I work in a naked spa. It's exhausting and so much fun – but every now and then we have to stop people from getting intimate.
- Felix Kühn manages the sauna at a "textile-free" spa in Berlin, Germany.
- This means guests must be naked to access its pool and sauna.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Felix Kühn, a 29-year-old sauna manager in Berlin, Germany. It has been edited for length and clarity.
I working started at Vabali Spa Berlin in December 2014. I met a guy on my first day at university who told me that they were looking for people to work at the sauna and he asked if I was interested.
I later realized that studying at university is not how I learn best; I'm a pragmatic person who likes to work physically with my hands. So I decided to drop my studies and start working at Vabali.
Now, I'm in charge of the sauna department, which means I manage a large group of our employees and help structure their programs.
The whole team here numbers 240 employees. In the sauna, I have 68. Normal spas don't have as many people as we do.
Guests enter through an outside corridor with lots of bamboo and a wooden roof. They can rent bathrobes, towels, and slippers before changing in the locker rooms.
We have three steam rooms, smaller warm-water pools, a plunge pool, 10 saunas, and two big pools — one inside, one outside. The temperatures vary from 55 to 95 degrees Celsius, or 131 to 203 Fahrenheit.
No phones or camera-functioning devices are allowed in the spa itself; we are textile free and people care a lot about privacy.
Guests don't walk around naked all the time – just in the pool and the sauna. Around the rest of the spa, you have to wear a robe or cover yourself.
Being naked is not a big deal in Germany
It took two weeks for me to get used to nudity – not with the guests in the sauna, but with my colleagues as we changed in front of each other.
But nudity is not a big deal here, especially as there are nude beaches in East Germany. My parents come from there, so I know that cultural identity. It's just natural and we approach each other as human beings: "This is my body, this is your body," we think.
It's enjoyable to be around each other without any judgment. It's totally normal for me.
Our rules are that guests should refrain from intimacy, but every now and then, people try to have sex
Some come in, see a lot of naked bodies and think about it. When they're there with their partner and have maybe drunk a few glasses of wine, it's so much easier to get closer to each other. It's not in the 95-degree saunas mostly, it's more in the steam rooms or 70-degree ones.
In order to stop them, we make them aware that they're in a public place where other people could feel uncomfortable – and if they're not OK with that, we basically ask them to leave.
The key to an enjoyable sauna experience is to start slowly
Start with 70 degrees if you're new to the sauna, then go higher. Get your cardiovascular system used to it. The most important thing is listening to your body and its reactions. If you feel discomfort, leave the sauna.
Also, drink water before, during the treatments, and afterward. I've sometimes had people collapsing after using the sauna; the most common reason for that they haven't drunk enough.
We offer different ceremonies every half an hour. That could be a scrub treatment, a sound meditation in the sauna, a special music piece played with typical Indonesian scents, or a birch treatment.
They can ignite certain things in people that they want to do or achieve. Sometimes they sit around, pause for a moment and write down something, like an author looking for an idea. They had so much stress in their big-city life and they were just missing some relaxation.
There is also the "Aufguss," or infusion, where you provide people with nice scents and make them sweat. A normal one is three rounds of infusion, usually lasting from 10 to 12 minutes.
The ceremony master infuses a little water and puts some ice on the oven alongside the essential oils. Around scents, you build up a story and guide people into relaxation. For example, Asian scents: you can kick off in China, move to Japan with the yuzu fruit, then go to Nepal to smell the Jatamansi flower.
Then, the ceremony master crushes ice on the stove, pours water around it, and starts fanning, using branches, towels, and fans. This basically breaks the layer of sweat on your skin and it makes you perspire a little more.
For the Aufguss, male staff only wear a peshtemal — a small, colored hammam cloth – wrapped around the hips.
Inside, it's quite intense. You increase the air humidity and lower the temperature when you do an infusion. It feels hotter, but it doesn't actually get hotter. I'm used to it, I've done over 6,000 of them.
It's a very physical and exhausting job, but I have so much fun with it
I still do sauna infusions. It's where I started. It's my passion, not just a job, and I try to pass it on to new employees.
What I like most about my job is the team around me. It feels like coming home when you get to work. We laugh a lot and have fun. There's a very strong connection; we often meet outside of Vabali to hang out.
I just hope I can do this job for as long as possible — be hospitable to people, give them a good time, invent my own treatments, educate my colleagues, and ignite that spark in them that lit in me almost nine years ago.
And if guests have soft faces and smile at you when they check out, you know you've done everything right.
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