Today’s post comes courtesy of a message I got on TripAdvisor last night. A young woman, visiting friends in Germany, was very anxious because her friend’s parents had purchased a luxury pass for her to join her friend and her friend’s parents at the Friedrichsbad Roman-Irish Bath in Baden-Baden. Apparently, she had found my TripAdvisor review of the famous nude baths and was hoping I could offer her some advice about the experience.
This young woman named Diana (not her real name) wrote that she’s just 19 years old, and she is very nervous about being naked in front of other people. Diana’s problem is a common one. A lot of people are nervous about getting nude in front of strangers. In Germany, it’s a normal thing to be nude in saunas, spas, and public baths. Many of the baths Bill and I have visited are “textile-free”, which is very different if you’re an American or a Brit… or, as I found out in July, from Sweden. I’m not sure how the French feel about nudity in the saunas and spas, but I do know they are very strict about men wearing “maillots” (Speedos) rather than “board shorts”. In fact, one of my most popular posts on my travel blog is about that subject, which you can read about here.
My husband, Bill, was very nervous about being naked in front of people. He finally “took the plunge” a couple of years ago, when we visited Palais Thermal in Bad Wildbad. Bad Wildbad has an “old school” therme that allows swimsuits. It also has a the nude spa, which is Palais Thermal. Bill was initially reluctant to try it. Palais Thermal was a good place to get his feet wet, though, because swimsuits are allowed on the first level. After a few minutes of seeing people of all shapes, sizes, ages, colors, and creeds walking around in the buff, it didn’t seem so embarrassing or strange.
Now, being nude in front of Germans has become “old hat” to us. We’ve done the nude spa thing many times and lived to tell the tale. It’s weird for a few minutes, but then you stop noticing. At most spas, you can bring towels or a robe and only have to be completely naked in the water, although at the Friedrichsbad, you will be nude almost the entire time. But really, you get used to it very quickly if you just relax and enjoy, realizing that being naked really is completely natural.
Still, I have a lot of empathy for Diana, because it IS embarrassing and strange to those who have never done it. I am a bit of a natural exhibitionist and have always kind of liked being nude. I find it very liberating. But if you have body image concerns or have been taught that being naked is wrong or “dirty” somehow (even though we were all born naked), it can be extremely embarrassing and scary to bare everything.
I ended up telling Diana that it’s her choice whether or not to try the Roman baths. She is concerned that her friend’s parents will be insulted if she doesn’t use their gift, but ultimately, a trip to the baths is supposed to be fun and relaxing. If she’s filled with anxiety and terror over baring her naked self to everyone, it won’t be a good experience for her. I did also advise her to visit the baths on a day when the sexes are segregated, although it appears that the baths are currently undergoing some renovations, so right now it might be “co-ed” every day. Bill and I went on a “co-ed” day, because we wanted to experience the baths together. But they normally also have days in which the men stay on one side and the women stay on the other. For the shy among us, that might be the best thing to do. There’s only one area where men and women mingle naked on the segregated days and one could easily skip that part. It’s the big pool in the middle of the spa, and it’s cold, anyway. I had to try it because it was so pretty.
Having written all of this… I do understand that public nudity isn’t for everyone. It’s best to take the plunge if you’re genuinely curious and want to try the baths. Personally, I really enjoyed them and would have no problem visiting them again. I don’t think any visit to Baden-Baden is complete without a trip to the Friedrichsbad. But I know that’s just my opinion. I have empathy for Diana’s situation, because I can tell she really doesn’t want to offend her gracious hosts. Frankly, I find her empathy for them very refreshing. It’s nice to see someone so concerned about being a polite and gracious guest. I hope she will try the baths, but if she can’t bring herself to do it, I also hope her friend’s family will understand. Part of being a good host, after all, is making sure your guest is comfortable.
Here in Wiesbaden, we have the Kaiser-Friedrich Therme, which is like a much scaled down version of the Friedrichsbad. I think I like it even more than the Friedrichsbad, because it’s a lot smaller and less popular. In fact, I think we’re due for another visit soon.