This is sort of a slow starter, so I hope you will “bare with me” until I get to the twist!
I was chatting with my millennial friend Addie the other day about outing oneself as a naturist through social media, noting that we both work in education related fields that frequently involves working with minors, and a well-intended misstep could easy escalate into an unintended kerfuffle. In fact, I endured one such incident about a year ago when my naturist platforms became entangled with my professional profile; when Facebook algorithms grabbed my Instagram data and started asking all my professional colleagues to follow Naturist Dan!
I found the glitch and disabled the effected accounts for a few weeks and essentially shrugged it off as, “Well now, there are a few more people who’ve seen my naked ass than existed three days ago.” One never knows the long-term implications of such an episode, but at the same time, I’m finding that one of the benefits of aging is caring less and less about such things, as my professional endeavors are gradually taking a backseat to my ambitions for personal fulfillment. If I had a therapist, I suspect he’d say that I’m making good progress with that.
It’s here in the conversation where a reader will typically chime in to admonish me for not coming out with the Full Monty, proudly posting photos on any social media platform that will allow full-frontal nudity, while fervently proclaiming, “I’m a naturist dammit! If you don’t like it, don’t look at me!” I’ve been the direct recipient of this sermon on repeated occasions, and I get it! We can’t fully normalize social nudity if we are apologetic at best; coy at least about revealing our identity. In my case, even if the platform allows it, (e.g. Twitter) I have yet to post personal photos that reveal genitalia, nor am I willing to let anything out there that could be picked up by facial recognition software. I’m really not eager for someone to go searching for my latest bio pic before an upcoming professional presentation, only to find me butt naked at the swim-up bar at a Mexican naturist resort. (Thank you Google Image search… you’re miraculous!) In fact, that would be awkward even if I had swim trunks on!
But here’s where the conversation gets interesting!
As the youngest of four, my older siblings were young adults during the Summer of Love. Despite the fact that we lived only an hour away from the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, I don’t think any of them were “cool enough” to really get into that scene, nor did they exploit the era of “any California beach could be a nude beach!” Truthfully, we were a blue-collar, Protestant work ethic, All-American Family, and the social norms of the household were extremely clear. “Thou shalt not bare thy ass in public, and should you choose to have sex before marriage, you are destined to burn in hell!” By the time I came of age, the Moral Majority was on the rise and Family Values were the heartbeat of every political campaign. With the sudden proliferation of AIDS, the once common bathhouses of San Francisco were shuttered as dens of promiscuity, and the Summer of Love gave way to the Cold War on Sexuality. “Put your clothes on, cut your hair, and get on board with Nancy Reagan’s message about abstinence and maybe we can save ourselves from the moral collapse of America.”
I mentioned Addie at the front of this piece. (You can read her guest blog posts here and here.) She is roughly the age of my own children, and embraces a similar ideology of my own children. She is neither promiscuous, nor is she narrowly conservative. And thus, given her moderate live and let live perspective, the knockout punch was her consternation as to what exactly the average rank and file human thinks naturists do when they get naked together?
Of course, any seasoned naturist knows that you have to be careful when choosing your nakation destination, should you inadvertently stumble into a swingers retreat when it wasn’t your desire to make new friends with immediate benefits. But Addie’s immediate counter to that was, “But why the hell should anyone even care about that? How many 25-30 year olds haven’t been to a social gathering in the past ten years where casual sex and hooking up with a new acquaintance was simply part of the third beverage and beyond protocol?!?” Just who chooses to participate, and what benefits they are willing to provide is a matter of personal preference, but am I just being delusional when I observe that anyone outside of today’s super-conservative religious enclaves has long since accepted today’s terms of casual sex, and even the stigma around “open relationships” has increasingly morphed over to, “Yeah… I guess if it works for them… whatever.”
So, as I scroll through innumerable memes on Twitter with catchy sayings like “Nudity doesn’t equate sex,” or “Newd isn’t Lewd,” it suddenly occurs to me that the social construct of promoting social nudity is even more complicated than I thought!
To that end, I thought I would see if I could create a new set of guidelines to help us all get on the same page. Let’s see…
Sex before marriage = Well, of course. Expected.
Sex on the first Tinder date = Acceptable.
Sex on the second or third Tinder date = Required!
Party with alcohol = Expect unauthorized physical contact
Party with more alcohol, and good friends = Expect marginally authorized physical contact.
Party with LOTS of alcohol = Make sure you choose a house with enough bedrooms!
Come out as a naturist to your friends = Expect your friends to ask, “Are you a sexual deviant? WTF??”
Get caught naked on the internet snoozing on the beach = Get labeled as a sexual predator and banned by all social media as a menace to society, and maybe even lose your job.
Turns out, I guess, that nudity doesn’t equate to casual sex. For most people in 2019, casual sex is just an everyday thing. But if you dare to take off all your clothes and simply go for a walk in the woods or take a nap in the sun! What the hell were you thinking?
Photos in this post are from vintage naturist magazines located on the web.. If you find one the violates copyright infringement, please notify me and I will remove it immediately.
I’m writing this post from 38,000 feet on a flight home from
Berlin. My wife and I spent the weekend in this Renaissance city with the
intent of doing a bit of sight-seeing, enjoying a couple nice meals, but most specifically,
checking out a few German spas (“Saunas” or “Thermes”) that are particularly renowned
for their traditions in nude bathing – on in the case of the saunas – nude
I’ve already written this post from a somewhat different perspective in a piece called The Demographics of Nakedness, where I sought out to dispel the myth that nudity is the great equalizer. “We are all the same when we’re naked,” have said so many people in advocacy for nude recreation. “You can’t tell a doctor, from a business tycoon, from a pipe-fitter when everyone is nude, as clothing provides the social cues that allow us to form our preconceived notions about other humans.”
I love the genuine sentiment and conviction of such statements, but
the longer we’ve participated in social nudity, the less I have been able to
lend any personal credibility to such a mantra. And never has that been so
evident as during this brief qualitative study we just completed while visiting
the most nudity-friendly spas in Berlin. What did the study prove? Well… naked
humans are simply human, but naked! Profound…
I know! 😐
SETTING: Just a couple
blocks from the Berlin Aquarium and Zoo, each of which border the expansive
Tiergarten, this is most definitely a center-city location that would probably
be best described as “my neighborhood sauna.” The striking element of this
particular venue is how it is situated amidst the commercial and residential
high-rises of downtown Berlin, with a rooftop view of several historical
landmarks. Of course, that means a reciprocal exposure of the sundecks to the
inhabitants of those high-rises, which must be a source of amusement in the
middle of summer when I suspect the rooftop nude sunbathers are plentiful and
in clear view of the apartment dwellers across the street.
We arrived late on a Thursday morning and stayed into the
early evening hours. Even on this near-freezing day, the “seasoned locals”
showed little reticence about meandering out onto the veranda in the
all-together. It immediately made me think of the insultingly redundant
comments on sites like Trip Advisor where first time nude beach goers comment
on “the perils of encountering the people you never want to see naked.”
But if I’m going to be completely truthful, there is a discomfort in visiting a naked place where the clientele is mainly in the “over-80-years-old” bracket, not unlike that of visiting my 93-year-old mother in a “sunset-living community” where everyone starts lining up with their walkers and wheelchairs at 4:00 pm for the first seating at dinner. This is always a reflective dance with one’s own mortality that has little to do with nakedness, but everything to do with how each of us grapple with the aging process. In that spirit, part of me wants to jump up and say “GOOD FOR YOU NAKED OLD PEOPLE!! I celebrate your confidence for putting so many decades of wrinkles and scars on display.” But in that very same breath, you find yourself catching a glimpse of yourself reflecting in the glass walls in an attempt to quickly assess where you are in that process. Sobering, at least.
As the day progressed at Europa-Therme, the crowd grew a bit
more diverse, with a couple dads and their kids (Yup – naked children at the
spa! That’s a thing in Berlin.), and some middle-agers that looked more or less
like us. You could tell this was a place that was once on the cutting edge, but
now on the backside of reality. Who knows, maybe the local hipsters show up on
Saturday night to soak in the rooftop pool and gaze at the Berlin skyline,
(Which sounds like fun!) but I sort of doubt it, because now they have other
between a city park and a soccer field, you could easily walk past the front
door of Vabali Spa Berlin amidst the local service industries and apartment
blocks in the sprawling development at the foot of the track where the Berlin
Wall once stood. But once inside the door, you are guided down the path of
Asian influenced self-realization into a labyrinth of saunas, hot tubs, tepid
swimming pools, and rest areas with luxurious waterbeds that invite napping
even when you thought you were wide awake. Children are allowed, but we only
saw one mom with her young daughter in tow. This is a mecca for young adults.
Interestingly enough, friends visited the Vabali Spa in Düsseldorf a few months ago, where their defining moment was a reprimand for being “too naked” – a result of walking from one attraction to the next without bothering to wrap themselves in a towel or a robe. That most certainly resonated with us as we observed this to be a place that is really well managed, or perhaps more appropriately – micro-managed!
As best I can tell, they opened in sometime in 2014 (with
the Düsseldorf establishment opening in 2017, and a third location scheduled
for Hamburg in 2021). As part of a consortium with Claudius Therme and
Neptunbad in Cologne, they have similarly strict policies that forbid you to
leave a towel or a robe on a lounger, at which point, said item will be
confiscated and sold on Ebay before you can utter the word Aufguss! Along with that comes a sense that you are being watched
all the time-in the pools, in the quiet rooms, walking around naked – whatever.
The rules are in place for a reason, and they must be adhered to.
I get it. There’s a strong tradition of sex clubs in Berlin
that have hijacked the “FKK” nomenclature that once belonged exclusively to
hard-core naturists, but now denotes a nightlife where, truly, anything goes.
Vabali is clearly seeking to set an industry standard, which could quickly be
tarnished by people getting frisky in the hot tub.
But alas, I’ve drifted off topic. And that is, who goes to
Vabali? Well, pretty much anyone that might identify themselves as a young
professional hipster, along with a few strays like ourselves. We were in a
smallish minority of those without tattoos ranging from subtle line-art to body
sleeves. Lots of young couples apparently took Friday off, while several “girls’
day out” groups seemed completely at ease with the co-ed naked part, but
uniformly uncomfortable with the “Crap! It’s cold out here” part. (Many of the
most alluring parts of the property are outdoors, decidedly uncomfortable when
making your way from the outdoor pool to the deep-heated resting areas.)
But again, to the point… The crowd at Verbali looked very
much like what I would expect to encounter in the mainline nightclubs of
Berlin. Successful, educated young people out to have a relaxing and sensual
day at the spa. Naked was not the attraction for coming here – Chillaxing is
what’s on tap, and what’s the big deal about naked? “We all get naked… every
day… right? Why not spend the days that way with my friends?
SETTING: Kristalltherme is a chain of sauna and pool complexes scattered throughout Germany, though the venue at Ludwigsfelda, a 25-minute train ride outside of Berlin, is known to be “the most naked of the entire chain.” On Wednesdays and Sundays, bathing suits are allowed, but during the rest of the week, the expectation is total nudity in the saunas and in the pools. Covering with a robe or towel is the supposed expectation when walking about, but many – male and female – don’t bother to cover up at all unless making their way to the food concession, and even then, nobody seems to care. (A marked difference from Vabali where the immediate action upon exiting the pool was to wrap in a towel.) And on a Saturday? This is most definitely a family water park. Those under 18 are allowed to wear swimsuits, and I would say roughly half of those in that age bracket did so – but the rest were naked.
This was my third visit to this naked water wonderland, the most relaxing in some ways, and somewhat disorienting in others. If Europa-Therme has assumed the role of a senior day center, and Vabali has found its niche as an enclave for open-minded hipsters, then Kristalltherme falls in that middle ground of “a place for the rest of us.” To that end, it was interesting – given the lack of textile cues other than bathrobes and towels – to imagine the lives of these patrons fully clothed on a workday, and in that light, I would surmise this to be the most socio-economic diverse crowd I’ve encountered at any place where social nudity is practiced. Keep in mind that our ability to converse with the locals was essentially non-existent, leaving one to draw such conclusions on the basis of people-watching alone, the same way one does in an airport, a restaurant, or a grocery store. Sure enough, clothed or not, people send off innumerable non-verbal cues that define who they are and where they fit in.
We arrived early, having read that finding two loungers together after the opening bell on a weekend could be a challenge, and for a good while, we felt a good twenty-five years younger than the prevailing median age. But as the day progressed, families arrived in droves until our departure at dusk when the young couples surrounded the bar, creating an ever-evolving ambiance in the warm pool.
It occurred to me while I was sitting in one particularly
unique sauna at the Kristalltherme – called Brutal
Aufguss! that had this been my first experience at such a sauna, it might
have also been my last. Whereas the typical demeanor for the sauna infusion
ceremonies is one of meditation and mind-expansion, this particular theatrical presentation
– all in German, of course – involved an aggressive dialogue between to two
sauna-masters which apparently played a bit over the top even with the locals. (It
was called the “Brutal Sauna”
experience, after all.) But in that moment, it was something of an epiphany to
me. Just like anyone in the hospitality industry, the most important element in
a business plan is to know who your
target audience is, and why wouldn’t that be true for businesses that cater to
naked people as well, since as I stated earlier, naked people are just as
different from one another as clothed people, except without the clothes!
In Germany, I believe there are nearly 300 saunas, some similar to one another,
but none exactly the same as the next. In France, there are nearly as many
naturist centers, some of which cater to people looking for “lots of friends
with lots of benefits;” others which seek to create a family friendly
environment something akin to Disney World. But at the end of the day, except
for the very most adventurous, people want to hang out with people they feel
inherently comfortable with, which is why there are so many different restaurant
and hotel chains, boutique malls, and discount super-shopping centers. It’s
difficult enough to find one’s niche when fully clothed, let alone putting
yourself out there wearing nothing but your own skin. Perhaps the awkward truth
is that even if you have no intention of actually socializing with other people
at a particular place, most of us are hard-wired in our efforts not to stand out from the crowd.
I have written before that I think millennials may have a
golden opportunity to sway attitudes regarding social nudity in America in a
very positive way, but in the end, and in the same breath, one’s first
experience with public nakedness will quite likely be their last if it doesn’t
turn out to be at least a marginally positive experience. Especially in
America, given so few opportunities to even “give it a try,” it seems a bit of
a long shot for getting it right on
the first try. That can only lead to
the riveting cocktail party story that goes, “I got naked this one time, and
you wouldn’t believe how it turned out. OMG… SO awkward!”
Thanks to the ever-growing database of reviews such as those on Google, Yelp, and Trip Advisor, and a few tireless bloggers who are adding more substantive information about experiencing social nudity, there’s more information out there than ever to help you find the right place. That said, I suspect if you go to a subpar restaurant and don’t like the food, you may never go back to that place, but I doubt you’ll give up eating. But if you’re contemplating your first experience of getting naked with others, you may want to do a bit of research. I suppose it’s like any number of experiences that stretch your horizons – Once you find your way there and have a mountain top experience, you’ll wonder why it took you so long to try it in the first place. The tricky part? You have to get it right the first time!
[It takes me a while
to actually get to the point on this one, but eventually, this post is going to
be about the absence of children at most naturist places in the US – or at
least my perception that this is the case – and what that may or may not mean
for the future of naturism in America.]
I’ve been ruminating on this post for quite a long time. In fact, since my oldest daughter just turned 31 a few days ago, maybe for about thirty years. The subject matter? The ever-controversial topic of children and social nudity, and simply what to make of it all.
The blogosphere is a strange place as people don’t typically
read a blog in any sequential sort of way. Maybe one finds a link on Facebook
or Twitter and clicks through. Or perhaps you’re even a follower of a
particular blog, and if the timing is right, you’ll read posts as they are
released in succession. But personally, I find the digital age to encourage
rather impulsive behavior. “Oh… look at that! I think I’ll read that, or maybe part of that post, or maybe I’ll
bookmark it for… I don’t know when.” All that said, if you’re a regular reader,
I apologize for the redundancy here.
My first efforts related to internet advocacy for naturism date back to 2004 when I bought some space on a remote server to launch a full-blown website called P and C Naturist Travel. I had little to no experience with web design and the result was pretty rough around the edges, but the mission was clear. We had taken our children to Domaine Naturiste La Jenny for the first time in 1999 after several attempts at finding a suitable place for family naturism in the United States, and I was hell bent on starting a campaign that would contribute to the efforts to normalize family naturism in America! By then, we had made several trips (with kids) to Europe and had discovered a plethora of places where children were not only welcome, but plentiful. When our kids went on nakation in Europe, they essentially thought it to be a holiday resort on par with any large family campground or resort. Similar demographic. Amenities you would expect in a large summer seaside village… but no clothes required at any time. Natural in every sense of the word. That first webpage was simply a series of trip reports about our naturist travel.
A subsequent effort led to the creation of a “community”
called the Naturist Family Network. It occurred to me that the United States of
America is a big place, and there must be others like my wife and myself who
were eager to cultivate the ideals of French naturism in this most diverse
nation on the planet. Surely… there would be others who were in a similar conundrum
as ours, fully enthralled with social nudity, and wanting to create a safe and
enjoyable space for their children when seeking a summer vacation destination.
I stayed with that project for a year or two, met a few interesting people,
(one who would eventually take over the project) but also encountered a lot of
trolls or lonely single guys (as are prevalent on Facebook and Twitter today)
feigning an interest in family oriented naturism for who knows why. That message board was handed off to several
entities, and as I do a quick Google search at this writing, it seems the last
remnants of that project have finally disappeared. It was a valiant effort.
I suspect I’ll receive a number of messages and comments in
response to this post, as I did
during the years that I maintained those two websites, that I have missed the
boat, and that family naturism is alive and thriving in the United States.
Which brings me back around to the title
of this post as I have found myself wondering time and again about the Case of the Disappearing Nudist Children.
I keep hearing about them. I’m told there are places where they are plentiful,
but when visiting those places, especially on a weekday even in the summer,
they are scarcely to be found!
We have visited perhaps two to three dozen naturist (nudist)
places in the US over the past thirty years, and indeed, a few times have found
children – mostly preadolescent – to be present. But then we have stories of a
visit to a place in Pennsylvania where the senior citizens (the predominant age
group at this place) were reminiscing about the party the night before, still
in something of a drunken haze the morning after. No kids around.
Or a couple places in Florida, both advertised as family
naturist destinations, the first of which was highly charged with sexual
energy, while another led to an unfortunate incident where our children – the only
children on the premises that day – were chewed out by a not-so-friendly owner
when their ball bounced out of the pool. And then there’s Desert Shadows (now
Desert Sun) Resort in Palm Springs that was going to be the ultimate family
naturist destination, but ultimately, a change in management resulted in the
banning of all children from the premises. Had you purchased a retirement
property there in the early days, you would later find out that your grandkids
would never be allowed to visit you!
There will be those who are quick to tell me that my aim is poor and my timing is bad. And, in fact, I’ve written about quite a few naturist places the world over – most recently in South Africa – where children are, indeed, part of the mix, but maybe only on the big Saturday BBQ and pudding toss festival day! (I’ve always thought the “pudding toss thing’ to be a funky idea at naturist places… just sayin’) This leads to yet another interesting phenomenon when it comes to naturist places outside of Europe, and that is, most of them lack Europeans!
Europeans know how to do vacation, and are allotted the time
to do a week in a mainline tourist destination, but with one, two, or three
weeks left over for a relaxing stay in a sprawling naturist resort (or
wherever) with all the amenities one would expect at a Disney resort. Such a
place can’t exist if the critical mass isn’t there to fill the place to capacity.
Especially when social nudity is the main attraction, and even in the warmest
corners of Europe, (let alone North America) that’s a season of five or six
months at best. So even if you find a place with a great family vibe going over
the weekend, which is tricky to do in the first place, what happens on Monday
morning when everybody has gone home and back to work?
This got me to thinking about my friend Addie who has contributed several posts to my blog over the past year, including one about dating and finding a naturist soul-mate. Turns out she is quite well traveled as well, having visited several naturist places in Europe, and even Paya Bay on Roatan. Would she have the fervor for the naturist cause had those not been her first defining experiences?
And what if she is successful in finding that naturist-friendly soulmate and they start a family? Won’t they find themselves in the same conundrum we did thirty years ago? Most young families are stretched for resources to begin with. Will they have the time and resources to take the kids to France or Croatia for the annual nakation? Or alternatively, even if they are fortunate enough to live within an hour or two of one of the few resorts in America that have a vibrant family naturist weekend scene, will two or three weekends a year sustain a lasting culture of family naturism? We have been several times to Gunnison Beach in New Jersey where there are typically a few kids amidst the crowd, but you can’t really compare that to the demographics of the large naturist beaches on the southwest coast of France where most everyone there is there with children.
My hunch is that Addie will figure it out, and in all likelihood, will have the wherewithal to do so, but if there truly is a generational divide related to the future of naturism in America, I think this is it! There most definitely appears to be a counter-culture resurgence amongst the millennials that is funding a social nudity renaissance of sorts in the pre-family demographic, and AANR is quick to fire off statistics that nudism is on the rise, due in large part to endeavors like the Big Nude Boat that is capturing the discretionary income of the empty-nesters. But what about that twenty-year stretch in the middle, when the kids are young, the parents are strapped, and the family traditions are being carved into stone? Most of the naturist families we’ve met in Europe are multi-generational… “Yup, I’ve been coming here since I was a child when my grandparents bought that little house over there.”
Who knows… maybe the millennials will pull a rabbit out of
the hat on this one. In the greater context of time, the huge naturist centers
of Europe are not really that old. France’s
naked city, Cap d’Agde (a questionable exemplar for family naturism, to be sure)
has only really existed since the 1970s, and the sprawling resorts in Croatia
opened not that long before that. But could the American culture of paranoia or
highly sexualized perceptions of nudity be ready for the open-minded
twenty-somethings who are ready and willing to bare all? And is there a capital
venture entrepreneur who is prepared to put down the money to build it so they
will come? (Seems that was the plan for both Caliente in Florida and Desert
Shadows in Palm Springs, but maybe it just wasn’t time yet.)
We’re counting on you, millennials! Drop your clothes, stand, and be counted. Now is your chance to create a body-positive environment for your own children, and all those in the generations to come!
Photos for this post were found on internet sources such as Twitter and Google. If you find an image that belongs to you and should be removed, please let me know and I will respond accordingly.
Think about it. Europe is great in the summer. You might even get a few chances at naked autumn or spring in the South of France, Spain, or Italy. And if you’re really adventurous, you can find your way to the Canary Islands, which are essentially due west of the Sahara Desert.
But Africa!? A continent that straddles the equator. And until all the westerners showed up, they thought naked was the way to go. (“Thank you kind and thoughtful missionaries who taught us to pray and wear clothes – except for the wearing clothes part!“) Few issues with laundering clothes. Temperate climates much of the year. No bizarre religious convictions to make one ashamed of her breasts. From what I can gather, a loin cloth seemed like the perfect attire for any formal occasion back in the day.
Truth be told, once Western Europe finished cutting Africa into neatly packaged countries, it seems a bit ironic that about the only place one might consider going for social nudity is at the southern tip of the continent – South Africa. Ironic because this is a huge expanse of land where the Dutch (We LOVE public nudity!) and the Brits (Ahem… please don’t offend the Queen.) decided to fight it out with the indigenous people to lay claim to the natural resources that rest just beneath the soil there. Most know what came of all that, the legacy of Nelson Mandela, and perhaps even a bit about the chaos in the wake of what one friend refers to as “centuries of Social Engineering gone awry.” In layman’s terms, read any post about visiting Johannesburg on Trip Advisor, and it will likely lead out with the words “Be careful!” Good advice.
As it turns out, there are several naturist places dotted about the country of South Africa – seemingly the only country on the continent that recognizes social nudity in any organized sort of way. I/we have visited two. My wife and I spent a week at Harmony Nature Farm back in 2013 (Literally, the week that Nelson Mandela died), then I recently made a quick trip that accommodated a weekend visit to Sun Eden Resort just east of Pretoria, then a return visit to Harmony Nature Farm to visit some of the friends we had made there years ago.
In the middle of summer – January on this part of the planet – the weather was literally postcard perfect for a naturist outing. Days were warm and sunny with low humidity, and evenings remained naked friendly without being oppressively hot! I rented a car at the Johannesburg airport, plugged Sun Eden Family Naturist Resort into Google Maps on my phone (couldn’t find it on Apple Maps), then sped off on the well maintained motorway to the north, past Pretoria and off to the designated exit. So far, so good!
What I didn’t expect, however, was once having left the motorway, I took a hard right into the African bush, only 18 kilometers to go according to Mr. Google, which created the illusion I would be at my destination in a matter of minutes. That idea vaporized just a few hundred meters later where the asphalt ended, and the well maintained, but bumpy, dirt road started chopping away at the suspension system of my little rented car. Signage? None. Other humans? Occasionally a Toyota Forerunner would speed by. Civilization? A few remnants of something that might have once been a market or restaurant, and a gate now and again that seemed to lead to someone’s cattle ranch tucked just over that rise in the distance.
But sure enough, after about fifteen kilometers of trying to avoid the potholes that would blow out my tires, there was a right turn, then a short distance later, a sign appeared on a small road named “First Street,” (Indeed it was!) which took me to the gate of Sun Eden Resort.
Having not been to a naturist camp or resort in Great Britain, I can only speculate this would be quite similar. A nice pool complex with a bar and a little store, several trailers (caravans) and small houses scattered about, many of which could be rented, and a few large attractive homes that would dwarf some of the McMansions I’m accustomed to in the eastern United States. Spread out over about fifty acres, nothing seemed crowded, and even walking the fenced perimeter road seemed completely viable given the few signs of life outside of the resort – other than impalas and other wandering creatures of the landscape. (I was warned to watch out for the snakes, which I did, but I never ended up meeting one.)
While one could certainly rent a cottage or home here for the entire “summer,” this is most definitely a weekend destination. I didn’t arrive until Saturday around noon, by which time there was plenty of conviviality around the pool and the bar. For those who frequent some of the more traditional nudist places in the US, the entry process felt very familiar, the long-timers running the front desk who provided a thorough introduction to the honor system in the camp store while making sure I knew the rules about sitting on a towel. “Got it!”
The weekend crowd was quite mixed though, with one or two families with small children, a good number of 30/40-somethings, and a few more folks in my current demographic of 50 and above. I earnestly enjoyed the music and banter in the bar on Saturday night where the bartender was pouring some purply shots that tasted a little like medicine I had to take as a child. “NO! One is enough! Really! Thank you.”
The store had a nice selection of meats (but essentially nothing green, I might mention) and all the supplies one needs like charcoal and fire-starters, which made for two very pleasant “braai meals” outside my little cottage. Turns out my meal plan was particularly fortuitous as come 3:00 pm on Sunday afternoon, the party vaporized into their cars and disappeared down that long dirt road back into their clothed existence. Walking around that evening, I found a few “residents” who would remain in the silent serenity of the expansive grounds, but even of those who remained, many had a tendency to get dressed. I used the opportunity to wander around for a while to snap a few photos, with a stop-off to chat with the owner of one of those nicer homes. He also runs a naturist travel agency based out of South Africa. He rents his place, and it was lovely. I suspect that will turn up in a future blog post, as I would be delighted to stay there.
On Monday morning, I packed up, settled my bill in the market, and headed off to see Piet and Piet (father and son) at Harmony Nature Farm. You can read a little more about our previous visit here in an earlier post, though I suspect I could write a whole book about this incredibly gorgeous stretch of land pressed against the African bluffs, once again scattered with caravans and – shall we say – less luxurious rental homes. We stayed a week in one of these little rustic cottages on our previous visit where the highlight included zebras begging at our door for food each morning, and being awoken early one morning when a baboon jumped from a tree onto the tin roof of our house. Startling, to say the least.
Once again, this is a weekend destination, and it seemed that I was the only guest on the grounds during this Monday lunchtime, though there were a few other residents meandering about, some clothed, some not.
It was good to see Piet and Piet again, the father/son duo who are “somehow making ends meet.” Piet senior had told me the story during my last visit of his European naturist experiences when he was young, and how he was eager to recreate such a place in South Africa. Compared to Sun Eden, the place is looking a bit tired, but when sitting at the Sunset Bar perched on a steep hill overlooking the rest of the continent, or when walking the grounds under a bright blue sky in and out of the shadows of the towering bluffs, it reminded me how amazingly beautiful this part of the world really is, and how amazingly special it is to be able to enjoy that in a clothes-free environment.
It is worth noting that both of the naturist places are located within a short distance of nature reserves where one can make a day-long safari with a remarkably high chance of seeing at least four of the Big Five. Didn’t bother with that this time, but it occurs to me that when we return to South Africa, which we undoubtedly will, I think I would spend a long weekend at Harmony Nature Farm, perhaps venture out during the week (Maybe even to neighboring Zambia to see Victoria Falls) then return for another long weekend at Sun Eden. Neither location is able to provide the amenities of one of the super resorts in France or Croatia, but then again, the list of “nakation in January” spots is pretty limited. I can deal with a dose of rustic and a dash of quirky, knowing my driveway at home is coated in snow and ice, while here I have to wonder if I should bring along a t-shirt in case it gets chilly after the sun goes down.
Special thanks to Nick and Lins, the Naked Wanderers, who agreed to let me use their photos for this post. We have a lot of naturist photos, but not so many from our 30s – and they’re actually in their 30s, which makes this all seem a bit more relevant. If you don’t know their site, and if you’re not following them on Instagram, you need to do that!
If you’re a follower of our blog, you’ve come to know our friend Addie – the one who’s recently come to realize that she’s a hard-wired naturist, and like those who have gone before, has developed something of an obsession with the cause. She had become “part of our family” for quite a long time before she would practice naturism with us, but come to find out more recently, she had been a naked yoga enthusiast at home, even when her boyfriend (at the time) thought it a peculiar habit. In short, her story goes a long way to lend support the argument: naturists are born, not made.
What’s particularly intriguing now is that Addie has made something of a party game out of revealing her preference for clothes-free recreation, travel, and I suspect if she had her way about it, everyday life. And as an enthusiastic and compelling person by nature, she has been quite successful in demystifying social nudity for her closest friends, and is well on the way to converting them into the mindset of, “Yeah, I’d do that.” Throw in a story like her recent blog post about her visit to Paya Bay, and suddenly they’re all planning a naked “galentines day” and maybe even a group nakation to some exotic destination.
As she boasted recently that she thought she had made another convert, it suddenly occurred to me that this probably goes a bit differently for a young woman than it would for a guy of the same age. Truthfully, I can’t even say my data is skewed, as I simply don’t have any. By the time I was Addie’s age, I had been married for a few years, and while we were, just then, exploring our naturist inclinations as a young married couple, we found ourselves reticent to share our proclivity for clothes-free recreation with our friends. Granted, it was a different era thirty years ago – nestled between the Summer of Love and the advent of so many stories of sexual abuse by the Church and in the schools. What’s more, most of our friends at that time were either affiliated with our involvement in the church or through our work in the public schools. Were we simply just being prudent, or were we suffering from unnecessary cowardice? Probably a combination of both, but especially once there were kids in the equation, we found it more complicated than not to broach the topic of nude recreation – even as a party game.
But let’s face it – finding friends as a young naturist couple may well be more complicated than identifying like-minded humans as a single. In fact, if you’re lucky enough to be in a relationship where both partners enjoy social nudity, the chances of finding others where both members share such naked desires are slim to none, unless you gather the nerve to visit the local nudist resort – which has been documented time and again as related to the infrequency of young naked people. Wow. This just gets more and more complicated.
But back on topic, Addie doesn’t suffer from the inherent constraints of religious induced body-shame, (She’s not a religious person.) and has created a self-identity in other parts of her life that would read something like, “Do what you want, but I really don’t care to conform to your societal norms just to avoid the risk of offending some unknown stranger. You go to the mall – I’m going to sit on the back porch and read a good book – naked.”
But what if a 30-year-old guy introduces this ideology during the half-time banter of the Superbowl?
“So dudes, I was thinking that we should start planning that weekend bash for spring break and I know this great place in Mexico where we could be naked all weekend!” Galentines Day or a girl’s weekend at a nude yoga retreat sounded like cutting edge, but somehow, I imagine that same proposal from a male member of the species would elicit a very different response.
“Dude! Did you just suggest we all go get naked together? Will there be hot girls there? Or hey… is there something you need to tell us about your… you know… sexual persuasion and shit like that?”
And that’s just if you’re making a pitch for a single gender endeavor. Walk into a coed gathering and propose that next week the party will be at your parents’ house with a private yard and a pool, but hey – “NO SWIMSUITS ALLOWED!” – and see how that goes over!
Again, I can only hypothesize on this, as Addie has already approached more of her friends in the past year than I have over the course of my thirty-some years as a naturist, but my educated guess is that when a guy initiates the conversation about coed social nudity, people are much more likely to respond with either some hint of homophobia, or worse yet, they will immediately assign some flavor of predatory association with the underlying intent. “Sure – that’s a quick and easy way to surround yourself with naked women! Don’t be a creeper!”
I suspect a well-grounded anthropologist could draw up a quick and easy case as to how this goes back to the prehistoric interactions between the male and female of the human species. You can find several entries in my blog where I grapple with the elements of sexuality in the naturist context [See: Making Waves in the Naturist Pool for starters] as there’s no question that there is a biological blueprint at play that is intended to perpetuate the species. And to that end, my naturist Instagram account suggests that there are plenty of women who are willing to bare all to expedite the procreation process – or at least the physical pleasure part of that.
But what if a male is wired like Addie? “I do have standards, and I would be happy to come to your naked party, but no… the evening is not going to end in the bedroom. I just think it’s more fun to party naked!” A girl saying that sounds credible. A guy saying that sounds like a wolf in no clothing.
Seems there was a trend ten or fifteen years ago that was particularly prevalent at Ivy League colleges called, quite simply, naked parties. My read on it was that there were intelligent young people who were seeking to be more real with one another, and in an effort to accomplish that, everyone would check their clothing at the door, somehow in agreement of an unspoken code of ethics that this will be just like any other party, except, hey – it feels genuine and refreshing to reveal our naked selves in a social context.
Has that gone away? Was it a failed experiment where those events morphed into unbridled orgies? Or are we simply a society on an increasingly conservative trajectory that has caved to the fact of an ideology that says, “I’m a weak human and I’m about to get drunk, and naked or not, I’m sorry I can’t be responsible for my actions by the end of the night! If we’re all naked and drunk, I’m sorry I ended up on top of you.” Hmm… that may not subscribe to the tenants of anyone’s naturist charter.
I should be clear, I’m not trying to make this into a #metoo for males. In fact, perhaps pointing out that most men, especially straight men, are not comfortable with their bodies, or their self-image, or how they are perceived by others, or to be specific, their ability to exert self-control amidst visual stimulation. (That’s clearly a problem even in situations where NOBODY is naked!)
Despite the fact that I’m well beyond Addie’s age bracket, I have to say, I’m quite envious of her ability to advocate for the naturist cause. I’d love to join the crusade, but as a guy, I’m just not sure it would play out quite the same way.
How is it that a thin layer of fabric, or rather – the lack thereof, can make things so incredibly complicated?
It’s the first day of the new year. 2019! My feelings about 2018 are decidedly mixed – not just because of my tendency to worry about how things are going in Washington DC, but to be blunt, it was a tumultuous year with a lot of unanticipated change. Some good. Some challenging. Almost all of it someplace between disorienting and disquieting.
Last evening, on New Year’s Eve, we had friends over who have grown accustomed to going naked in the hot tub with us. They would never call themselves naturists, and in fact, the “she” of the couple wasn’t too crazy about sitting in the hot tub in the rain and so she abstained. Meanwhile, another friend stopped by – the one who has been the subject of a few of my previous blog posts, including the recent guide to exploring German spas – and she was naked and in the tub in a flash. I think she would tell you social nudity has provided her with a new sense of identity and self-expression – part counter-culture, part self discovery, as she is facing a lot of difficult questions in her life right now. She’s a natural born naturist!
In the meantime, while our non-naturist couple friends are inclined to quickly wrap in a towel the minute they step out of the spa, our younger companion never seems quite sure just how naked to be once making her way inside the house. Is this a wear your towel zone? Cover your mid-riff area? Funny – we seasoned naturists like to tout the simplicity of it all, but in fact, knowing when to be naked and just how naked to be can be little confusing, especially when you’re not at a naked place like a naturist beach or resort.
Interesting also, when I put my wife into this mix. She loves our nakations! She has no aversion to getting naked at home except for one – It’s not practical! “I need to take out the recycling. Or the kitchen is chilly. Or it simply hadn’t occurred to me to get naked right now.” Not a statement, per se, just an extra chore that adds one more step to the mix. “Pull on a shirt to go get something out of my car? Meh… I’ll just keep my clothes on.”
We have some friends from work who, quite by accident, we came to know of their affinity for Montalivet, a popular naturist destination in France. They’ve been going for years while we’ve been visiting a similar resort just an hour down the road. He is French and was raised with naturist vacations, and they have taken their children on nakation nearly every summer. We had them over for a naturist evening on the porch a few months ago on the coattails of summer, but as it turns out, they confessed they had never been naked at a friend’s home before, especially here in the US where they’re sure their neighbors would call the police were they ever to set foot in their backyard wearing anything less than modest swimsuit.
Then we have these friends we used to go to St. Martin with – every year for quite a stretch. One of the couples has a particularly naturist friendly backyard that is something like a private naturist resort on a warm summer day. In the winter, we’ve had a fair number of naked holiday dinners as well. But as is wont to happen, the complexities in each of our lives have made that more difficult in recent years. All said, it takes a good bit of planning to facilitate an evening of social nudity. It’s not just like, “Hey friend! Come on over and we’ll all take our clothes off!” At least in our circles, it almost never happens that way.
Other than rambling along in a reminiscent sort of way as one often does at the demarcation of a new year – and I am the meandering naturist for God’s sake – I’m really not sure what point I’m driving for here, except that I found myself strangely intrigued with a blog post I reposted on my other blog a few days ago called I Socialize Naked. The young, female author made a rather compelling case for calling out social nudity for what it really is. “I would like to not be wearing clothes right now, and I would also like to be with my friends. No protest to mount. No fitness agenda. No underlying implication of inner healing or truth. I just like being naked, and it’s more fun to be naked with other people around.”
Her words really resonated with me, particularly in my shared affinity for the simple act of nudity itself, immediately complicated by the fact that unless you have made an intentional effort to go someplace where getting naked together is the primary objective, then in fact, the nuances of when and how to get naked can be quite confusing, if not overwhelming! “Do you mind that I’m not wearing pants right now?” I might say to my fully clothed, or even towel draped friend. Even as you say it, you sort of wonder if you should be phoning the authorities to turn yourself in.
And finally, to further complicate things, I think there is a train of thought that seems to empower the most ardent naturists to believe those who get naked together are destined for more intimate and meaningful relationships. (Speaking of the platonic flavor here.) They would say our nakedness itself is a statement of vulnerability and freedom from the constructs of religiosity, narrow-mindedness, and decidedly in the face ideological norms that have made it clear that hands, faces, elbows, and knees represent normalcy, while the exposure of a breast or a penis represents abhorrent behavior. The most altruistic will make a case for full self realization that is beyond the consciousness of the average work-a-day mortal.
I actually spent a good bit of time musing over these ideas in a previous post called The Demographics of Nakedness, where I essentially put my opinion out there that the only thing naked people truly have in common is… well… nudity. I don’t happen to belong to the camp that posits that nudity is the great equalizer, nor do I believe that naked people are categorically more or less genuine or vulnerable than the clothed. It occurs to me that some people simply think it feels good to be naked – and sometimes it’s fun to hang out with other people. Nice when those two elements coincide in some manner that feels organic – or at least, less than contrived. My wife and I are vowing to make 2019 less frenetic than the last year or two, which is a tall order given the demands of family, workplace, and society. To me, that automatically implies that there will be more more naked time in 2019, as the shedding of my worldly cloaks immediately represents a step-back from my everyday existence in the chaotic and noisy existence of my professional circles. For my wife, that would mean slowing the pace of our collective lifestyle so that it’s actually worth the time to get naked and stay naked when there are a bazillion other things to do around the house – most of which are much more pragmatic with clothing. We’ll see how that goes.
In the meantime, I’ll be eager to see who responds to this post. If it finds its way into the retweeting blogosphere, or even spawns an engaging discussion on reddit. I suspect there are others, like me, who find a certain (and apparently, somewhat bizarre) pleasure in the simplicity of wearing no clothing, and feel all the more validated when they find there are others who not only enjoy doing the same, but find it strangely validating to conduct normal social interactions – watching a movie, chatting over a bottle of wine, playing cards – with no clothes on. Are we freaks, us naked people? Maybe. But no doubt, whether we’re more genuine and vulnerable or not, it’s most definitely more fun to be freakish with others than by one’s self.
On a side note, since I mentioned reddit, and I will likely repost this chronicle to those forums as well, I will call myself out for the use of images in this post which I have pulled from a collection of naturist sources over the years. Perhaps not surprisingly, I’ve been less than proactive about capturing social gatherings with naked friends in my digital image archive, and while most of my travel blogs feature, almost exclusively, photos of me and my wife, I come up in short supply of graphics for my posts of a more philosophical nature. This is quite upsetting to my reddit colleague, as the use of any image without permission and confirmed attribution is a breach of social contract at best, flat out stealing at least. With that, I will close with the disclaimer that if you find any image in this, or any of my other posts, lacking appropriate attribution or used in an otherwise exploitative manner, I trust you will let me know, and I will remove that image at once.
Here again… I keep thinking that embracing nakedness is supposed to represent a step toward simplicity and clarity of mind. Neither of those ideals are easily defined on this first day of 2019. Maybe I’ll just take my clothes off, pour a glass of wine and give that some thought. If you were here, I’d invite you to shed your clothes and join me.
It’s been ten years since my first visit to a German sauna world, or Saunawelt as they would say auf deutsch. An internet blogger friend pointed me in the direction of the newly expanded Therme Erding conveniently situated between Munich and the nearby international airport. As a seasoned naturist, I will remember that initial sauna adventure for all of my days. That moment you walk into the co-ed changing rooms, trying to look unfazed by your inability to open your locker, inconveniently located in awkward proximity to a middle-aged couple removing their clothes. Meanwhile, preoccupied as to whether you’re about to offend more people by being naked or by wrapping yourself in a towel. Informative directives were posted everywhere, which would have been ever so helpful had I paid more attention during that one semester of college German.
It’s not especially helpful that there are approximately a bazillion sauna and “therme” (thermal pool) centers dotting the map of Germany, not to mention those to be found in Austria, Switzerland, and the Netherlands – each of which have a unique set of customs and rules that may or may not be posted – in German – on a wall, leaflet, or countertop. Doesn’t matter really though; there’s clearly something in the DNA of central Europeans that allows them to decode the unspoken rules of social nudity. It’s no secret the Germans are thought leaders in social-nudity, but still… how do they always seem to know what’s going on?
Before going into my detailed guide for naked spa rookies, I should encourage those who worry about the communal nudity thing to read any number of TripAdvisor reviews written by prudish Americans who uniformly confirm that non-sexual nakedness in a social environment only feels awkward for about five minutes, until you realize that clothing actually does very little to help us obscure the things that make us feel most awkward or inadequate about our bodies. This is not a post about the perils or merits of social nudity, but instead, a guide for the person who says, “I’m over it. A bazillion Germans seem to think it’s fun! I’m gonna shed my inhibitions and sweat it out with a bunch of strangers, and I’m gonna like it!“
With that said and done, I thought it might be useful to provide a few tips to help you find the right place for your first naked sauna experience, noting that the options are abundant and varied. Compared to everything that’s out there, (About 350 spas in Germany alone, I think!) I’ve been to relatively few. (Perhaps a dozen, but a few of those many times over.) But for the sake of this blog post, I think I can narrow thermal spa complexes down into four categories:
The Therme Erding Mega-spas: Therme-Erding is not only a relative newcomer in the spa business, but they seem to enjoy the reputation of doing everything bigger and bolder than all those who have gone before, in a – dare I say it – Disneyesque sort of way! While they advertise the installation in Erding (near Munich) as the world’s largest spa, their more recent endeavors are similarly expansive – with a consistent penchant for emulating the exotic islands of the South Seas, where the climate is controlled 365 days a year under glass domes that could house a dirigible! With locations in Erding, Bad Wörishofen, Sinsheim (near Heidelberg), Schwarzwald, and Euskirchen (near Cologne), the Erding location boasts the largest texteil-frei bereich (clothes-free zone), though the others try to compensate for this by offering “long sauna nights” about once a month when the entire property becomes naked-friendly for the evening. You’ll either need to learn a few important German words or get familiar with Google Translate to figure all that out, but it you’re hell-bent on maxing out the full-monty experience without planning around a specific day of the month, Erding is probably your best bet.
The Kristall Therme Chain: I should remind my readers that I’m no expert here, but as best I can tell, the Kristall Therme chain was pretty much on the cutting edge of chain-style sauna experiences until the Erding folks stepped up to the plate. But while the aforementioned thermes decided to focus on palm trees and palapas, the Kristall team went for a Neo-Viennese-quasi-elegant-but-not-so-impressive-chandelier affect! The result is something like the amusement park down the street from Disneyland that tried to exploit the WOW factor, but didn’t quite grab the brass ring. In my humble opinion, the chandeliers and candelabras are not aging well. We have only visited two of their locations; one near Schwangau which was a good bit underwhelming, and another in Ludwigsfelde near Berlin, which is very naked and family friendly; quite different that the other texteil-frei locations that are limited to patrons aged 16 years and older. The therme in Stein (near Nuremberg) had a serious fire several years ago, but it appears they have rebuilt and reopened. I’d love to know what they’ve done to bring things up to date as compared to the older branches of the chain. Ludwigsfelde is pretty much naked friendly, everywhere, all the time, which may be the reason I’ve gone back there at least three times.
The historic sauna bath-houses: So I have to confess… the only “old school” historic bath I’ve been to so far is the Müller’sches Volksbad not far from the Englischer Garten in Munich, yet another famously naked place in Germany. I went midday on a weekday in the dead of winter, and spent most of my time there asking myself, “Should I be naked here? Can I swim naked? And where are all the humans under 75 years of age? I have yet to visit the Friedrichsbad Roman-Irish Baths in Baden-Baden, nor the Kaiser-Friedrich-Therme in Wiesbaden, nor the Neptune Bad in Cologne, but my impression is that they all provide a similar sense of bathing in a ornate museum, often involving a wellness course sort of ritual where you make your way through the various sensations ranging from very warm pools to very cold pools (Nope! Not for me!), stopping for a rest wrapped in warm towels in between. It’s on my bucket list to try a couple more of these out, but I’m always a little anxious about wasting a precious spa day on something I’m not sure I’m going to love! Maybe Wiesbaden or Cologne soon – we’ll see.
A myriad of independent spas with a vast array of amenities: As soon as you realize that every town that begins was the word “Bad” (German for bath) is essentially a spa town, you’ll see that there are thermal spas all over Germany, as frequently as not, in cute little villages where the thermal springs are about the only thing happening there. Schwaben Quellen is something of an exception, located right in the heart of a Stuttgart commercial center. I’m also particularly fond of a beautiful complex called Mediterana located outside of Cologne, (though the pools are a bit tepid to my liking,) and I’ve been eager to get to one or both of the Vabali Spas, one in Düsseldorf, one in Berlin, each of which are killin’ it on Trip Advisor, especially with the under-forty crowd. Conversersly, I once visited a small spa in Rheinland-Pfalz that felt a bit more like a recreation center for seniors – all good for what it is, but not what I was hoping for that day. And I’ve ventured out to Taunus Therme near Frankfurt twice. Beautiful pool area downstairs, but I keep forgetting to bring a swimsuit, (which is required in that part of the complex) so I’ve never even dipped a toe in the main pool. The point is that you need to do your research before you go. Many thermes will actually have a map like this one from Bad Hönningen that gives you a sense of the layout of the place, along with the size and amenities of the sauna area (almost always nude) and the therme area (almost always texteil), which is why it pays to dig around the website to see if the place is according to your preferences. Of course, that’s equally important for those who are trying to avoid naked Germans! Know before you go.
Locals have told me the big commercial therme chains are just for tourists and they would never go there, which may be true, but I have to say all those tourists at the swim-up bar at Therme Erding speak crazy good German. But with so many spa establishments in Germany alone, it seems location and personal preference defines the ranking system. ‘Just depends on what you’re looking for.
With that, let’s get down to business. How do you make sure your day at the relaxation spa is… well… relaxing, and not just a sequential outing of awkward faux-pas?
ARRIVAL: While I have enough German to say, “Two adults for four hours, please,” there is typically somebody at the check in counter who has enough English to immediately make me feel inadequate about my German. And besides, they’ll want to know if you want to rent a robe (badmantel), a towel (badetuch), or slippers (I don’t know that word!), all of which most locals bring along with them, but if you’re traveling lightly, it’s easy enough to rent them on the spot, and I’ve never been to a place where that’s not possible. Often, they will actually charge you up front for the purchase price of the item (Say 50€ for the robe, but since the rental is only 4€, they’ll refund you the difference once you bring it back at check-out. No big deal if using a credit card, as you’ll probably spend more than that on food and drink while you’re in the spa anyway. Most clients will bring a normal bathrobe from home, though many just make a go of it for the day with a towel. You most definitely want slippers or flip-flops as there will undoubtedly be some outdoor walking, and the floors are frequently wet and slippery.
If the complex has several different areas, you’ll want to know which one you’re looking for before you get in line. Therme Erding, for instance, has one entrance point for Galaxy Water Park (a big water slide area where swimsuits are required, along well as a penchant for sudden drops), another desk for Thermen Paradise (a large family oriented area with elaborate warm pools and maybe a few saunas (swimwear required) and other attractions, and the most expensive entrance lane for Saunawelt, where you’ll go directly into the clothes-free zone as soon as you clear the desk and enter the locker room. While it may seem strange that the “take your clothes off area” is the most expensive option, that’s because that ticket provides you access to the entire complex – but only if you remember to pack a swimsuit so you can work your way back through the labyrinth of gateways to the other areas. Again, your coin bracelet is the key to the gates that separate one area from the next.
To address the perennial question of “Where does a naked guy keep his wallet?” that takes you back to the wristband with a coin chip in it as well. USUALLY, this is ALL you need for all the business you will do that day. You will use it to open your locker, pay for your meals, buy drinks at the swim-up bar, and even to pay for a massage or spa treatment should you choose to book one. I say usually as I remember my last visit to the Kristall Therme near Berlin where they had a bizarre procedure where you could use your bracelet at the food court, but I vaguely remember having to bring a ziplock baggie of money to the swim-up bar, which made absolutely no sense to me. (Maybe there was a better solution, but I wasn’t about to figure it out in German.) In any event, if you can, it’s worth clarifying exactly what your bracelet will or will not do while you’re still at the front desk.
THE LOCKER ROOM and THE GRAND ENTRANCE: I have feared locker rooms since the I first had to use one in seventh grade! Terrifing! Really! I’m mostly over that by now when I go to the YMCA, and I’ve grown accustomed to those at the therme as well, but my heart did stop for a moment the first time I had to ease my way toward my locker next to a naked women leisurely unpacking her spa bag. She could see I was fumbling with my bracelet unlocking-device and offered me help getting the magnetic lock to release.
In reality, she was a bit more immodest than most, as many will find one of the little changing cubicles (think department store fitting room), enter fully clothed, then exit wrapped in a bathrobe of a towel. That always seems like an extra step to me as the entrance to the spa area typically takes you through a shower room where they’d like you to immediately doff said covering garment and rinse down before entering the main attraction area.
But that leads to another interesting element of spa nudity – one that I have never understood, but it seems to be a sort of common law, often specified (in vague language) in the rules for the spa. You may or may not find it posted or printed in English that nudity is mandatory in the saunas and the pools, but you are required to cover yourself with a towel or a robe when moving about the facilities or visiting the restaurants therein. Most everyone complies with the restaurant part, but every time an aufguss session lets out (more about that later) there will be a rush of naked humans rushing to the nearest shower or nearby outdoor veranda to cool-off. But otherwise, the expectation is that you will wrap at least the lower part of your body when moving about the premises. Of course, there’s always a few people who either didn’t read the rules, or simply choose to walk about naked, or maybe with a towel draped loosely over the shoulder, scarcely obscuring any of the quintessential body parts. (Yes, that may well be me!) There are always spa employees everywhere, and not once have I seen them stop someone to ask them (me!) to cover up, and since the large spas have literally hundreds of loungers scattered around, you’ll see every form of undress, from bundled tightly in robes, to people discreetly covering their genitalia, to people napping – buck naked – spread eagle. You’ll have a sense of what goes at a particular spa within a few minutes of arrival.
Having just written this, I have learned my to young female friends who visited Vabali Düsseldorf today were reprimanded for walking around naked! I stand corrected.
NOODLES IN THE POOL: This seems to be another interesting variation from one spa to the next, as Friday and Saturday nights at the therme seem to be a very popular date night outings. At Erding, it’s not uncommon to see couples enjoying a deep embrace as they’re floating in the lazy river outside on a snowy evening with steam billowing off the water. Once again, spa attendants are plentiful and you know there are video cameras everywhere, including the rest areas. (My wife and I once inadvertently summoned a bouncer-like fellow when a hand drifted too close to a sensitive area. He simply stood by making his presence known, and that was that. But indeed, there are cameras everywhere!) The Ludwigsfelde Kristall Therme allows children of all ages, so that changes the vibe a bit, and when we visited the huge Bad Wörishofen on a texteil frei Friday night, it seemed like their were guards everywhere out on noodle patrol. I’ve never seen anything that would get the overt sexual activity prize, but it seems each spa has it’s own unspoken rules regarding acceptable behavior, and somehow, everyone seems to know what those are. When in Rome…
OK – WHAT ABOUT THE SAUNA THING. WILL I DIE?: Seriously. That was my primary concern the first time I went into a sauna. I mean, the whole idea is that you’re going to go in, sit down, and get really, really hot until there is sweat oozing from places you didn’t even think possible?
The large Erding affiliate spas have the most elaborate (and largest) themed saunas. In fact, I think Erding has at least twenty-five different saunas, each of which offer a wide variety of different aufguss (infusion) ceremonies over the course of a day. By large, I mean it’s not uncommon for 80-100 people to crowd in for a popular aufguss session, and yes, everyone is completely naked, with your towel often overlapping the towel next to you. A few people, mainly women, remain wrapped in their towels, but they are by far the minority. It’s simply a sea of naked humanity! That alone might feel a bit claustrophobic to some, but that’s just before the ceremony begins! Perhaps you think yourself clever having chosen a spot with a bit more personal space on the top shelf in the upper back corner, until you realize that twelves seconds before the ceremony begins, five more people are going to dash in, see you are occupying the only available real-estate, and come crowd in around you! Now… you’re on the top level (where the heat is the most intense), in the back corner (farthest from the exit door), and packed in like a giant sweaty sardine when you realize that if you needed to leave suddenly, you’d have to awkwardly drag your moist body and dripping towel over three rows of other naked people deeply entranced in the mediation chimes of ancient Indonesia!
The aufguss ritual itself has to do with the pouring of scented water on intensely hot rocks, after which, the spa-master will take a large towel, or a flag, or maybe even giant Russian banja leaves and thwack them in your direction to provide a blast of heat that literally takes your breath away! You suddenly have an entirely new sense of empathy for your Thanksgiving turkey, coming to realize that it was a kindness to make sure he was dead before putting him in the oven!
Thankfully, your spa-master has told you about the entire process before it actually began – typically a two or three minute explanation that I think goes like this…”Welcome to mud ritual of ancient Egypt! In a moment, I’m going to close the door, then poor this magic potion on those boiling rocks. Then my assistant and I are going to give you some magic goo that we found near the tomb of Moses so you can spread it all over your body – unless you want to ask your friend to help you with those hard to reach places. (Hahahahaha!) Then I’ll pour some more water on those rocks and take this towel and snap it within inches of your face so you can feel the magic mud being absorbed into your pores and your body begins triage inventory – “Brain – functioning. Heart – beating. Arm-pits – on overload!” Then I think he says something like, “Please remember, this is a high intensity ride. People with heart conditions, pregnant women, and humans prone to anxiety should take note of the nearest exit, even if you can’t possibly get to it when it matters. Please keep your arms and legs inside the carriage at all times.” Let me remind you, I only know a few German words, like exit, panic, and die, but I usually feel reassured by the laughter of my German counterparts.
This is why you may want to ease your way into the process, realizing that any particular sauna will only have an aufguss ceremony every two hours or so. When that happens, they put a sign on the door that says “session in progress,” do not enter!” But otherwise, you can go in and try out the various saunas and stay for as little or as long as you wish. Pretty soon, you’ll realize that each sauna has a sign on the door that tells you the temperature, and sometimes the humidity percentage as well. Of course, it’s all in Celsius, but you’ll figure out the difference between 65° and 85° pretty quickly! Way more than the Fahrenheit equivalent. And the higher the humidity, the more intense the heat.
It also took me a while to realize that if you want a premium seat for an aufguss ceremony, on the bottom step, not too far from the door, you have to plan ahead. Each aufguss event lasts about ten minutes, and while they won’t let additional people come in once “the show has begun,” you do have the prerogative to leave any time, and typically, one or two people do. For me, I found that putting myself in a position to escape if I felt I needed to was all the assurance I needed to alleviate the anxiety, but that requires forethought. In this case, forethought involves arriving ten or fifteen minutes before the aufguss begins, putting your towel down to mark your spot, sitting to acclimate for a few minutes to get a sense of the heat intensity, then stepping out of the sauna – leaving your towel behind – (you’re naked, remember!) to cool down; maybe even step outside if it’s convenient, to bring down your body temperature. Sometimes there will be a giant vat of crushed ice nearby that people scoop up by the handful. I, along with many others, will make a giant snowball and take it back in the sauna with me if I know the heat will be particularly intense, then rub it on my forehead and chest when I feel like it’s just a little too much. By the end of the event, your snowball has vanished into a puddle on your towel.
Most of the aufguss sessions I’ve gone to involve two ceremonious rounds of dousing the hot rocks with infused water followed by the accompanying whacking of towels, but the entire thing never lasts more than ten minutes. That seems a reasonable amount of time for nearly anyone to endure the intense heat, but that’s also assuming you set out your towel early, then stepped out to cool down for a few minute. (25 minutes without pause would be long stretch for even the heartiest of sauna warriors!) And there may well be some quirky ritual immediately before, during, or after the aufguss, like going into an adjacent cave to cover your body in salt, or the aforementioned mud ritual. Sometimes you even get a prize at the end, like fresh bread that comes out of the oven at the same time you do, or a Popsicle to help you internalize the fruity joys of a tropical island. In time, you’ll master the fine art of discretely watching the people around you before you accidentally rub salt in your eyes, which the spa guy probably told you to avoid, but you really weren’t sure what the nervous intermittent laughter was about while he was giving his spiel.
Other than some of the historic spas where the traffic essentially flows from one activity to the next, the typical scenario at the more recent establishments allows you to plan your day as you wish, usually providing a detailed schedule of all the day’s aufguss events. My wife is not too keen on the intense heat of the saunas, but loves the warm pools, the quiet resting areas, the various restaurants (at the nicer spas) and simply lounging by the pool with a good book between visits to the swim-up bar. Those quiet resting areas may have ceremonies as well to encourage meditation, relaxation, or mind-expansion. Or sometimes it’s just a nice place to take a nap or curl up with a book. (Many have reading lights above the bed) Most inhabitants will be wrapped in a towel or a robe, but a few will be naked as well. Just remember… no hanky-panky! 🙂
Whenever possible, we make the spa our first stop upon arrival in Europe since most flights from the US arrive in Munich or Germany around 7:00 am. That’s just enough time to drop our bags at the hotel – spa bag already packed – then make our way to the therme. (This works particularly well in Munich, as bus 512 goes directly from the airport to the village of Erding)
As mentioned above, my two young (female) friends have made their first stop at Verbali Spa near Düsseldorf where they report that the amenities and view of the lake from the warmth of the spa was unbelievable. But contrary to my earlier words of advice, they were actually cited for being too naked as they were walking from one place to another without bothering to wrap in a towel. That seems particularly peculiar for a place that doesn’t even have an area that allows for swimsuits.
Later today, they will visit one of the Erding-chain establishments near Cologne, and I’m urging them to write a guest blog post to capture the experience from their own perspective. They are both quite new to naturism, and even newer to the German sauna experience. Regardless, seems they are both enthusiastic converts to clothes-free recreation. Take note nay-sayers: There is hope for the future of naturism even yet!
You may want to visit a few other posts about saunas and thermal baths, such as my blog post about the Onsen experience in Japan, or one of my very first posts about spa nudity written about five years ago. And I haven’t even scratched the surface on some of the spa hotels in Austria that sport sauna centers as well, or some of the very hip places in Holland that have yet another spin on communal nakedness. All good. Still stuff left to blog about.