I spent the second half of last week in Berlin. Without planning to, my girlfriend and I got naked with a bunch of Germans.
A timely opportunity
The chance for a trip came at quite an opportune moment.
Camilla (my girlfriend) and I both had friends in the city who were about to leave, and we were scheduled to move into our apartment at the end of the week.
I also had Danish classes starting the following week and so it was perfectly plausible to head down for a few days.
Under the influence of Greta, we felt there was no need to fly and so booked an overnight bus there and back which was pretty painless.
Tier 2 Tourism
We were staying with/ seeing friends for the majority of the time meaning afternoons/ evenings were spent having coffee or dinner with people we knew.
Both of us had been to Berlin before and so had ticked off the main attractions one should see when visiting (Checkpoint Charlie, the Wall, etc.).
We over-indexed on eating out (Berlin felt 2x cheaper than Copenhagen; I’d be eating falafel wraps daily if I lived there) and so between brunches and coffee meet-ups had a few big chunks of time to fill.
“What daytime activities do you recommend?”
This was the primary question for the people we met.
The drizzly weather discounted urban ambling and so we cobbled together a bit of an itinerary based on recommendations:
- Berlin Unterwelten: underground guided tours. Would recommend. We visited an old war bunker
- Prenzlauer Berg market: flea market, followed by a rainy afternoon in a cutesie cafe
- Sudanese cafe: the peanut sauce at Sahara Imbiss was great
- Father Carpenter: achingly cool. I don’t normally drink coffee, but even I could taste it was good
The one suggestion that kept coming back was: Vabali spa
An afternoon “textile free”
A friend of mine used to live in Germany and told me once of her experience going to a local spa.
“It’s a very normal activity for normal people to do” she said, “very relaxing, however… everyone is completely naked”.
When the (English) friends we met up with in Berlin suggested Vabali it was caveated in the same breath that you’d be completely starkers.
Camilla and I thought why not embrace it, and headed up to the north part of the city on a particularly rainy day to check-in.
The receptionist explained that once we got through the changing rooms we were required to be “textile free”, an excellent euphemism, we thought.
After some initial trepidation, we bared all and joined everyone else. Most people chose to have towels/ bathrobes as they strolled around between saunas and pools, but there was no escaping the full-frontal nudity.
Normalising body types
After a couple of hours, we’d had our fix of sauna time and so showered and returned to our clothes.
On the way back the apartment we reflected on the experience. One big thing was how there was a full spectrum of bodies on show.
It got us thinking how, for a younger generation, this would be a useful experience for them to have (ahem) exposure to.
In a world where most people’s “normal” is made up of glamorised celebrity Instagram photos, it can have negative consequences on one’s own body image.
Spending time around literally hundreds a naked people quickly floods your pool of reference points as to what normal people actually look like in the real world which would, I imagine, make people feel more comfortable about themselves.
I’m not sure how to factor in seeing someone you know there (I struggle to think of anything more mortifying for a teenager) but I’d be interested if there’s a relationship between cultures with ̶n̶a̶k̶e̶d̶ textile-free spas and body shame.
Covering up more
Another friend we met with told us how his family had grown up east of the Wall.
Public spas were the norm for his parents, more so than their Western counterparts.
One of the consequences (or perhaps causes) was that it served to be a great equaliser. Regardless of people’s position in society, they were all the same when sat in a sauna with no clothes on.
Another friend said how naked beaches are becoming less and less common than before. Partly this might be influenced by other cultures that don’t practice public nudity, but also, he suggested, it was the risk of having a photo taken of you and shared on social media.
Either way, the experience at the spa was one that’ll stay with me for a while. The prude British part of me harks back to how “nudist” beaches were for full-on weirdos, yet from being there at the spa, there was something liberating about the normalcy with which the behaviour is treated.
If you ever find yourself in Germany, consider a trip…
In other news…
Thank you for the kind words from last week’s post about John Mayai.
We transported back 4,920 eggs (164 trays) in two Ubers. The Frenchman didn’t want two eggs because en oeuf is enough and for its first birthday, the egg got laid.
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