BADEN BADEN, Germany -- Meaning "bathing bathing" in German, Baden Baden makes no secret of its main attractions. Situated at the northern edge of the Black Forest, the town has attracted international and local clientele for centuries in pursuit of relaxation and its famed healing waters.
Today, two bath houses -- one traditional and somber, the other, modern and casual -- still attract hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. The more established bath, Friedrichsbad, boasts an all-nude dress code and a one-of-a-kind experience that leaves visitors gum-muscled and soporific. The Caracalla baths, with a fun, accessible atmosphere, is replete with pools, saunas and tanning beds.
Friedrichsbad and Caracalla sit next to each other near the center of town. Each bath offers unique services and ambiance, so with the right amount of time and inclination, both should be tried.
This bath, based on the Roman-Irish tradition, is an incredible three and a half hours missed by those intimidated by nudity. Is the nudity awkward? No. Initially, emerging stark naked from the lockers to be greeted by clothed (and multilingual) attendants is uncomfortable. But, among bare peers, the nudity is secondary to the experience. Most of all, the bathers act respectful and polite.
Numbered rooms guide visitors through each carefully orchestrated stage of the spa. Bathers wash off outside grime in monsoon showers before sweating off impurities in dry saunas. Next, they can enjoy a soap brush massage administered by gruff German women who end the five minute scrub down with a hearty spank.
Post-massage, guests frolic in pools of varying temperatures. A picturesque pool sits under a looming dome decorated in Mediterranean tiles and is refreshingly cool and still after lounging in warm bubbling baths.
Friedrichsbad's most memorable event happens post-soak. After a quick plunge in a cold bath (18 degrees Celsius,) attendants wrap bathers in a warm towel and lead them to a darkened room lined with beds. Here, the nubile bathers are wrapped up, snug and impossibly clean, and encouraged to take a half-hour nap. Bathers emerge from this cocoon refreshed, scrubbed and completely at ease. As an aside, children under 14 are not allowed in Friedrichsbad.
Less serious and regimented than the traditional Friedrichsbad, Caracalla is a good option for families (though children under 7 not allowed) and spa initiates. The bath has two distinct sections. Downstairs, visitors wear swimsuits and splash in heated indoor and outdoor pools. Up the spiral staircase however, more adventurous bathers take it all off for an au natural sauna experience.
Visitors can choose between dry Swedish saunas (one as hot as 90 degrees Celsius,) more temperate steam baths and the not-to-be-missed eucalyptus suffused room. When it all gets too hot, the showers or the polar ice bucket provide a chilly rinse. For a dry, oil infused sauna, head outside where guests can also sun bathe or shower in nice weather.
Protocol demands all guests in Caracalla's dry saunas to place a towel underneath their bums and feet. This protects the sitter from both hot boards and the risk of contamination.
For those wishing to relax in a sauna without having to bear it all, Caracalla offers dry, humid, aromatic and briny saunas on its clothed, ground floor. Those with aching backs or feet can also enjoy pounding waterfalls and pools lined with water jets guaranteed to knead out any kink.
At Caracalla visitors need a swimsuit and a towel, but the bath will provide a towel with a 10-euro deposit. Upon entry, visitors receive a wristband. They open and close lockers and serve as a credit card for drink and snack purchases at the bar. All extras are paid for upon exit.
For a 3.5 hour stay plus a soap brush massage, Friedrichsbad costs 33 euros. Caracalla runs cheaper at 17 euros for a three-hour stay. Friedrichsbad is located at Romerplatz 1. Caracalla is right next door.
Editor's Note: This article originally ran in the May 9, 2012, edition of the Bavarian News.