I had never experienced the proper way of enjoying a sauna before moving to Austria. A mate of mine had a sauna in his parents’ house, which I went in a couple of times as a teenager. Of course we were wearing our swim shorts.
There was a sauna in my gym in England and yes of course you wore your swimwear, this was the way we thought it was supposed to be done. Unless I am mistaken, there are no public saunas in England where the naked rule applies. It’s actually the opposite. If you went in naked, you’d probably be called a pervert and get thrown out.
Back then all we did was go in, sit down for a few minutes, then come out again. Looking back, this was a bit useless. Yes you sweat a bit, but you do not get the full benefit of the sauna – the so-called Kneipp effect.
The Kneipp method was used in ancient Rome, but promoted more prominently as a health benefit by Sebastian Kneipp (1821 – 1897) from Bavaria. Kneipp was a Catholic priest who was suffering from tuberculosis and used different water treatments as a cure.
Hydrotherapy comes in different forms, the idea behind Kneipp’s treatment is the warming and cooling of the skin, which then effects other areas or the body in a positive way:
“The temporary narrowing of the blood vessels with subsequent vascular expansion promotes circulation throughout the body. This strengthens immune defences, stimulates the circulatory and nervous system as well as metabolism and invigorates the body.”
Keen to learn this hydrotherapy myself, Helene and I went to the sauna paradise in Erding near Munich. I thought we’d go for an hour or so but no, this was a whole day and night session. I thought, how can you spend the whole day in the sauna?
The strange part of it was the whole naked thing – for me. I’m not that fussed about being naked, I was in the Rugby team at University, so I’m no stranger to nakedness in public. It was quite normal to be involved in some kind of nakedness, more for a laugh than anything else.
This idea of being naked and acting normal with a few hundred people, had a certain naturist feel to it. I honesty thought it was a bit strange, but this is the best way to get the full benefit from the sauna.
The other strange thing I thought of was; would I get turned on by looking at a load of naked women? I didn’t really like the idea of my soldier standing to attention for the whole sauna to see but Helene assured me there’s nothing sexual about being naked with many others in a sauna.
Therme Erding is sauna on steroids. It is a massive Spa complex and has about 20 to 30 saunas with different themes and temperatures. There are also indoor and outdoor pools and a non-naked area for families, also with swimming pools and amazing water slides. Fantastic restaurants and pool bars too. So a whole day and night session is sometimes not enough, it’s good that they also have a hotel.
The first sauna we started with was the legendary “Celtic Throne Sauna” in the Stonehenge area. As you enter this 6 metre high circular pyramid, you realise that these people don’t mess about. I counted 80 people that were sat on the different levelled platforms ready for the show.
Show you ask? Yes, the Aufguss (infusion). This is the ancient Finnish practice of pouring water and/or placing ice on the sauna oven and its hot stones, creating extra heat and steam to circulate around the sauna.
This particular sauna has a Celtic theme, so the Saunameister (sauna master) sometimes dresses in a hooded cloak. He or she welcomes everyone to the sauna, says the amount of rounds they will do, often mentions the scent of the oils used and encourages a king or queen to sit on the throne.
The throne is the highest point of this sauna, as heat rises this is the hottest it can get, even walking the steps up to the throne is bad enough, let alone sitting there for 10 minutes. If the king or queen does not stay on the throne for the duration of the Aufguss, then drinks are on them.
Lights were dimmed and coloured lights were illuminated. Dramatic classical music was played. I believe it was the theme to Pirates of the Caribbean, followed by a track from the film Dracula.
Water pouring number one began, the fizz of the steam rushing off of the hot stones in the middle of the sauna could be heard above the music. The Saunameister then stepped up to the middle platform to get higher than the two metre oven. With a huge flag, he waved it in time with the music.
I was ok, this seemed to be fine and then WHACK. The Saunameister wafted the hot air right at our direction. An unbelievable amount of heat covered my whole body. This was insane! It was so hot, it felt cold. Helene was laughing at me because we were only on the second platform and I wished we were on the bottom.
Some people were cheering, some people (like me) were screaming and this was just the start. I felt like my fingers were going to explode, by the end of it. The 3rd and final Aufguss and fast motion of the flag was clapped and cheered along, I was nearly crying.
Regulars yelled “Yip yip yip yip” to the music and clapped loudly. The music ended with a crescendo as I legged it out of hell. Most stayed clapping and cheering as if they just watched the encore of their favourite band.
These people are mental I thought. Everyone, as naked as naked could be, cooled off in the winter air. I was happy to be out of there.
Next was the Kneipp method part of it – off to the ice cold dipping pool we went. The idea is to cool the skin down for a few seconds to a minute, stating with the feet first – this is very important as the cold water can be too much for the head and heart.
One by one, we slowly went backwards step by step into the pool, breathing very heavily and letting out a little yelp, pretending we could handle it. It was pretty unbearable, but afterwards the benefits could be felt quite rapidly.
As I jumped out of the pool, the rush of blood through the body was amazing and surprisingly, I felt very warm at this point and extremely relaxed. I can now see why this place is so popular.
This was an amazing experience, which I now enjoy on a weekly basis in my local gym Happy Fitness. And I am happy to say that I became the king of Celtic Throne Sauna in Erding. It wasn’t as hot as you’d think. The hottest and most unbearable part was the surface heat of the throne itself.
Yes everyone is naked, but there is nothing sexual or perverse about it. The best part about it is the relaxation and the health benefits of the Kneipp method.
I don’t think I would ever want to have a sauna any other way. Where is your favourite place to enjoy a sauna session?