Sweating out toxins in a room with high humid heat has been done the world over for centuries. Undertaken for health reasons, it is believed to prevent colds and flu, improve lung function, lower blood pressure, alleviate rheumatoid arthritis and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and increase the endurance rate of athletes. Native Americans refer to it as the Sweat Lodge; Far East Asian countries include steam rooms in their public bath houses; and Europeans use the Finnish name Sauna.
In Germany, visiting a sauna is an art. Nearly every city has at least one, and a typical visit generally lasts a minimum of two hours; some people stay a whole day. Saunas are reasonably priced, ranging from 10 to 20 Euros, depending on how long you stay. Since they are primarily a place for adults to relax, the minimum age for entry is usually 16 years old.
When visiting a sauna in Germany, you need to bring a bag packed with plenty of bottled water, waterproof sandals, shampoo, soap, a robe, and two towels. While most facilities provide at least some of these items for sale or rent, it is best to come prepared. After paying, you will be given an electronic device on a waterproof wrist band, which you use to enter and exit the turnstiles. You will also receive your locker number and key.
The standard practice of saunas in Germany is nudity. Though bathrobes are worn in public areas, both men and women use changing rooms and saunas in the nude. There are two reasons for this rule: 1) if everyone is nude, this will prevent people staring, and 2) clothing blocks toxin removal from the body. For women who are uncomfortable with mixed gender nudity, some saunas provide a few hours certain days of the week, or a separate sauna cabin, for women only.
Sauna temperatures range from 65 degrees Celsius (150 degrees Fahrenheit), to 100 degrees Celsius (212 Fahrenheit). People new to the experience should start at lower temperatures; the higher ones are made tolerable by adding humidity, which is done by the “saunameister” pouring water on hot stones. Some facilities provide a special treat called “Aufguss”, which means “Infusion”. A gong is rung, guests go to the designated cabin, and water scented with special oils is poured onto the hot rocks. People are not allowed to enter the sauna while Aufguss is taking place.
The custom is to shower first. Enter the sauna as quickly as possible, to minimize heat escape. Sit on your towel instead of directly on the bench; body oils are bad for the wood. Conversations are forbidden inside the sauna.
After about 20 minutes, exit and take a cold plunge or shower, or rub yourself with snow. This may sound like torture, but the cold is actually a relief, and gives the body a fabulous glowing sensation. Repeat this process as often as you like. Most facilities offer extra services at additional cost; massages, private steam rooms where partners can rub mud or honey and salt on each other, and snack bars where people can relax and have lunch. A sauna is a great way to enjoy a visit to Germany, and well worth adding to your itinerary!