There are times, when my mind is free from occupation and my heart yearns to reminisce, that my memory will alight to that horror. Bodies pale and shriveled staring back at me, staring through me. Signs, scribbled in German, barking their orders at me. My face reddens, my stomach churns, and my brain is unable to understand just what it is that I am witnessing. My girlfriend is frozen next to me, lost in an even deeper stupor than mine. She is wearing a floral pleated bikini, and I am in a speedo.
We are in Baden Baden, Germany, a town I had never heard of until the night before, an approximate five minutes before we bought the tickets from Strasbourg, France. It is my first time in Europe, and though I had assumed I would be hitting every major city on the map, I’ve quickly realized that everything is not as a close together as they seem, and train tickets cost money. So rather than Munich or Berlin, we opt for the posh village of Baden Baden, located just over the border in the Black Forest. We did not know much about it, but after being separated by an ocean for nearly three months, we would have been happy to spend a day on Tatooine.
Now of course, being Americans, we had no idea what to expect at a bathhouse. The pictures on the brochure we found looked pleasant enough, and with the weather forcing us inside, it seemed like a reasonable idea. Besides this is what traveling was supposed to be, dipping your feet into new experiences, even if those new experiences were a bathhouse in Germany. Upon entering we realized we were gravely unprepared. Almost every other patron was either already clad in bathing suits, or held a bag the presumably carried their suits. We were wearing sweaters and jeans. Luckily, there was a gift shop selling suits, complete with a changing room next to the cashier, shielded by a shower curtain. Unluckily, the selection of suits was very European, and the longest suit I could find barely reached where my hip meets my thighs.
Determined to enjoy ourselves despite our outfits, we approached the bathing area with an open mind. It was truly a beautiful building, with pools that stretched within the building and outside, with separate hot tubs and waterfalls. Most of the clientele was downright geriatric, and despite being decidedly un-American in apparel, many were rather obese. Nevertheless, we were able to relax immensely. After pruning for a couple hours, we exited to find towels.
We had been operating under the assumption that the bathhouse supplied the towels, much like a hotel pool. But alas, after communicating with an employee largely in hand gestures, we realized that towels were not supplied but rather rented, and that there were two locations at which we could make the transaction. The first was the front desk, in the lobby, and seeing as neither one of us felt comfortable venturing out there in our suits to retrieve them, we opted for the second option, being the spa room at the top of a spiral staircase.
After ascending the stairs, we spotted a wall lined with cubbies brimming with towels across the lobby. We took aim, but before we could reach it, we were stopped by a stern attendant. “This,” she explained, “is a nude area only.” The words took a minute to register, and when we finally came to, old, fat, naked Europeans, almost entirely men, surrounded us. They were staring in our direction, but I knew it wasn’t at me. Seeing as we were the youngest ones there by a decade or two, and that she is a gorgeous girl to begin with, the patron’s anticipation was palpable. She reached for my hand, pulling me back down the stairs. She struggled to find the words, but I knew what she was trying to say. No towel was worth that.
We laughed it off later that night when we washed down our German dishes with pints of beer. But later on the train, when we were battling sleep, we began to discuss it again. Almost immediately, we wished we had done it. After all, the worst they could do is look. And neither of us are ashamed or embarrassed by our bodies. Sure we had abandoned to confines of comfort simply by going to the bathhouse and wearing those suits, but in travel, as in life, there should be no half measures. I had an incredible time in Europe; it sparked in me desire to see the world. But it also inspired a creed with which I will forever live by. If given the chance, get naked.
About the Author: Harrison Arnold is a Student, Writer, Newborn Traveller
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