When I'm traveling, there are delightful road bumps in my intense research schedule where I put away the notes and simply enjoy the moment. The classic Friedrichsbad spa in Baden-Baden is one of those fine little breaks.
Ever since the Roman Emperor Caracalla soaked in the mineral waters of Baden-Baden, that German spa town has welcomed those in need of a good soak. And it's always naked. In the 19th century, this was Germany's ultimate spa resort, and even today the name Baden-Baden is synonymous with relaxation in a land where the government still pays its overworked citizens to take a little spa time.
Wearing only the locker key strapped around my wrist, I began the ritual. I weighed myself — 92 kilos. The attendant led me under the industrial-strength shower, a torrential kickoff pounding my head and shoulders...obliterating the rest of the world. She then gave me slippers and a towel, ushering me into a dry heat room with fine wooden reclining chairs — their slats too hot without the towel. Staring up at exotic tiles of herons and palms, I cooked. After more hot rooms punctuated with showers came the massage.
Like someone really drunk going for one more glass, I climbed gingerly onto the marble slab and lay belly-up. The masseur held up two brillo-pad mitts and asked, “Hard or soft?” In the spirit of wild abandon, I said, "Hard," not certain what that would mean to my skin. I got the coarse brillo-pad scrub-down.
I was so soaped up, he had to hold my arms like a fisherman holds a salmon so I wouldn't slip away. With the tenderness of someone gutting a big salmon, he scrubbed, chopped, bent, and generally tenderized me. In spite of the rough treatment, it was extremely relaxing.
Finished with a Teutonic spank on the butt, I was sent off into the pools. Nude, without my glasses, and not speaking the language, I was gawky. On a sliding scale between Mr. Magoo and Woody Allen, I was everywhere. Steam rooms, cold plunges...it all led to the mixed section.
This is where the Americans get really uptight. The parallel spa facilities intersect, as both men and women share the finest three pools. Here, all are welcome to glide under exquisite domes in perfect silence like aristocratic swans. Germans are nonchalant, tuned into their bodies and focused on solitary relaxation. Tourists are tentative, trying to be cool...but more aware of their nudity.
The climax is the cold plunge. I'm not good with cold water — yet I absolutely love this. You must not wimp out on the cold plunge.
Then an attendant escorted me into the “quiet room” and asked if I'd like to be awoken at any time. I told him at closing time. He wrapped me in hot sheets and a brown blanket. No, I wasn't wrapped...I was swaddled. Warm, flat on my back, among twenty hospital-type beds — only one other bed was occupied...he seemed dead. I stared up at the ceiling, and some time later was jolted awake by my own snore.
Leaving, I weighed myself again: 91 kilos. I had shed 2.2 pounds of sweat. It would have been more if tension had mass. Stepping into the cool evening air, I was thankful my hotel was a level two-block stroll away. Like Gumby, flush and without momentum, I fell belly-up...slow motion onto my down comforter, my head buried in a big, welcoming pillow. Wonderfully naked under my clothes, I could only think, “Ahhhh. Baden-Baden.”
About This Entry
You are reading "The German Spa", an entry posted on 11 September 2009 by Rick Steves.