The stereotypes about Europeans are true — they really do like to swim naked.
Over two years ago now, I briefly wrote about nakedness, when I confronted a locker room in Iceland that mandated cleansing communal showers without swimsuits before entering the public pool (more here). Today, the showers are not the only clothes-less activity that I will be participating in…. To my shock, amusement, and slight displeasure, I visited Vabali Spa in Berlin, Germany, where guests openly swim, shower, sauna, and otherwise laze about sans clothing.
When my boyfriend asked me if I would like to accompany him to the spa, I immediately thought of hotel saunas and teeny-tiny hot tubs. As the sort of person who would rather run around all day than “relax” for a few hours, I initially passed on this spa invitation. Then, my boyfriend came back to me and explained that “Vabali” was a luxury spa with pools, hot tubs, saunas, a nice restaurant, lounges, etc. and essentially talked me into the experience (which would be more worth the cost, as he already possessed a day pass that he could enjoy with guests).
I asked about the spa rules and my boyfriend explained how everything was included except for the food and services like a massage or facial, which would cost extra. Also, he said phones were not allowed — no pictures apparently, which I initially found to be a silly rule…but only initially….
We arrived at the front entrance at 9am and checked into the spa. We received arm bands that looked like face-less watches, which served as our ID bands. We paid for towels and were handed thin sandals to wear around the facility. I headed to the women’s changing room and was momentarily puzzled — what I should wear under the robe? When I’ve received massages, I’ve been instructed to totally strip down (more here), so, maybe I should wear nothing?? But, with all the pools, I should at least wear a swimsuit right? I was confounded and compromised by slipping on the bottom piece of my swimsuit and then stowing the top part into my towel bag.
Because we came early, there wasn’t much going on aside from registration. But after breakfast, when one of our companions showed us around the facility, only then did I see what Vabali was all about.
There were a few different pools, an indoor one set at a cool temperature, an outdoor one set at a warm (but not hot) temperature, a few outdoor hot tubs, “Dampfbade” (German for “steam baths”), as well as saunas. The whole establishment had a vague South Asian aesthetic about it, with dark wood, slatted roofing, bamboo trees, Buddha paraphernalia, and incense. Of course, because of the no phone policy, I don’t have any (erm… very many) pictures to share, but at this point, I also had a pretty good idea about why such a policy existed — everyone was naked (or in a robe).
Genitalia out in the open! Oh god, am I starring?? Why is everyone cool with this!?
Young adults and senior citizens alike; thin, toned, tanned, saggy, hairy, pale, bloated, Rubenesque — everyone was in their birthday suits.
When I had asked my boyfriend about the spa rules, you would think that “no need to pack a swimsuit, everyone swims naked here” would be the first bit of relevant info that would come to one’s mind.
I really couldn’t believe it! Are spas this way in the U.S.? Do people really swim in the pools buck naked? This is literally my first spa experience ever, but somehow, I do not think that this is the norm at an American spa.
Welp, any excitement I had for this day had quickly vanished.
Regardless, I made myself suck it up and act natural. Act… natural….
At one point, our group wanted to try a sauna experience that I won’t soon forget…. We entered the hot room with about two dozen naked Germans, sitting on towels on different levels of the square room. My boyfriend and I sat on the lowest level, which is supposedly the least hot. In the center of the room was a chimney with some substances that looked like rock salt (which it wasn’t, it was some sort of roots and other “natural things” that are supposed to be good for your health). The employee (who was the only one dressed — if you count a two-piece swimsuit clothing), had a shovel and a big palm frond to add the roots into the chimney and flap the heat around. I was sweating my face off after like 3 minutes and breathing in such heat is not easy. Although I knew we could leave whenever, I dreaded the idea of being the only one to get up (naked) in the room and walk out on the supposedly relaxing experience. Finally, when one woman made a move to leave, I very happily became the second one to leave the fun furnace that the Germans call a “sauna” behind.
Wow! What a day this was for me! Even through my mild to moderate discomfort though, I enjoyed myself at times. The food was very nice (especially the coffee!); the atmosphere was chill; and the sauna actually did feel like it was benefiting my health. Finally, with the no-phone policy, I found plenty of time to write this post (with an actual pen and notebook) to you, dear Reader.
So, dear Reader, if you find yourself in Germany and someone invites you to the spa, perhaps, don’t be a naïf like me and pack your swimsuit — you probably won’t need it 😉