For some of us, nudity is no big deal – we all have a body so being naked it about as natural as it gets. For others, it’s a bit like the end of the world. However, it’s well known that nudity in Germany is much less of a taboo than it is here in the UK or in the US. In fact, wearing clothes in certain environments is positively forbidden.
The spa is one such place…
There are two prominent spas in Baden Baden and both involve nudity. For one, it is mandatory, and the other requires you only to go au naturel should you wish to use the sauna complex.
The two spas are the historic Friedrichsbad and the far more modern Caracalla Therme. Although, fact fans, when Friedrichsbad opened in 1877 it was received as the ‘most modern bathing establishment in Europe’.
This one is most likely the more notorious of the two, simply because it is mandatory to be naked for the entire experience. So, this is where we’ll begin. I’ll try to provide as clear an overview of the process of attending so that, should you be planning a visit, you’ll know what to expect.
That said, there are several pretty good blog posts and articles out there that offer some illustration of the experience and prior to by own visit I found them to be particularly useful. Special thanks to Submerged Oaks and FollowBenandJenna.
Here is a more specific plan of the complex.
The interesting thing about Friedrichsbad is the precision that has been implemented into what is considered to be the optimal bathing experience. 17 separate areas (referred to as ‘stations’) are provided for bathers: a calculated journey through various hot air rooms, steam rooms and a variety of different temperature pools.
How It All Works
Upon arrival you buy an entrance ticket (ranging from Basic through to a Deluxe package) and make your way up the grand staircase.
NB: It’s important to note that the spa is predominantly a mixed-sex experience although there are a few days where the bathing stages are split. The spa is essentially double sided: on one side is several stations for men only (on non-mixed days) and the same for women on the other side. Only the central pools (stages 10 and 11) are always mixed, but you could skip these if you wish. However, skipping them is not advisable given how spectacular those two particular rooms are.
Inside the changing room you’ll use your wrist band to go through the turnstile and get changed into your birthday suit. A spa attendant will greet you [yup, you’ll be naked, they won’t, deal with it] and send you on your way to the first of the 17 stages.
Oh, the other really interesting thing is that each stage has been given a recommended usage time. The recommendations are incredibly specific: some are 3 minutes, some are 5, some are 7. Not more, not less.
But, I’ll tell you a secret. I disobeyed the rules and spent much longer in some and maybe a little less in others (I’m looking at you, freezing cold ‘Cold Water Bath’) and didn’t get told off, didn’t suffer any adverse side effects (yet) and wasn’t ostracised by my bathing brethren for such recklessness.
The 17 stages look like this:
- Warm-air Bath
- Hot-air Bath
- Soap and brush massage (optional)
- Thermal Steam Baths
- Thermal Steam Baths pt.2
- Thermal Full Bath
- Thermal Whirlpool Bath
- Thermal Exercise Bath
- Cold Water Bath
- Drying Off
- Cream Application/ Cream Massage (like the brushing, the cream massage is optional if you pay for it)
- Relaxation Room
- Reading Room
There is a lot of showering and I guarantee you’ll come away feeling cleaner than you’ve ever felt in your entire life.
This is the elephant in the room and no doubt why many of the readers here are reading this at all. Perhaps you’re interested in Friedrichsbad because it really is a novelty, perhaps you want to see if you can handle the maximum exposure or perhaps you’re just curious about how it all works. The one thing that everyone will realise, if being naked in public is new to you, is that it’s no big deal. Nobody will slink around checking you out or perving and those fully dressed spa workers? Think your schlong is the first they’ll have ever seen? They work there, remember? They would have lost count on the first day.
However, if you’re still a little trepidacious about the whole situation, here’s a few thoughts to hopefully put you a bit more at ease:
- Literally, as soon as you’re naked, you’ll be in the majority. You’ll blend right in. As biased as we are to our bodies, they’re all super similar and it’s only the minor degrees of difference that distinguish us from one another.
- Honestly, no one cares. They’re not their for an oggle-fest, they’re there for some me-time; some relaxation and to feel good. Minding their business is all they’ll be doing, not checking you out.
- It’s not elitist in there. Everyone might end up using the stages at the same time as you: the overweight, underweight, aged, young, tall, short…
- In Germany, textile-frei (i.e. no clothes allowed) is absolutely, 100% normal. You probably already know how liberal the country is as a whole when it comes to nudity. Head on down to some public parks on a sunny day and you’ll get the picture. As soon as you let go of your own cultural conditioning and embrace the German one, you’ll realise just how boring it really is.
- That heart-pounding you feel as you commit to visiting the spa, as you pay for a ticket, as you enter the changing room (oh, by the way, chances are you’ll already be in the thick of naked folks by that point) and then begin to get undressed? That feeling will cease almost as soon as you take your first step into the spa area. Heck, you might even chuckle a little bit at how worried you were about, well, nothing!
- And think about it: how comfortable can you really be if every time you step out of one pool to head to the next you’re rearranging your bikini or shorts? Or if you’ve been out of water for a while how chilly those swimming costumes will begin to feel…
In the changing room you’ll find an incredibly large cotton towel waiting for you in the locker. It’s bigger than a picnic blanket and it’s not really for hiding all your special bits with – you need it for covering the loungers in the first few stages.
As you make your way from the changing rooms to the first station, it’s likely you’ll be met by a couple of the spa team who will explain the process to you and to show you where to go.
Station 1: Shower
At the entrance, grab a pair of spa slipper and in you go.
The showers are pretty special. Several large shower heads, each replete with a single hand crank for operation, all looking like something from the turn of the 20th century and fitted along the left hand side of the room as you enter it. You’ll scrub up here for the recommended time of 3 minutes, although no one was timing. At least not when I went…
Once officially clean, you’ll head on through to the next stage.
Station 2: Warm-air bath
This room is a bit like the relaxation rooms you might find in your local Turkish bath house. Tiled, and full of wooden sun loungers, this room is moderately warm (54°C) and a laid-back (pun intended) start to the journey. As you settle into your chair (for the recommended time of 15 minutes, please) you’ll find your body temperature begin to rise and set you up for the next room.
Station 3: Hot-air bath
Almost the same as Station 2, here the temperature has been upped a little to 68°C, which will be enough to get your sweat on. It’s suggested that you spend 5 minutes here which, I would argue, feels just about right. Spend longer if you want to though, as it is pretty relaxing.
Station 4: Shower
Back in the shower (you’ll realise the way through all the stations will take you back and forth a little bit. For example, this shower is the same one as Station 1). The recommended time here is a brisk 1 minute although the shower is so good you might want to break the rules again…
Station 5: Soap and brush massage
Ok, so, up until now you’ve had your trusty picnic blanket but upon entry to Station 5 you’ll be asked to deposit your towel into a basket and slide off your slippers too. Now, there is absolutely no hiding.
If you paid for this service, you’ll be asked to slide onto one of the 2 tables where you’ll receive a brushing like you’ve never had. If not, you’ll head on through to the next stage.
As I arrived late, I did not opt for this in an effort to not feel rushed, so here’s the description from the website:
The soap and brush massage is a particular highlight of the Friedrichsbad. It’s optional and can be booked in addition to the bathing experience. For eight minutes strong hands move over your entire body. Water and soap is spread evenly and afterwards you are massaged with a brush. This acts like a skin peel and is the ideal preparation for the following bath in the curative thermal water. The massage enhances the circulation in your skin – a fountain of youth for your body.
Tip: As an alternative to the soap and brush massage, try the honey skin peel. The honey penetrates deep into the skin cells quenching the skin with moisture.
You can get a taste as to what this look like here.
NB. In her excellent summary of Friedrichsbad, Jenna (of followbenandjenna.com) suggests choosing the soft brush when you’re given the option. Having caught a glimpse of the brushes, I’d second this…
Station 6: Shower
Shower time again and by now you’ll have gotten the hang of this showering business pretty good. Time yourself and see if you can scrub-a-dub-dub for the optimal 60 seconds.
Station 7: Thermal steam baths
This is the first of the steam baths and you’ll go in with a nice new little butt-mat. Pick a seat on the tiered seating steps, and use this little blue and white cushion to keep things hygienic.
It’s recommended to spend 10 minutes here but without a clock it’s difficult to tell how long you’ve been in. However, expect to want to spend longer that this enjoying the warmth and clinging of the steam and the wonderfully meditative quality of watching the thermal waters trickle down one of the walls.
Once you decide you’ve had enough, drop your cushion in the basket by the door to Station 8.
Another video for your research.
Station 8: Thermal steam baths
As is the case with Friedrichsbad, the next stage takes things up a notch and you’ll immediately notice that this room is warmer than the last. Time spent here is recommended to be 5 minutes.
Station 9: Thermal full bath
Take another shower to rinse yourself of that steamy sweat and slip into the first pool: a balmy 36°C in temperature and a really treat to dip into. The pool is big enough for a fair number of people but when I went I shared it with only 2 others so it was very easy to relax in a good amount of space. The suggested 10 minutes here is, again, not quite enough so to all you rule-breakers, enjoy yourself.
Station 10: Thermal whirlpool bath
Things take a turn for the cooler now as, at a full 2°C colder than Station 9, the thermal whirlpool is 34°C gentle jet-propulsion. The pool is incredibly shallow, by the way, and for most people will likely come no higher than about knee height.
You won’t really notice the change in temperature although if you do spend the full 15 minutes in here you might begin to feel it towards the end.
Station 11: Thermal exercise bath
The piece d’resistance and maybe the reason you came. This is the pool beneath the lovely dome and it does not disappoint on any level.
The thermal exercise bath is 28°C and you’ll know it as soon as your big toe takes the plunge. However, as the name suggests, a little bit of exercise (read: swimming) will get you alive. In fact, despite feeling frigid upon first entry, the temperature of the pool was so refreshing I spent a lot longer in here than the suggested 5 minutes. I even went back and forth to it about 5 times between showers and using Station 10 a handful of times.
See here for a little video.
Station 12: Shower
Back to the shower again and the tip here is to spend the full 3 minutes (or more, if you’re naughty) under particularly warm water because what’s next might make you squeal a little.
For the record, I did not, but I’m pretty sure I could hear someone yelping in shivery fright as I was showering.
Station 13: Cold-water bath
At 18°C we’re not in the bahamas any more. Like splashing about in the Arctic sea with nothing but your best intentions hiding your shrinking modesty, you might wonder why on earth you’ve been invited to end your bathing rituals with such torture.
The answer, as you may decide to find out, is that such a sharp cool down will leave you feeling revitalised and all tingly.
The recommended time spent here: ‘brisk’.
Station 14: Drying off
Head on back through the entrance way, grab a towel, take a seat and dry off. The towel you are given this time is much plusher than the picnic blanket you started with: it’s big, and fluffy, and cosey.
This area is intended to encourage you to enjoy the process of drying off. It’s also suggested that you can best enjoy this process by spending precisely 4 minutes doing so. I’m pretty sure I spend 3 here, and neither of the two spa practitioners told me off.
For those you curious as to how one might dry themselves, here’s the official video.
Station 15: Cream application / Cream massage
Two things will happen here. Either you will apply body lotion to yourself or, if you paid for it, someone else will do it for you. The lotions provided are advertised as being scented differently (indeed, in the ‘creaming area’ there are several dispensers) although I did not really notice much difference.
I’m pretty self-sufficient so I managed to put my own body lotion on and yes, my skin was left feeling even smoother and softer than before. But, body lotion is body lotion, so refrain from going too crazy with the freebie.
8 minutes is all it should take by the way, but this is perhaps the most questionable calculation. Surely the time spent here is relative to body size, hand size, experience with self-application and the desire to do so in the first place.
If you’re thinking about the cream massage, check out the promotional video.
Station 16: Relaxation Room & Station 17: Reading Room
The end of the journey is kind of a two-in-one. The Relaxation Room and the Reading Room are, from what I could see, the same space. 30 minutes in each (ergo 60 minutes in total) is, for me, quite a generous recommendation and one that I certainly did not adhere to. If I want to doze and/or read, I’ll do that at home. It’s nice to sit in here for a handful of minutes, sipping on one of the fruit teas available, but more than that seems a bit of a waste of time.
The overall experience of Friedrichsbad is one that is both memorable and thoroughly recommended. It is one of the 2 main spas in Baden-Baden and is a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours.
The other spa option in Baden Baden is Caracalla Therme, and it’s literally next door to Friedrichsbad. Whereas Freidrichsbad is predominantly a pool spa, Caracalla Therme is far more modern, far more spacious and provides greater variety.
It’s split into two halves, which are most easily distinguished between an upstairs and a downstairs. On the lower level there are:
- a handful of pools,
- a steam room,
- some therapy rooms,
- a restaurant,
- the changing area,
- and a garden space.
…and in this area it is compulsory to wear swimming costumes. Here’s a corporate link to the bathing area on the ground floor.
On the upper level, which is reached by a tight little spiral staircase right next to the restaurant, there are:
- a number of saunas,
- steam rooms,
- plunge pools,
- foot baths,
- sunbathing areas,
- a bar,
- relaxation rooms
…and up here it is mandatory to be textile-frei. As soon as you enter the area from the turnstile you have to leave your costumes, and inhibitions, in the shelves provided and you and your towel will be free to explore as you see fit.
Ground Level Pool Area
Certainly the more busy and populated of the two levels, this is the family area and here is where a lot of poolside frolicking and splashing and general hooplah happens. Stay for the atmosphere and the sun lawns if the sun’s a’shining.
This is the pool that’s in all the promotional material, front and centre. And, like the biggest pool at Friedrichsbad, this too is beneath a domed ceiling. The water here is a very comfortable 34°C. It’s not really a space for swimming, as so many people enjoy just sitting or hanging around in the warm water. It also has a selection of water features: water jets of differing pressures and sizes.
It’s also worth noting that none of the pools at the spa have a depth that exceeds 1.35m.
Outside there are 2 pools: a large, 32°C, one and a smaller one with a temperature of 35°C. Like the indoor pool, there are a number of different water feature options such as a waterfall, a water mushroom, massage jets and a water current. There are also 2 whirlpools, each 38°C, to be enjoyed if they are not too busy already.
Hot and Cold Water Grotto
Sounding something like a watery kind of Christmas, the Hot and Cold Water Grotto is exactly what it says on the tin: a grotto-like space with a 38°C pool and a smaller, hide-away of a pool, that’s kept at a chilly 18°C. It’s recommended that you hang out in the warm water for about 5 minutes, nip round to the cold one for 10-20 seconds then back to the warm one to repeat the cycle.
Aroma Steam Room: 43°C
As far as steam rooms go, this one is pretty big. There are 4 pockets that each have enough space for about 6-8 people to sit comfortably. The temperature is maintained at 43-46°C whilst the humidity is kept maxed out at 100%.
Brine Inhalation Room
Not really the sort of space I enjoy, the idea with the Brine Inhalation Room is to open your passageways and clear them for better respiration. The room itself is 38°C to 40°C where a natural brine ‘trickles through blackthorn twigs creating a fine salty mist in the air’. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?
The idea here is to stay for not more than 20 minutes for the effects to be optimal and to pair it with a refreshing cold shower immediately afterwards.
Sauna Level Area
The upper level is split into a further 3 areas: one indoors, two outdoors. The indoor area is the first that is reached, although immediately to the right upon entrance is the first sunbathing area.
First Sun Deck
This area is relatively compact but comfortably houses about 15 permanent loungers and easily has space for 20-30 people should they want to all stand about together. It looks down through the atrium at the pools in the lower level but is largely secluded from all other areas.
Once you’re inside, the area really is cavernous. Saunas to the left of me, saunas to the right, oh, here I am, stuck in the middle with…choice.
In this area there are 5 different saunas:
- Spectaculum: 90°C
- Vitality Sauna: 90°C
- Aroma-Sauna: 85°C
- Meditation-Sauna: 65°C
- Ladies’ Sauna: 90°C
There is also a:
- Sanarium: 57°C
- Steam Room: 47°C
- Refreshments bar
- Lounge area
- Blue Space Sensory Room
- Green Room
- Million showers
This is a huge, theatre-like sauna where every hour a spa attendant will perform a ritual of wafting the hot air around using a combination of whipping the air with a towel and gently pushing the air towards each patron in turn with a large, fan-like instrument. This process lasts for about 12 minutes and during the time no one can enter, although of course, people can leave should the heat become too much.
At 90°C it is also one of the hottest saunas upstairs and definitely worth a few visits: the hourly performance is unmissable.
Another aroma sauna where the aromas are changed everyday. It’s also lit with different coloured lighting that ‘supports and reinforces the relaxation process and leads you to experience unimaginable physical and mental relaxation‘.
Inside the meditation sauna sounds of the sea and/or birdlife and nature are pumped in through discrete speakers to help aid a sense of meditation. And you know what? It works really well! The low-ish temperature is always comfortable and on my visit I clocked one older gentleman taking a nap. I knew he was asleep because he was snoring…
The Sanarium, at 57°C is another relaxation space that may not be entirely to the liking of everyone looking for warmer sauna experiences but is nonetheless a calming environment to at least explore for a few minutes. The humidity is capped at 55% which, in combination with the temperature, does contribute to a more natural space in which one could feasibly switch off entirely. Unlike the higher temperatures on the saunas, this one doesn’t raise the heart rate by much so does not ever feel like an endurance test.
Steam Room: 47°C
This is a spacious steam room, though smaller than the one on the ground floor by about 50-60%. However, it is a more rewarding steam room, more comfortable and apparently far less crowded. At 47°C I found myself drifting into a very relaxed state very quickly and dropped in repeatedly.
Ladies’ Sauna: 90°C
There’s also a Ladies’ Sauna which is coupled to the fact that Wednesday is Girls’ Day. I don’t recall seeing signs labelling any sauna as the ‘Ladies’ one, although having visited all saunas on the site on a Sunday, men and women used all saunas freely.
Outside, there are two more saunas that have been built on the side of the mountain:
- Fire Sauna: 95°C
- Forest Sauna: 85°C
Between the two there are also a handful of cold showers and more space for sunbathing and/or lounging.
Fire Sauna: 95°C
The Fire Sauna is housed around a large log fire that reaches the enormous temperature of 95°C. The log cabin, like the Forest Sauna, is made from a Finnish wood called kelo, of the polar pine tree, and is evidently a wonderful material for sauna cabins.
The cabin is incredibly dark which makes the fire all the more hypnotic and despite its hot, hot, heat it can be easily to lose yourself in here for a good number of minutes, especially if you find yourself with enough space to lay down.
Forest Sauna: 85°C
The other sauna here, the Forest Sauna, is a little cooler at 85°C although you might not really notice it. In here, the heat is different to the Fire Sauna. Whereas the heat there is particularly dry, the heat here comes from the steam oven (excitingly automated to distribute water onto the hot cools every so often), called the ‘Maximus’.
Second Sun Deck
This area is tucked right at the back by the Fire and Forest saunas and is a much smaller space. Hidden away on a small walkway in the trees, several sun loungers line the area, just as several more are positioned outside each of the two saunas in this outside area. Given that the trees provide so much more shade (the First Sun Deck has no shade until the sun goes down) this space appears more inline with lounging: a quiet space to nap or read or cool down.
Caracalla Spa is fantastic, there’s no escaping that. It’s big, it’s inclusive and provides a lot of options. Yes, the sauna area is a highlight for those who enjoy saunas but as an experience on the whole it can’t be faulted. I misjudged how long I would be on site for an opted for a 3 hour pass at the check-in. My suggestion is to pay the handful of additional Euros to get the day pass and even though 4-5 hours is probably the max you’d want to stay there it will save you a little money in the long run as if you go over the allotted time you’ll pay EUR4.20 for every additional hour/ EUR0.70 for every additional 10 minutes.
So, Friedrichsbad or Caracalla?
I had gone to Friedrichsbad expecting the experience to trump all else Baden Baden has to offer, but it is not its highlight. Sure, it is relatively novel and an entirely lovely experience, but it has its limitations.
The first is that it is all indoors and when the weather is fine, being outside at Caracalla is infinitely more rewarding.
Friedrichsbad also seems to be the kind of place that would lose it’s charm upon repeated visits whereas Caracalla is a much different experience. In fact, I was legitimately disappointed to have to leave Caracalla and should my stay have been even one day longer I would have visited it again.
I also think that it is worth highlighting that during my time in both spas it seemed pretty evident that there was a greater male contingent than female.
Final thoughts: The Benefits and Etiquette of Bathing Naked
We English have it all wrong. Our Victorian-era prudishness has stolen from many of us of one of life’s most natural pleasures: enjoying the skin were are in and not being embarrassed by our biology.
In the UK, nudity is highly sexualised: if you’re naked, it must be Sexy Time. But nudity has so much value it is difficult to summarise succinctly, but try I will.
- Bathing naked frees us from wet, clingy, uncomfortable clothing that restricts our movements, rides up our bum cracks and ultimately sexualises our bodies even more than our naked forms.
- No clothes means greater hygiene: sweating into swimming costumes means we’re keeping all of the impurities that sweat from our skin on our skin! It also means that whenever we sit on a sauna seat, a spa seat or even get into the pool we’re depositing whatever is in our costumes wherever we go for everyone else to enjoy.
- Bathing naked also frees us of inhibition and insecurity. By being comfortable in our own skin we’ll probably become even more comfortable in clothes too and not worry about whether we look too fat or too thin in them. Hurray for #bodypositivity.
- It’s cheaper too. Obviously.
- Dont’ forget full body tanning if you’re at a spa/sauna with outside spaces (like Caracalla). Win win.
- Maximum Vitamin D exposure – the more skin exposed to sunlight the greater amounts of the magic D vitamin we’ll take in. And right now, Vitamin D levels are way below recommendations.
This post is part of an ongoing account of the final 364 days of being a 20-something.