully, I hadn’t misunderstood the sign; the saunas are all unisex. And I needn’t have worried about anyone staring at me, because I soon realized that no one is paying attention to anything other than their own experience. There is nothing better than spending a quiet hour alone with your thoughts, sweating out all of the tensions and toxins. Men were lying down snoring in the dry saunas, women were catching up on gossip, and no one was thinking twice about it all happening in the flesh.
And soon, neither did I. By the time I discovered the traditional wood-fired Finnish sauna outside, I was comfortable enough to drop my towel right there in broad daylight and stand under the freezing-cold shower for several moments before scurrying into the warmth. It was liberating.
Marty was waterlogged from spending two hours awaiting me in the pools. I emerged from the saunas feeling exhilarated; I was a little less modest, a lot more relaxed, with a new-found appreciation for the Deutsche and their love of all things nude.
Written by Andrea MacDonald for EuropeUpClose.com