Celebrate Your Life – See the World
Uncertain of the spa protocol, I note a couple of women and a man wander through the doors of the Wellness Center and tentatively follow them inside. I am immediately greeted by the hairy moon of an older man’s backside as he tugs down his wet bathing suit, bracing himself by holding on to one of the open cubbies and I wonder if I’d mistakenly walked into a men’s locker room. But then I see other men and women also slipping out of their bathing suits and saunter, nonchalantly in the buff towards the steam room or sauna of their choice.
Hoping that I am imitating their protocol and not their dementia, I drop my suit, wrap a towel around me and duck into the steamiest room I can find. It seems empty until the steam clears and I see a few men inside. Alarmed for a brief moment, I now wonder if I stumbled into the men’s-only steam room. No one pays me any mind. They say nothing and so I relax and steam alongside them for several minutes until I’d had enough. Several shower areas offer a cold-water respite from the heat and naked bodies are everywhere, showering, walking around, and moving from one sauna to another. The only textiles worn are the occasional towel or bathrobe modestly enclosing anyone who is sitting or lying down on the lounge chairs.
I love European spas. Their large pools fed by thermal springs, their steam rooms and saunas, their odd massage techniques, and their café wine are a great respite for the weary traveler. Many public pools and hotels in Germany offer clothing optional spa areas and spa towns abound. Until now, I’d never sneaked a peak.
Bad Kissingen has become one of my favorite spa towns. Situated a couple hours drive outside of Nuremberg, or an hour from Wurtzberg, in the state of Bavaria, just south of the Rhön Mountains in Germany, it’s quaintly charming in the way of small European towns with a population of about 20,000.
A beautiful village with an old town full of great shopping and outdoor restaurants, Bad Kissingen offers a full range of therapeutic mineral and mud baths, which are renowned for their healing powers. In its time, the spa’s excellent reputation has drawn a host of prominent figures, including Empress Sisi, Giacchino Rossini, Otto von Bismarck, Theodor Fontane and Theodor Heuss. Even still, fashionable Europeans stroll the street in the late afternoon or assume their place at an outdoor café to watch the passing parade of shoppers and sightseers. Some tourists are drawn to the old world architectural beauty, the many cultural events of art and music, the parks and river side trails; others are drawn by medical tourism.
According to the town’s website, Bavarian King Ludwig II bestowed the “Bad” part of its name on it in 1883, but not because he didn’t enjoy his stay—“bad” means “bath” or “spa” in German. And there are a lot of “bads” in Germany.
The history of Bad Kissingen has always been linked to curation and health and today, contains 17 hospitals, sanatoriums and rehabs and a number of beautiful hotels and pensions to house those coming to find restoration for body and soul. About 250,000 guests flock to the little town per year, many of them Americans who work in Germany, usually members of a rapidly dwindling crowd of military personnel since most US bases have closed in Bavaria.
I was initially drawn to Bad Kissingen by the need to find a respite away from my temporary work assignment in the region. Spas offer a wonderful place to hide and soak in peace. The most famous and accessible spa that became my refuge away from home is KissSalis Therme, a light-filled wellness complex covering 1,000 square meters.
The KissSalis Spa contains nine different saunas, eight indoor pools, two outdoor pools, Spa and beauty treatments and among their many special events, every Thursday they host a Candlelight-Night. The philosophy of KissSalis Spa is based on the four building blocks of an optimal recovery: Motion, cold-blooded (think “cold water”) applications as well as physical and mental recovery. The protocols of health include soaking in the heated mineral pool followed by a quick dip into an icy pool.
Fed by Schönborn mineral spring, guests can swim, relax and unwind in this huge spa complex. Cares simply melt away under the waterfall and in the highly concentrated saline baths. Visitors can also try out any of the various therapies and massage pools, have a go at saltwater inhalation, or relax in one of several steam rooms and saunas. The family-focused area has a large pool inside that connects to outdoor pools via swim-through passages. Upstairs is a therapy pool and dry saunas, infrared saunas, a gym and steam rooms. One side of the building houses the Wellness area – where massages and spa treatments take place. Next door to the Wellness Centre is the “Textile free” area (think “clothing optional”).
One evening, after a long day of work, I drove to KissSalis and decided that it would be good for my not-so-great-aging-body-image to join them for a little while.
Americans hesitate to jump naked into a pool or sauna in the company of their colleagues, extended relatives and “textile free” strangers. Europeans, however, find it au so naturelle and pay no attention to the varieties of body types, young and old, wrinkly, flabby or toned steaming away beside them.
Within an hour, I’m used to the sights of so many naked bodies – some older and heavier than mine, some younger and toned. I find that I accept my ageing body more readily as I notice those around me, comfortable in their birthday suits, not a hint of embarrassment over wrinkles and pot bellies, no body image problems here. I start to relax, gaining confidence that I have a handle on naked spa protocol and even more importantly, realize no one is looking at me, sizing me up, rolling their eyes, or snorting in disgust at my 50 year old body.
The spa etiquette is simple enough to pick up. Apparently, you can be naked while moving or inside a spa but when motionless in the lounge area, you should cover – especially in the coffee shop. Drinking coffee or nibbling on fruit in the buff is somehow uncouth. Talking quietly to another inside a spa or sauna is fine. Sexual advances are not. No one stares at another’ naked body, either. No one is rude and no one is a prude.
Feeling extremely confident that I’ve discerned the etiquette despite the language barrier, and also feeling comfortable parading about in my old birthday suit, I head out the door, past the cooling pool, and into a wood hut to bask in the wood-fired sauna.
Following the lead of the Germans, I doff my flip-flops outside the door and walk inside. I decide to sit down on my towel, close my eyes and almost drift to sleep. Suddenly, I feel the cold air of the door opening and hear someone approach me. He whispers to me in German. I open my eyes to see an adorable young man, deferring in his approach, kind eyes, wearing a terry cloth skirt. He seems to work here. Noticing that I don’t understand, he beckons for me to come outside. I follow him, wrap my towel around myself and stare curiously into his eyes.
“I show you,” he says. “Come.”
Show me what? I’m curious enough that I follow him into an unused spa next door where he places a small towel on the ground. “For feet,” he says. Ah, apparently, you can lie down on your towel but you need something under your feet as well. Another protocol lesson learned! He didn’t want to disturb (or amuse) the other spa guests with an explanation in protocol so he graciously removed me from the room.
By the end of the day, I had learned not only what not to do in a naked spa, but the invaluable lesson that no matter how old we are, our birthday suits will never go out of style. Wear yours proudly. Accept yourself.
KissSalis Spa: Heiligenfelder Allee 16, 97688 Bad Kissingen, Bad Kissingen, Bavaria, Germany
J Kat Loren is a journalist, author and owner of Blue Moth Media.
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