I've just returned from an afternoon at the Spa in Karlsruhe. As it's a Wellness centre I decided it may help cure my cold turned chest infection turned ear infection (with a touch of man flu to go with it) before I defy doctor's orders and fly home tomorrow.
But you know how it is when you don't know your way around somewhere, you are always faced with the unexpected. So I began by walking in to the Wellness centre and saying 'A ticket for one please.' The perplexed Wellness money collector rolled her eyes to heaven. 'One what?' Ok, so there are numerous ways of feeling well and they all come at different prices. 'Erm, I've never been here before' I told her, so she gave me the most expensive deal and handed me a plastic card to get me through the stile. I put the ticket into the slot feeling very efficient and pushed ahead. The gate remained shut. People behind me laughed. The money collector politely shouted over to me that I had to wait until the ticket came through the other side. Silly me...
With my bathing costume and towel wrapped around me, I flip flopped into the main area to see what was on offer: saunas, steambaths, whirlpools, that kind of thing, but there was just one problem that made me stand out in front of everyone else - I was, as I said, wearing togs. Everyone else was naked.
So I didn't really care about the nakedness issue, I only cared about how stupid I was going to look standing there in front of a naked congregation, taking off my togs. So I discreetly went to the bathroom and emerged butt naked togs in hand. I spent the first ten minutes sitting in this small warm pool, which felt a little bit like a communal bath.
So ok, yes, so far, I'm feeling ill and I'm sitting naked in a communal bath of naked Germans. But I'm Irish. I want to talk to somebody. Everyone is silent and deadly serious. One guy is doing these weird yoga poses in our communal bath and a fat guy looks like he's asleep. The bath is in the centre of the unit (I say unit because there's a guy in white shorts and a white t-shirt in charge and it does have the feel of an asylum) and all around me naked people are walking around doing stuff.
I try to be discreet but in the end I just can't help myself: I have to look at all the mens parts. I can't help wondering if the tiny little nobby ones ever get any bigger once in action. Anyone able to tell me that? There are long thin ones, big armadillos, ones that you can't see under the masses of pubic hair, average joe soap ones if there's such thing, and even ones that seem to hang sideways.
By now I'm glad that there isn't another Irish person with me, because undoubtedly the conversation would be about man parts and it would be a loud conversation with pointing involved. Instead, I soak in the communal bath and look like a middle aged lady who has no interest in the size of a mans part, or any parts come to that.
There are way more men here than women, but luckily for me, I find all women aesthetically pleasing to the eye, so there are no worries there.
I go into the sauna. There are about three people in there. It's a thousand times better than a sauna at home, but it's no craic. There's no conversation to eavesdrop or join in on and people use the sandtimers to make sure that they do it properly. I comply and turn around a little sand timer which I have to sweat out until it's empty. I'm hating it, and I'm not feeling better.
After that I dunk in the cold pool. Now this is a treat because the Irish don't seem to like doing cold basin dips, and it actually gives me a buzz after the overheated sauna. I retire to a rest room where I start to doze off but keep jerking awake in case I snore and get kicked out. I just don't want to get kicked out of anywhere whilst naked.
Then a thought occurs to me: if I died here, how would they ever find out who I am? My heart is pounding after the sauna and the pain in my chest is getting worse. Even if I had a heart attack, the doctor would attend me naked. I'm beginning to think it's not such a good idea being here after all.
I take on the steam bath and see a room beside it designated to 'absolute still and quiet.' I'm too scared to enter just in case I blink too loudly, so I go back to the changing rooms and go through the harrowing procedure of trying to leave. Attempt one I'm sent back to the dressing room to find the card that they gave me on the way in and that I should have remembered to take back out of the locker when it doubled up as a key. Then I do the same thing again. I push in the card, wait a few seconds, but I'm still too hasty and charge in vain at the little metal turnstile.
Just a moment - the money lady actually smiles at me now. The display tells me I can leave and in little digital letters it says: Thank You. Please Call Again.
Back home I realise I've left my togs hanging on the little hook in the dark corner beside the sauna. But I decide that I won't call again thank you. Next time I'll have my bath at home.