According to Spiegel, the German news magazine, more than 1/3 of Germans are regular sauna-goers. Germany has more than 11,000 saunas open to the public. 2,300 of these are independent establishments. Visiting one of these on a cold weekend day makes you realize that these are major enterprises.
Visiting a sauna in Germany, Austria, or its near neighbors is a unique experience — Nudity is mandatory, and on most days the sauna is mixed-gender. You can immediately tell the first-time visitor by their wide-eyed stares after entering this textilfrei zone. This increases when a group of sauna regulars comes in behind them, and sheds any clothing quickly and proceeds to the baths without modesty. As a first-time visitor, you quickly realize you can check your clothes and modesty at the door, or told by the saunameister to leave.
Finding a German Sauna
With more than one public sauna for every 13 square miles, you can be sure you’re never too far from a sauna while in Germany. Most major cities have many to choose from, and even some small villages have their own sauna. There are three websites and some books that can help you find one:
Sauna in Deutschland is the website of the Deutschen Sauna-Bundes, the German Sauna Federation. They list most public saunas (and sauna-related businesses) in Germany. According to their search results, as of this writing, they list 2400 public saunas. However, only 50 of these have links to more than just their address as part of their listing. When searching, you are better off using their map search, or entering a postal code into the search box as city searches are done literally (e.g. “München” returns results, but “Muenchen”, “Munchen” and “Munich” return none). The site is in only German, but pages translate well with Google Translate.
SaunaSauna.de claims to have more than 2200 sauna addresses in Germany, Austria and Switzerland in its database. From the search screen, you can search via a clickable map, PLZ code, or city name. The results returned are basic. Most locations show only the name, address and phone number of the sauna, and a brief description of its type. However, with this information, a quick Google search can find the facility’s website for more information. The website is only in German, but there is very little text to read between the advertisements on each page.
Insauna.com [NSFW] is a directory of saunas and other free time activities for Germanic Europe and its surroundings. Insauna makes its money by performing independent ratings of saunas. Starting with its list of the Best Saunas, which ranks nearly 200 saunas who have paid for their extensive audit, and awards them from one to six pearls based on their results. The amazing Therme Erding, for instance, gets 5 pearls and ranks 3rd on their 2009 list. Ranked saunas get a multi-page profile on the site. You can also browse by country and city for an exhaustive listing of saunas, and other free-time activities for each municipality. The site is written in a very verbose Austrian German, which can give Google Translate fits. The site itself is textbook annoying web design with animated icons and a busy and cluttered visual style.
ADAC, the German auto club, publishes the best maps and road atlases of Germany, and are an indispensable resource if you’re planning to drive at all while in Germany. Their maps have a legend icon that shows locations of saunas, pools and swimming holes. I like the Kompaktatlas for its size, but the Freizeitkarten are specifically set up to help you to find leisure time activities. They are available at bookstores and gas stations everywhere in Germany. TrekTools is one of the few sites that sells these in North America.
Going to the Sauna
For the most part, the saunas in Germany do not supply anything to their guests other than the baths themselves and a locker. It is always a good idea to check the website before you visit to find out the hours, what days are single-gender, what other facilities are available besides the sauna, and the pricing to know which package to ask for when you arrive.
When packing your bag, you should always bring:
Soap, shampoo and other toiletries,
Two (2) towels (if not available for rent),
Waterproof shower sandals,
A plastic bottle of water, and
Fresh clothes for when you’re done.
You probably want to bring:
A bathrobe (if not available for rent),
A swimsuit if there is a pool as part of the facility,
Workout clothes if there is a fitness center as part of the facility, and
German Sauna Etiquette
This is Germany, and of course, there are rules. Violations of these will bring you the scorn of both your fellow sauna goers, as well as a possible reprimand from the staff:
- You must be naked in the sauna area. You can wrap yourself in a towel or robe when you’re walking around, but don’t try to wear a swimsuit in the area. Any pools in the sauna area must be enjoyed naked. However, if there is a separate swimming-only area as part of the facility, you will need to wear a full-coverage swimsuit in that area.
- Your sandals, robe and glasses should be left outside of the sauna room. Hooks, shelves, or racks will be provided in the area.
- When in the sauna, no part of your body should touch the wood benches. If sitting, spread your towel down from the back rest, under your butt, and down to where your feet will sit. Steam rooms vary by facility – some require you to sit on your towel, some provide mats, some provide hoses to wash where you sat. Watch what others are doing before you go into one.
- Silence is golden. In the sauna and steam rooms, conversation is not tolerated. You can say hello as people enter, but otherwise, you should respect others by keeping quiet. This is also true of any quiet rest areas the facility has.
- You must shower before entering the sauna area, and you must sauna after exiting any of the heat baths before entering any pool.
- You do not throw water on the rocks in the sauna. This is the job of the saunameister, and is called an aufguß. When an aufguß is happening, you never enter the sauna room. You may exit if absolutely necessary.
- The sauna is the Garden of Eden. Don’t be the serpent and ruin things for everyone.
If you ever get to Germany, leave your modesty behind and try a sauna. It’s a great, relaxing way to spend your free time. The Germans don’t seem to notice that they’re naked and after a short while, you won’t either.
If you’re looking to find a German sauna, here are a few. Use our Find a Sauna feature to find more.
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