i steam, you steam, we all steam for ice and steam

Why hello there.  Long time no see.  At least it feels like it.  Long time no long rambling post or Wagenplatz this or baby that or daily life something or other.  But here I am.  Baby Pickles is watching Papa Pickles play banjo, and I am here to play keyboard.  It kind of depresses me how much of my joy hinges on staring at a screen while touching a connected piece of plastic with both hands.  But alas, computers have shaped my writing process, and writing by hand is now irritating.  A strange evolution for a semi-luddite.  Life’s contradictions, eh?

Summer has come in a big rainy mess.  Days are warm (ish).  It rains.  It’s gray for weeks.  Then suddenly it’s hot as hell.  But since it’s mostly just cool to cold I have reinstated my sacred sauna tradition.  (Tuesdays and Fridays, four hours for 10 euros at Taubertsbergbad!  Holla!)  It has become critical to my sanity.  Without it I am less patient, can tolerate less baby bullshit, touch darkness more often.  But give me four weekly hours of steam, and I am a saint.  Or as near to one as I will ever be.

Early on a Tuesday morning in the sauna, it’s just me and a bunch of old men.  Last week one of those old men asked me if my hair was supposed to be red/gold/black, the colors of Germany’s flag, and what I would do if “we” lost the game that evening.  We were standing in the circle of showers at the center of the sauna complex, naked.  I considered sprinting home to have Scissors re-dye my hair immediately.  My hair is black on one side and washed out pink on the other side!  Do I look like a football fan obsessed enough to dye my hair like the German national flag?!  Then again, you could be anyone when you’re standing naked in a shower, talking to an old man.  You have no social cues on display through your clothing, nothing but the color of your hair to hint at who you are.  And wait a minute was I having a conversation with a complete stranger while we were both naked?  You have to love German sauna culture.  At least I have to.

Five years ago I was totally terrified/horrified/uncomfortable with the entire sauna concept.  The first time I was invited on a sauna outing I declined.  It would have been my first time meeting then-boyfriend’s friends.  That made me nervous.  That made me really nervous naked.  Then I moved to Mainz and some friends of ours had a sauna in the basement of their apartment building.  Getting naked with three friends felt a lot less weird than getting naked with a swimming-pool complex full of strangers, so I finally got my feet wet.  And hot damn I loved it.  Now, finally, I am totally obsessed with sauna-ing.  Now I can comfortably walk around naked in front of strangers.  I mean you know moving to another country is going to change you, but I certainly didn’t expect those changes to have anything to do with (semi) public nudity.

If you’ve never been in a sauna, it might be kind of hard to understand the awesomeness.  Intense heat, a room full of sweaty naked strangers—it’s not everybody’s bag.  Then again if you, like me, feel like your fingers and toes never completely thaw for the entirety of winter, you will most certainly understand.  Sauna duder comes in, sauna duder pours water over the hot stones on top of the stove, steam ensues, sweat pours, and his towel is waved around like a helicopter, like a ceiling fan, to distribute the heat.  Your fingers and toes thaw.  Your skin tingles.  You can feel your blood pumping.  And though I sometimes find myself lost in thought during those moments, I more often find that it is an exercise in presence, an experience that helps me be fully present in my body for the six to eight minutes involved.

Afterwards you take an ice cold shower, then a hot foot bath, then a swim in an ice cold pool.  You start to feel like a super hero, invincible.  You can walk around outside in the middle of winter completely naked and feel comfortably warm.  You can enjoy an ice cold swim.  Your body vibrates with blood and energy.  Every single time I am in the sauna I find myself thinking about how I would describe the feeling in words.  But most of those words dissipate with the steam and the sweat, never to reach their intended ears.  But this time, I managed to catch a few and take them home.

Saunaing is an important gate keeper for my sanity.  What keeps you balanced?

12 Comments on “i steam, you steam, we all steam for ice and steam

  1. That sounds amazing. I’m surprised about the co-ed nude showers though!

    In response to your question, I am not sure, maybe that’s why I feel so un-balanced. Who wants to open a sauna in MN?!

  2. Nothing anymore, it seems. I am pretty unbalanced these days. But I hope to fix that with early retirement, hope being the operative here.

    But what was it my older sister always said? oh yeah.

    Live in hope, die in despair. Cheery, huh?

    Actually you make a sauna (sow- nuh!) sound good, but I don’t handle heat well at all. I tried bikram yoga with a buddy of mine but quit after crashing the second time where I had to lie on my back and concentrate on not throwing up.

    I will say that took my mind off everything else though.

  3. I love saunas too, but I’ve never heard of one where there was nudity in the co-ed areas! :O

  4. Yeah, the entire sauna area is co-ed, changing rooms included.

    FVM: There must be some saunas out your way, what with all the norwegian/scandanavian immigration that happened in that area back in the day, the question is where, and if they are as awesome and affordable as the ones here.

    Paula: Dark as it may be, I kind of love your sister’s words.

  5. I was born to this whole naked-in-the-sauna concept, so can only nod my head 😀 And my fingers and toes stay frozen through the winter – often cold even in summer – so I’m with you on the awesomeness of sauna!

  6. Awesome post..!

    The first time I went to a German sauna was in Wiesbaden with my friend, his mom, and her boyfriend. Before leaving for the facility, his mom needed to confirm I really knew what I was in for and solemnly asked me “At this place, I will be naked, will you die?”

    Honestly though, I can’t see how anybody couldn’t warm to the experience once you have the chance to get over yourself and your whatever prudish notions you were brought up with. It took just once for myself and my wife. The really cool facilities are works of art and have so many options, mist saunas, indoor and outdoor joined pools, different temperature baths, mineral baths, quiet rooms, sauna duders.. and you’re right, you feel like a million bucks after! (I usually feel super wasted too though)

    Two summers ago I got to experience a sauna in Sweden, the sauna was connected via wooden dock to the lake 20 steps away. We would heat up (and booze up!) in the sauna and then jump out and dive off the nearby dock into the lake. At that time of the year the sun doesn’t set in the evening, too.. so we sauna’d in the perpetual dusk for hours – it was magical.

    I am so looking forward to going again – do you know if they generally allow babies into the facilities?

  7. Pingback: Expat Life: German Sauna Culture | Young Germany

  8. oh yes, the prudish notions…

    everything in me thinks that going to a sauna would be so awesome that I can’t believe I haven’t been to one in my 33 years (it helps that I don’t think there are any in Uruguay).

    then again, even if there were, those prudish notions… worse than ever since I lived for two years in the US…


    what I wouldn’t give to feel superhero-ish for a while

  9. I’m the exact opposite of you, I think. I love the sauna as well and don’t really have any problems walking around naked in front of strangers. But walking around naked in front of friends or, even worse, bumping into a colleague while walking around naked is something I’m not keen on. One might even wonder if I have intimacy issues. 🙂

    I do find that the walking around naked part is helped to a certain extent by the fact that I have no glasse on for most of it (although I love the little glasses holders that they have outside the various sections, so pratical and handy) – even if people were staring, I wouldn’t notice. I also can’t see, for example, my own legs clearly so there’s not much worrying about whether there’s hair to be seen or not (them being the only bit of me I do occasionally de-hair).

  10. Since you seem go go in “Mainz” into the Taubertsbergbad you might wanna try the “Rhein-Main-Therme” in Hofheim. Just some 20 minutes by car and far better in my view. People are nice and the sauna/spa is better.

    Been in both and visit only one of the two now 😉

  11. Hot DAMN I miss German saunas and freie Koerperkultur! When the sauna duder whips up that wall of hot air and it hits you — you’re right, it’s like a tingle, an all over immediate hot hot chill that sends out a tide of sweat from every pore all at once. So. Good.

    Sigh. Damn US and its lack of good cheap saunas and proliferation of puritanical modesty.

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