Irish Saunas – 100 years behind

As we gathered at Dublin Airport on a cold damp, dark morning I found it hard to envisage that within a few short hours we would be sampling the delights of Europe’s largest spa, Therme Erding.

Stepping off the plane at Munich Airport we were immediately taken aback by the sharp drop in temperature. The snow began to fall as we took the last leg of the journey via taxi. Looking out at the snow-covered landscape it was hard to believe we were only minutes away from a Bavarian paradise.  On arriving at Theme Erding I was struck by the pure scale of the dome like structure, and hundreds or cars in what seemed to be a completely full car park. Surely this could not be on a normal working day?

After getting through reception and receiving our electronic wrist tag we were greeted by Gert, a regular at Therme Erding. Interestingly Gert and his colleagues belong to a local independent naturist group  http://isar-nacktsport.de/

Gert explained that they are not registered or aligned to the main FKK associations as naturism is so advanced and widely recognised that they are at a post awareness stage where it’s generally accepted by German society. Nobody bats an eyelid when they’re out cycling naked along the River Isar.

Having changed in a communal changing area we then made our way with towel to the main area but interestingly we had to go through separate shower areas for both sexes. The reason being was that Therme Erding caters for both textile and nontextile clientele. On leaving the shower area there is the diversion into the textile area. We proceeded straight to the main spa area just ahead of us.

First impressions again were the impressive size, everything in one massive enclosed compound and the choices that were available. Interestingly I noted everyone seemed to wander around with towels wrapped around but to disarm when entering each sauna. Meanwhile Gert had introduced us to two other locals Matthias and Uwe. Matthias explained that this was a house rule to use the towel whilst wandering around. But he seemed to imply that in the immediate area of the pool and the saunas the rule is somewhat relaxed. But alas, we were after all in Germany and everyone was obeying the rules.

With the first 15-minute sauna session done we turned to the Freizeitbad or main pool area and were met by real palm trees, turquoise water, white sand and a cocktail Bar in the middle of the pool where you could sit on a submerged stool naked and have a beer or cocktail. Two of the group had already stolen a march on me and were sitting comfortably enjoying the local brew. But overall it really is a sight to behold, a large pool with bar near the middle with stools, swimming area ringed by palm trees, whirlpools and jacuzzi beds around the sides.

The pool was partitioned between indoor and outdoor. A narrow exit point led to the outdoor pool. Here the steam coming off the thermal heated water was like a dense fog. The snow fell incessantly as I swam around – another first! To those present it’s a Bavarian Eden. Hundreds of happy bathers aged from 18 to 80 splashing and swimming naked in 34C healing springs,

What to do next? The Bavarian “Zirbelstube”, the Finnish  Kelosauna, the Icelandic “Geysirhöhle”, the Celtic Stonehenge experience?  We decided first to sample the “Citrus sauna” fragrant aromas. After a brief respite we trekked quickly along an outdoor path to try the Finnish  Kelosauna and we then had to follow the example of our new German friends and take the outdoor plunge pool.

It was nearly 2.30 and time for the Aufgüsse, but it was located in one of the outdoor saunas, there was a huge queue. It was too full, obviously a big favourite with the locals, regrettably I gave it a miss.  I subsequently discovered that there was a special separate Aufgus for men and for women with different drinks and small bite appetisers provided. Of course, it had to be beer for the men.

It was evident that each sauna had a different temperature setting which was clearly labelled near the entrance. The idea being to commence the sauna tour on the lower temperature setting – culminating with the final 100C session. Whilst debating whether to try a thermal rock pool or a steam room I was confronted by a young lady with a tray offering chocolate. But this was no Cadburys promotion. She quickly encouraged me to take a scoop and apply it to my face, neck and shoulders and then led me to a sauna. Straight after it was to the cold shower to wash it off.

Germany has one of the most comprehensive spa cultures in Europe, and with the support of the German federal health care system to boot! The German equivalent for spa is Heilbad or ‘healing bath’ or Kurort which literally mean ‘cure place’. Any town in Germany can qualify and choose to use the prefix ‘Bad’ or bath before their town name. Those towns that qualify have met the strictest air and water quality standards and have been able to establish the necessary medical staff and infrastructure to cater to those seeking treatment.

Looking back everyone was so well behaved, the Germans stick to the rules and regulations rigidly. I don’t know how many people were in the complex but it must have been between 750 and 1000. To say the least, all 17 of us were highly impressed.

It is so hard to envisage that this type of ‘spa culture’ could ever take off in Ireland. Germany has nearly 900 spa resorts, including mineral and mud spas, climatic health resorts (known for fresh air), sea-side resorts, and Kniepp hydrotherapy spa resorts.

It took this experience for me to finally realise the truth – that Ireland regrettably is in the ‘dark ages’ when it comes to a spa culture where adults of all ages can enjoy this ‘health culture’ in the nude without being paranoid and self-conscious.

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