Baden-Baden in the foothills of the Black Forest.
Baden-Baden in the foothills of the Black Forest.

While visiting the Black Forest my partner Rob and I discover there is more to the region than chocolate cake and cuckoo clocks. Our holiday apartment is owned by the Klumpp family, who are as sturdily hearty as their name suggests. They embody the German ethos of ‘wellness’, achieved by fresh air, physical exercise…. and bathing. The Klumpps’ are keen for us to visit Friedrichsbad, the famous 19th century thermal baths at Baden-Baden.

Rob is all for it, but my heart sinks. I once had my suntan removed by a large lady at a thermal bath in Turkey, who then pummeled my flesh with what I felt sure was unnecessary vigour. Unfortunately, any hope of being saved from Friedrichsbad by the lack of a swimming costume vanishes when Mrs Klumpp assures me ; ‘Clothing is tastefully never worn’ What? Oh my giddy aunt! 😨 Only my love for Rob makes me agree to something I just know will be ghastly.

And yes, the baths at Baden-Baden are primarily unisex, but  thankfully we happen to choose a day when the sexes mingle only at the final stage, a bathing  pool  below the building’s great dome.  I feel an ominous stab of separation anxiety as Rob disappears at the entrance; justified when I become trapped in the ladies turnstile and have to call for help.

Friedrichsbad, scene of my spa bathing humiliation.
Friedrichsbad, scene of my humiliation.


I emerge from the  locker room in my birthday suit and glasses, the latter retained due to fear of approaching the wrong man under the dome. Unfortunately, spectacles prove a great hindrance.  Firstly, they fog up.  Secondly,  I’m forced to keep doubling back against the flow of fräuliens to retrieve them between  showers. I become so hot and bothered that  I can’t work out how to turn the taps on (always a problem for me, even in Australia), and two minutes in the sauna is all I can tolerate. I am also too shy to use the small plunge pool, which is full of young ladies who seem to know each other very well.   Perhaps it’s a Baden style hen party?


Needless to say,  I complete the first stages of the regime (showering, defoliation, skin-scraping, hot air baths etc) in indecent haste.  I am so desperate to meet up with Rob. However, a supervisor has been keeping tabs on me since the turnstile incident and shoos me away from the domed pool with the admonishment; ‘Repeat!’   Good grief……I thought my nightmare was nearly over!  When I finally do join Rob I resemble a boiled rabbit, and he is so convulsed with laughter that he swallows half a cupful of spa water. Let me assure the modest  among you that anonymous nudity is fine; it is only when Rob says he has spotted Mr Klumpp that my complexion changes from crimson to chalk white. The wretched man is joking of course, but the thought of meeting someone I know even slightly is horrendous.

Unisex bathing under te great dome.
NO, THANKFULLY THAT IS NOT ME! (Photo credit-Wandering Carol)


We separate again, and while drying off I’m pointed in the direction of yet another room. I am told to lie on a bed and wait for the attendant. Dear Lord, I didn’t pay for a massage and I certainly don’t want one!  While no-one is looking I sneak out to the lockers, struggle into my gear as quickly as a clammy body will allow, and escape to the entrance foyer.

It’s a very long time before Rob appears, looking serene and rejuvenated and saying, ‘Wasn’t that last bit fantastic?’ Apparently what I imagined was a massage room was a  relaxation area, where clients are placed on heated beds and gently swaddled in soft, warm towels.   ‘Yes, it was wonderful’, I lie. There’s only so much humiliation a woman can take.

I regain my composure at a nearby cafe. The menu includes a list of ‘wellness’ drinks but it’s strong coffee for me, though I’m sorely tempted by a cocktail called Bathing Pool; a powerful blend of rum, vodka, cream of coconut, and blue Curaçaco. In retrospect I should have downed a couple before entering Friedrichsbad.

Cafe at Baden-Baden after bathing in the buff.

FOOTNOTE – A few days later we visited a Wellness Sensory Walking Trail.   I took off my shoes and felt soft moss under my bare feet.  I paddled in  chilly spring waters, and joined some giggly young girls in the oozing mud pond.  Oh yes, foot bathing while fully clad is so much more my style!

Mud between our toes!
Mud between our toes!

For more on Baden-Baden.

And there is another story about  my travels in Germany HERE.


  1. Oh my Pauline. You are a much much braver soul than I am. But you gave me a really good laugh.

    • Pauline

      Susan, it was only my love for Rob that made me weaken and go in. Bit like him begging me to go on terrifying roller coaster rides!!!

  2. This is so funny, so refreshing and so honest. I also freeze at the word ‘nackt’ in Germany and particularly Switzerland .and never venture into any kind of sauna. As for massage; I become a tense knotted mess at the end of one., so it is just a complete waste of time.
    Your story however,after a couple of stressful days made me laugh and laugh.

    • Pauline

      Annabelle, I was horrified when I won a free voucher for a massage/beauty treatment at a charity event. Fortunately there was an alternative of a bottle of wine, which I chose even though I don’t drink. All the glam ladies there looked at me as though I was an alien!!!

  3. I did enjoy reading of your brave adventure .It reminded me of the time I went to a wedding in Fes in Morocco .It is tradition that a few days before the wedding the bride visits a sort of massage parlour and has a hammam which is a kind of milk bath which is supposed to purify the bride. Myself and a few of the other female guests were invited to go along to have a steam bath and a massage in the public bathing area. One of my sister in laws and I refused to go with the others as most areas in Fes were not very hygienic and we were too afraid.
    When the group arrived back from the baths they felt battered and bruised. The woman masseur was apparently huge and built like a man. She could not speak English so when my friends asked her to please be more gentle she continued to pound away at them and then roughly rubbed oil over their bodies.
    When they escaped out into the sunshine the oil was dripping off them . They all said it was like a torture chamber. It took them a few days to get over the “torture “My sister in law and I were so thankful that we did not go

    • Pauline

      Oh dear, I know just how your friends felt Yvonne! Why anyone would think such misery was beneficial is beyond me. Give me a cup of coffee and a comfy chair any day!! And as for sitting in a hot little room perspiring…..

  4. Oh Pauline, it really brightened up my day (rainy and cold here) reading this. I laughed and laughed. I thought it was bad enough in my 20s when I was backpacking around Europe. At one camping ground I went into the Ladies to brush my teeth. There was only a large horse-trough-like structure so I started to use it. To my horror I was suddenly surrounded by several large ladies who promptly stripped to the waist and started washing themselves. Oh dear, where do you look! 🙂

    • Pauline

      Yes, well I could only laugh about Baden Baden in retrospect! I know what you mean about those camping grounds, cultural differences really came to the fore.

  5. This is the funniest thing I have read for ages. My apologies that my mirth is at your expense dear Pauline, but this masterpiece of your is a true tonic under any circumstances, but especially during these difficult times. It’s been a real tonic. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    • Pauline

      I’m glad it made you smile Marcia. Oh dear, so horrific at the time! Haha. xx

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