Nothing new about being told off, as even liberal Berlin, to which I recently moved, is full of baffling rules. For the Germans, this is as normal as a trip to the supermarket. As in Scandinavia, saunas are revered here for their relaxing effects, circulatory benefits and power to make you sweat a pint in 10 minutes. They are also mixed-sex, and no bathing suits are allowed. A nude mixed sauna is a shocking proposition to an Anglo-American like me. It is also an intriguing one.
The pictures online showed a smart, spa-like space of minimalist wood, turquoise tiles and people in luxuriant robes. I assumed this would be a soft introduction to bare-cheeked baking. I had expected at least the people in reception to be wearing clothes. Instead, standing at the desk is a woman wrapped only in a small white towel. I can see the bottoms of two men, 3ft away from me, in the apparently, shockingly, mixed changing room.
My heart speeds up. I walk out fast. The towel lady gives me a key as a good-looking clothed man is putting on his shoes. I take my key and towel into the changing room, praying for it to be empty. No such luck. So I undress, blushing furiously, and cower by a locker.
But nobody does. A woman comes in and starts pulling on her bra and adjusting her breasts, relaxed as anything. I grab my towel and pad into the shower area, taking my place between two men. It feels outrageous. I dare myself to face outwards, so that my whole front is visible to the room. The men seem to turn away from me. I find a woman and ask. I head back in and face down my dangling tormentors. The owner of one of them budges up for me and I settle on a square of bench.
The problem of leery old loners using mixed saunas to gawp, however, genuinely seems absent. I do not hunch or try to cover anything, or to appear thinner. I just sit. And begin to sweat. It feels strangely great. Nobody stares. As per tradition, the saunameister comes in on the hour and pours cedar and mint onto the coals, then begins fanning the air. A plate of orange slices is passed around, and I feel at one with my new naked pals. Afterwards, we head outside and lie naked in the winter air, our skin steaming, in silence.
A gaunt and expressionless man takes a cold shower. I follow suit. It is shocking yet, now, somehow unremarkable. Until recently, the idea of sweating it out in a row of naked Germans seemed impossibly weird. The hip, friendly clientele, dim lighting and pleasant courtyard make this Finnish sauna the stylish spot to go starkers. Thursday is ladies only. Small, low-tech, but popular with well-heeled locals.
It has a garden courtyard. These public baths have a cosy sauna, steam room and plunge pool. More men than women, but single-sex changing rooms. Open until 1am on Fridays and Saturdays, this showy spa offers a Himalayan salt sauna, fruit-flavoured steam and honey massages. An Amayana spa with it all — pools, steam rooms, saunas, tanning rooms, as well as an outdoor pool, which the hardy can try in winter.
Popular with the oldies. In Berlin, the saunas are nude — and mixed-sex. Will Zoe Strimpel dare to bare all in front of the boys?
The Sunday Times December 3 I walk out fast The towel lady gives me a key as a good-looking clothed man is putting on his shoes. Five places to see Berlin at its burlesque best For a night of debauchery, swing by one of these five Berlin venues. Read article. Everything you need to know about the Oberammergau Passion Play How to get tickets, where to stay, and why it's utterly unique: everything you need to know about the Oberammergau Passion Play in Lucy Perrin whittles down over forty countries to just 17 must-visits — along with the best ways to see them.