I visited the Black Forest region of Germany while researching my latest mystery Black Forest Reckoning and, once again, found myself in Hardy Durkin’s footsteps as I spent a blissful four hours in the Friedrichsbad Spa in Baden-Baden. This isn’t one of those fru-fru spas where you are pampered and served a plethora of health drinks, but a bathing spa where one ‘takes the waters’, as they say.
I signed up for the full monty, which included a cream massage at the end, and began my voyage of the seventeen-step process that gradually heated and then gradually cooled the body, using dry air, steam, thermal baths, scrubs, and a massage, all totally naked. For less than fifty euros!
The Friedrichsbad spa has combined both Roman and Irish bathing traditions for the past 125 years in a structure that is truly a temple to bathing. The tiles, the frescoes, the amazing central dome of the bath create an atmosphere of old-world elegance and charm, tinged with a magical quality that rejeuvenates body and soul in an experience that is truly memorable.
My bath ritual was kicked off with a serious shower followed by a warm air bath for ten minutes, then a hot air bath (154 degrees) in an adjoining room for fifteen. Each step of the process took place at a different ‘station’ in the spa, designated in numerical sequence. A young man, obviously confused, wandered through the spa peering Magoo-like at the posted wall notices trying to find his way. He realized he’d lost his huge towel (a thick sheet, in truth, that is to accompany one on the journey) along the way and went back to ‘station 1’ to fetch another.
After the hot air bath came another shower, followed by a brush massage (“hard or soft?”) which ended with a Teutonic pat on the bum. Then another shower, a warm thermal steam bath, a warmer thermal bath, and the cooling down phase began. Whirlpool bath of bubbling mineral water, a cooler-water pool under a vaulted, scalloped rotunda ceiling, another shower, cold water plunge, and a hot-towel dry-off by an attendant who really doesn't notice your nakedness.
Then came the cream massage. My backside was slathered with a subtle bamboo/rice lotion and the masseuse worked the remaining tension out of my back and shoulder muscles. I flipped over and had the process repeated, then followed the attendant, sheet/towel in hand, to a circular room with high ceilings filled with single beds covered with thick fleece blankets.
The attendant took my towel and spread it on one of the blankets and motioned for me to lie down on the towel. Once prone, the attendant folded the sides and bottom of the sheet over my lathered body, then folded me into the fleece blanket, as well. In my cocoon of warm and well-being, I was soon fast asleep. My last conscious thought was ‘I want to come back.’