That feeling of freedom you get the first time you give up the clothes and let your skin feeding on the air and sun, is something you start missing suddenly, between the last work issue and an argument too much.
Especially after months spent working hard in the grey England, underneath layers of clothes selected to face every climatic event.
In those moments the words nudity, sun and relax start climbing the priorities list, and the idea of planning a holiday, even if only for a few days and within a short distance, gets more and more appealing and digs into your mind.
It was during one those moments that my better half and I booked the first available flight with destination relax: Germany.
Nudity is something Germans take with just the right amount of naturalness and relax, being historical promoters of the Free Body Culture (Freikörperkultur or FKK), the natural/naturist approach to sport and community living which has a lot to do with freedom, and next to nothing to do with sexuality and eroticism.
Is probably on a nude beach of a German island or on the outskirts of Berlin, in a public park of Munich or at a Spa centre that the proverbial German coldness melts under the sun, with no clothes on, in an area reserved for naturists.
Inspired by the episode of Sense8 where a tormented Wolfgang swims undisturbed and totally naked in a pool, exploiting the healing power of water to clear his mind*, we went for the clothes-free Spa.
Of all the destinations offering this relaxation experience, we picked Cologne, a wonderful international city whose cordial dwellers strive to share pleasantries and smiles pointing out that they are very different from all other cold-hearted Germans.
We treated ourselves to two different Spas, for three times, during a four-day vacation..it’s easy to get carried away when you land in a place similar to heaven.
Now I tell you what it feels like to relax naked in Neptunbad and Claudius Therme, the two Spa centres in Cologne with only one thing in common: the wristband.
Be ready to enter an Oriental-inspired paradisiacal dimension where the time runs to the sound of the gong, the aromas gently raise the senses, and the water smooths mind and body.
Give up your clothes and thoughts in the changing room and explore the various environments, guided only by instinct (and the inability to read the indications written in German). Once inside, you realise that every little detail, from the petals dropped on the steps, to the warm coloured fabrics wrapped around the mattresses on the poolside, to the wooden spoons to pour the water over the body, talks about relax.
Materials, colours, aromas, lights, sounds and gestures combine into a harmonious composition awakening the senses and neutralising the noise of the earthly life problems. This is what makes Neptunbad an ideal microcosm of relaxation.
Dress code: naked, healthy and gorgeous
Neptunbad is not for shy people: leave your swimsuit at home ’cause it’s not welcome in any area of the Spa. The only fabric that will touch your skin is the towel you’ll lay on the sauna benches before to sit down, the robe with which you’ll cover your shoulders in the restaurant area, and the sheet in which, eventually, you’ll wrap your body to move from the pool to the sauna, to the zen garden. Be proud of your body and let your skin explore the different surfaces, caressed by light, air and water.
Practical info: hours and prices
Once beyond the heavy iron and glass door, you receive an electronic wristband with a chip which keeps track of the length of your stay and everything you purchase inside. You’ll be asked to pay at the end of your day, depending on the exact time you’ve spent in the Spa (all the prices here). You can also hire bathrobe and towel for an extra charge. There’s no amount of money that would ever cause you the minimum stress once you have found the peace of mind.
Neptunbad is open every day of the year, Christmas and New Year’s day included: no excuses for not coming along. A good book and a lot of stress to detox from, is everything you need to spend the whole day in here, from 9 am to midnight, losing yourself in the sauna rituals, in the underwater soft lights turning on as night falls, in the scented silent of the relaxation rooms.
Tuesday is usually dedicated to women, with reserved wellness treatments.
There are one large mixed sex changing room and a small female-only one, equipped with lockers, benches and some hair dryers. Single sex showers and toilets are in two separated areas.
From Occident to Orient: two Spa and sauna landscapes
Neptunbad’s historical area, currently under monumental protection, is reconstructed in the original Art Nouveau style, decorated with tiles and mosaics. Here you’ll travel back in time to the Roman Empire while relaxing in the Laconium (steam bath at a mild 50 ° C and 100% humidity), that we missed, probably ignoring some labels written in German, and in the Imperial Bath (Kaiserbad), at 37 ° C. Lay your head back and let the underwater music carry you away while a dim light streams in through a glass dome.
Asian Sauna and Spa landscape
The main modern area is a Japanese-style ambience which develops in a succession of indoor and outdoor saunas, pools, terraces, relaxation rooms and a Zen garden.
Here I had my first sauna and I found out it’s easier to pass out on an old crowded train crossing the city in the early morning rather than inside a sauna at 80° C. The info on temperature, humidity and recommended duration of stay written at the entrance come in handy for newbies like me.
At every hour of the day, the gong sound reminds you the beginning of the sauna rituals which attract a wide and loyal public. This is how you end up sitting a few cms away from other naked bodies committed to handling the waves of aromatic steam driven by the rhythmical movements of a towel waved by the Aufgussmeister on the sauna stove, where water mixed with essential oils is poured a few times.
A late winter sunny day is the ideal condition to stay in the outdoor area, plunge into the warm water of the Rotenburo Onsen (open-air bath) and let the facial skin be torn between sun and air in an energising temperature exchange. As well as a night awake at the airport is the ideal condition to fall asleep in the cascade bath covered with natural stones and shrouded in the half-light of the internal area (done).
Close encounters with beautiful people
Neptunbad is frequented by people of all ages (20-60), with slightly more women and an appreciable presence of young people. Don’t get me wrong, I got nothing against the aged (except for those who head out on a mission to be on the front line of the fruit stall in the Saturday market, pretending to have a busy life to run), but I think it’s normal preferring to spend time among same age people to share experiences and chats with.
Like all the places visited by naturists, the body care is being taken seriously at every age here and wild hair is a rare case. This doesn’t mean you must have a photoshopped body, just love yourself and prefer a healthy, active and natural lifestyle.
Neptunbad overlooks a big square in a vibrant area of Cologne (Ehrenfeld), easy to reach by subway, surrounded by shops, markets, restaurants and bakeries (including BackWerk, to the delight of vegans).
When to come here
Neptunbad is frequented every day of the week by tourists who want to spend a relaxing day and locals who take a break from the day-to-day stress. If you can, pick an ordinary weekday to come here, when the number of visitors allows you to move freely from a pool to a sauna to another bath without thinking to be in the way.
Inside Claudius Therme there’s everything, starting with the thermal water and its therapeutic effects officially recognised by the state. Sauna rituals at all hours, pools with jets of any intensity, relaxation rooms, green areas, drinking fountains, sun terraces, restaurants and yoga and water aerobics sessions all included, seem to be enough to occupy all hours.
However, the facility complexity, the extensive interior environments and the redundant presence of blue tiles municipal pool-like are not able to create the right mood, which reminds a family entertainment water park rather, just quieter.
Compared to Neptunbad, the environment is more distracting and less intimate and is not so easy to feel those intimacy and warmth which invite you to give in to absolute relax as if you were alone.
It remains a thermal centre properly equipped and organised, but nothing more.
Dress code: various and accidental
Claudius Therme aims to please everyone (maybe too many people): wearing swimwear is compulsory in the whole thermal or bathing area, and not allowed only in the sauna area.
This is surely beneficial for those who want to spend an entire day of relax and wellness without being forced to show their nudity in public. But for those used to enjoy the benefits of naturism, this looks like a useless limitation of freedom and naturalness.
Practical info: hours and prices
Here too, You receive the electronic wristband to open and close the lockers and keep record of the check-in and check-out time and purchases. You can buy slippers and hire a bathrobe or a towel for an extra charge. You’ll pay at the end of your stay and the price is slightly lower (info here).
Like Neptunbad, it’s open every day of the year from 9 am to midnight. On Mondays, the indoor sauna area is reserved exclusively for women.
There’s a mixed changing area consisting of rows of high and convenient lockers with some changing cabins in the middle, where to get changed in the privacy thanks to the doors with a strange locking system. Toilets and showers are in two separate areas. One point goes to the corners equipped with the hair dryers: a big window with a view, a marble top table, an armchair and a full-length mirror are appreciable comforts.
The facility develops around the main pool, with water at 33° C, which extends from the indoor to the outdoor area offering plenty of massage jets, showers and currents.
The saunas occupy three areas and offer rituals at regular hours, listed on big chalkboards. One sauna is reserved exclusively for women.
The most intimate corner is probably the steam bath, where an intense herbal aroma envelops the body while sweat drops flow at a temperature of 50° C and humidity of 80%, with a cleansing effect.
You can reach the peace of mind few steps down the main floor, while floating in water enriched with Dead Sea salt, surrounded by black surfaces where some backlit vibrant flowers come to life, with your head lying back, carried by a soothing underwater melody. This immersion in the relax costs 5 € more, all worthy.
For every every one
Claudius Therme is the place for everyone, frequented by people of all ages, sorts and shapes, many families and a massive presence of aged.
The huge thermal centre is located next to the Rheinpark, not far from the city centre, in a quite impersonal and isolated area, in front of a highway, served by a few buses.
Because there’s nothing more natural.
Because it’s a way to temporarily forget all the social and cultural constraints we’re used to, and embrace an ideal of freedom and naturalness.
Because showing ourselves to others with no veils means communicating with honesty and no shame.
Because your body absorbs the sauna heat evenly and releases toxins by sweating free of the swimsuit.
Because nudity is not about voyeurism and exhibitionism here, but rather self-love and body care. As well as it’s nothing to do with sexual arousal and the orgy as an inevitable outcome.
But if the suggestive ambience and the complete relaxation let the mind free to travel, carried by the right words whispered in the ear, in the silence which surrounds the Spa, respectfully combined with a lascivious gesture on the skin where usually the fabric sets, the after Spa in pairs promises to be interestig..and then it’s worth leaving before closure and focus on another bath of pleasure.
(*) The episode is 1×05 – Art Is Like Religion and the pool is Stadtbad Neukölln in Berlin