Okay, I am the first to admit that the idea of stripping down to my birthday suit in a public place was more than a little off-putting to me when I first heard about German Thermalbads (a Thermalbad or Therme is a spa-like setting, often with multiple pools, saunas, and steam rooms). But now that I’ve been to one and survived I thought I’d share my tips and tricks so that you too might feel brave enough to try it!
I had the chance to experience two different types of spa in the last few weeks (that’s why when you see me I look so intensely relaxed 🙂 )-one a local Therme here in Stuttgart, the other a wellness hotel situated just five minutes from Neuschwanstein Castle. While the sauna experiences in each were very similar, the wellness hotel needs its own post! So this will just focus on local opportunities for a day of relaxation. Also, the photos here are from the Schwaben Quellen website, since cameras and cell phones are strictly forbidden inside the spa.
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The Schwaben Quellen is located inside the Dormero Hotel, near SI Suites and within walking distance of Kelley Barracks. The first thing you’ll notice is that it’s extremely organized in the way most public pools are in the Stuttgart. Your entrance fee (35 euro on weekends, 33 euro during the week) gets you an electronic chip bracelet which you then use to open your locker in the changing room and to purchase extras like food and drink, massages, or other spa treatments. The entrance fee gets you access to all the pools, hot tubs, steam rooms, and saunas.
What to Bring
Flip flops or Crocs- something you can wear when crossing from sauna to sauna, and in the shower area.
Bathrobe or wrap- there are places in the Thermalbad where you will need to be covered up. There is a very nice cafe in the center of the Therme where you can have lunch or a snack and you must be covered. Bathrobes can be rented at the entrance for 5 euro.
Beach Towel- you will need towel for laying out on the sauna bench (more on this later) and drying off between pools
Bottled water- all this sauna can be dehydrating! Bring a water bottle that you can keep in the cubby area at the spa entrance so you can get a drink from time to time. The cafe also offers free cups of ice, so enjoy that luxury as well. I miss ice water…
Now on to the protocol of sauna use in Germany. As with everything in this country, there is a proper procedure even for relaxing! First things first, you will need to take a full shower, located in the changing rooms. After this you’ll proceed to the actual Thermalbad, where you’ll find cubbies for placing your water bottle or any other incidentals you may want to access throughout the day. In this area there are also LCD screens that inform you about special activities happening in each little sauna. Each sauna has a different theme, with different aromatic oils and sometimes a small treat after the session like a slice of orange or a Popsicle. These special activities start ON TIME and if it’s busy they fill up fast, so get there a few minutes beforehand to get situated and find a spot.
Saunas require that you disrobe completely, so there are hooks available for your robe and you can place your flip flops directly below. Take your towel into the sauna with you. Lay your towel out vertically so that you are sitting on the towel and your feet are also not directly on the wood bench or floor. The saunas have tiered seating and the higher you go the warmer it gets, so keep this in mind if you’re a newbie and not sure how long you can stay. If you are in a sauna with a program it will have a starting time and a duration of about 8-9 minutes. The most comical part of these programs to me is that there is a spa employee whose sole job is to fan the warm air around the guests as music plays. He either has a giant fan or a towel which he whips in the air. It is hilarious but at the same time feels great!
Watch for signals
You may notice people around you putting their hands behind their head. This is a signal to the spa employee that they want more hot air! During these sessions, the door to the sauna is closed, but if you must leave before the whole thing ends that’s perfectly okay. Please do so quickly and close the door behind you so the heat doesn’t escape!
After sauna there are cool showers located all around for rinsing off. There’s also a deep freezing plunge pool that was shockingly refreshing, even though it made all my leg hair grow back in an instant! There are outdoor and indoor hot tubs as well, but these are not as hot as we are used to in the States.
The Dampfbads are steam rooms. As with the sauna, you disrobe but also leave your towel outside. There are hoses attached to the wall that you use to rinse the bench where you want to sit. It is also polite to rinse the seat after for the next person. These rooms also may have aromatic scents or salt in the air. Breathe deeply and relax!
The best part of the Thermalbad is the napping rooms. Yes, that’s correct- there are dark rooms just for napping! The Schwaben Quellen has hammock-like swings, small water beds, and lounging couches for resting. The lights are nice and dim and it is quiet but for the sound of the waterfall outside. Lay out your towel on one of these beds, wrap up in your bathrobe and take a snooze.
Here are my tips based on my first visit:
-Arrive early and stay late! Your admission is good for the entire day, so take advantage of it. The Therme was fairly busy on Sunday, so maybe try a work day or an American holiday if you’d rather not be vying for space. Although there were many people there, the place is huge! So there was still plenty of room and it didn’t feel overly-crowded.
Bring a friend! A good friend. Maybe your spouse. Someone who you can chat with after a sauna session. Someone who knows when you give them “that look” that it’s time to leave or take notice of something funny. You know what I mean. For some reason the naked bit was not nearly as weird as I thought it would be, and I think it was largely because I was not alone. It was also nice to have some company over lunch.
The “textile-free” bit still kind of weirding you out? No worries. The first Saturday of every month is Bathing Suit Day (Textilbadetag). So maybe this is the best way to try it out and see what the sauna is all about before you go all “Full Monty”. The schedule for Textilbadetag is here
The Schwaben Quellen also offers Ladies-Only Days. This also may be a great way to get your feet wet, so to speak. The schedule for Ladies Day is here
Have fun and Gut Geschwitz! (Have a Good Sweat!)