Baring It All In Baden-Baden: Why I Tried Bare Coed Bathing at the Friedrichsbad Roman-Irish Bath Temple in Germany by Elisa Schmitz
I learned two very important words on my recent trip to the Friedrichsbad Roman-Irish Bath Temple in Baden-Baden, Germany: textilfrei and gemeinsam. Literal translation: "without clothing" and "together." Real-life meaning: bare coed bathing in a 140-year-old Roman bathhouse. I can now verify that life truly does begin at the end of your comfort zone.
I should have had a clue since the word “Baden” means “bath.” But my husband, always looking to expand my horizons, had a surprise in store for me. You see, on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Sundays, public holidays and on Valentine’s Day (natch!), men and women bathe together. With no swimsuits on. On all other days, bathing is separate.
“This exclusive bathing treat is experienced within a circuit of 17 different stations. Changing temperatures and precious thermal water in the various baths have a regenerative effect on body and soul,” according to Friedrichsbad’s official website. “The experience is a result of the changing sequence of warm and hot dry-air baths, a soap and brush massage, steam baths of varying intensity and a selection of thermal pools along with thermal water showers. Baden-Baden's thermal water rises from a depth of 2,000 meters and thanks to being highly mineralized, with temperatures of between 89 and 154 degrees F, it regenerates and stimulates the body.”
So on a Tuesday in September, my husband and I went skinny-dipping with about 50 strangers in a bathhouse that dates back to 1877. Not a stitch of clothing on any of us. And you know what, it was OK! On the outside, Friedrichsbad looks more like an elegant museum than a bathhouse. Once you step inside and pay between €25-49 (euros, depending on if you want a “cream massage” at the end or not), you are given a wristband that also serves as a locker key.
Men and women head into the same locker room, leave clothing behind and walk together into the first room to begin a morning or afternoon of total bliss (or anxiety, if being naked among strangers isn’t really your thing). If you’re a germophobe or if coed naked bathing doesn’t sound like something you’d enjoy, I highly recommend going on a non-coed day (or not at all)! But if you seek adventure or a path to harmony and inner peace, be fearless and let your stress float away in the thermal waters. There are 17 separate stations and, in typical German fashion, each one is allocated a certain amount of time. Here’s how it works:
Station 1: Shower
Brace yourself as water pours down on you from a huge showerhead (while others do the same around you in the same room). It’s a great way to get your feet wet, so to speak. You will be given a small linen cloth, but fair warning: it doesn’t cover much!
Station 2: Warm-air Bath
Dripping wet, walk into the warm-air room and find a wooden lounge chair. Try not to gape at the naked men and women lying in various poses. Instead, let your eyes rest on the ancient painted tiles as your body temperature rises.
Station 3: Hot-air Bath
Move into the hotter room, where your body temperature keeps rising until you start to sweat. You can use your linen cloth to wipe away any perspiration, but don’t sweat it because the next stop is…
Station 4: Shower
Again, huge showerheads await you, leaving you refreshed and ready for what’s next.
Station 5: Soap and Brush Massage
OK, this one takes you even further outside of your comfort zone, if that’s possible. Here, you lie on a massage-type table and let strong hands work you over with a brush. The initial wait was the hardest part. You are lying on the table (buck naked) while a man prepares your soap and brush (you get to choose soft brush or hard brush – I chose the soft brush, while my husband simultaneously selected the hard brush, ouch!).
The first thing my soap-and-brush guy did was spread soapy water all over my body – midsection, arms, legs, everywhere! – to prime the brushing area. Once I was properly soapy, out came the brush. OMG!
For eight minutes (but who’s counting?), strong hands brush your entire body. You even flip over so they can do your backside. According to Friedrichsbad, this enhances circulation and acts as a skin peel, preparing you for bathing in the healing thermal waters. They had me at, “it’s a fountain of youth for your body.” Did I mention that they slap your backside at the end? You certainly know it when they're done!
Station 6: Shower
Yes, another shower. It’s a theme here and you may never be this clean, ever again.
Stations 7 and 8: Thermal Steam Baths
After all that brushing and showering, your first thermal steam bath will feel amazing. Sit on one of the warm steps and lose yourself in the steam. While you may not want to leave, there’s more pleasure to be had in the next steam bath, which is slightly hotter. Just sit there and sweat and feel your body temperature rising gently.
Stations 9 and 10: Thermal Full Bath and Whirlpool Bath
Here is where you will finally immerse yourself in a full thermal bath. Step into the ancient pool and let the warm water soothe you. This bath experience is indescribably lovely, but it gets even better when you move into the whirlpool bath. Here, gentle jets of fresh thermal water massage you and your body temperature slowly decreases.
Station 11: Thermal Exercise Bath
This circular exercise pool will seem quite cool after all that thermal bathing, but try to swim a bit to adjust to the temperature. Even if you don’t swim, just sit there and stare at the ceiling. The high dome gives this bathing hall a breathtaking view.
Station 12: Shower
Yes, another shower. Because you’re not quite clean yet?!
Station 13: Cold-water Bath
Feeling brave? Take a plunge in the cold-water bath and feel the tingling effects as your circulation gets going. (This Latina skipped the cold water, but my polar bear husband enjoyed it!)
Station 14: Drying Off
Perhaps nothing is better than being wrapped in a warm cloth after a cold bath. Enjoy the moment and take your time, a luxury most of us don’t have when we dry off in the morning after a rushed shower.
Station 15: Cream Massage
You can choose to apply the lotion yourself, or treat yourself to an eight-minute (but who’s counting?) cream massage. Again, strong hands rub your skin using a special cream made of rice milk and bamboo, leaving skin refreshed and hydrated. You start front-side up and end backside up, just so they can slap you again when they're done. Just in case you fall asleep or something?!
Station 16: Relaxation Room
You know how cozy it feels when someone tucks you in at night? In the relaxation room, something similar happens. Strong hands wrap you up in a warm blanket and leave you to rest. Close your eyes and meditate or even take a nap. Staff will wake you after 30 minutes, if needed.
Station 17: Reading Room
If you still haven’t had enough relaxation, head to the reading room. Choose a comfortable recliner and relax while reading or sipping tea or sparkling wine. You know you've come a long way when you walk out onto the reading room balcony overlooking the city, not even realizing that you left your towel behind. And as you walk back into the city and rejoin the world, you’ll wonder where this oasis has been all your life – and when you can come back for more.
Would you participate in coed naked bathing?
Note: This article was published before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most of these photos, including the main image, are from the Friedrichsbad website.
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