Friday 14 November 2014

Bath Time in Cologne, Germany

After an exhausting morning viewing modern art in Cologne in September, what I really needed was a relaxing bath.

The bath I had in mind was at the Neptunbad (see photo above). This beautiful set of public baths in the Ehrenfeld district was opened in 1912, just as the grandeur of Germany's imperial Wilhelmine Period was about to be swept away by the Great War.

A beautiful structure, liberally graced with coloured tiles and mosaics, it seemed to have survived both devastating World Wars well.

To one side, where there was once a swimming pool, was a gym and lounge area. It was definitely the most impressively housed gym I'd ever seen:

But I'd come for the Neptunbad's baths. These were split into two zones: the historic sauna, and the newer Asian sauna and bath complex adjoining the original building.

The latter was a very pleasant set-up, accessed from an open-air garden. It had a number of saunas set at different temperatures, from the Japanese Light Sauna with Citrus Aroma (60°C) to the Infusion Sauna in the Zen Garden (80°C).

Photo courtesy Neptunbad GmbH & Co. KG

Here it's worth mentioning a key item of German public bath etiquette. Unlike in Korea, where I discovered nudity is mandatory but segregated by gender, in Germany nudity is mandatory and the genders are mixed. 

This took a few minutes to get used to, but I admired the Germans for their matter-of-fact attitude to the body. And I assumed the neighbours in the apartment buildings next to the Neptunbad had become used to seeing naked folk lounging in its Zen garden from their windows.

The highlight of my visit was the historic sauna section. Its Roman-style laconium (a heated air "sweat bath") and attached steam bath were attractively decorated with tiles and statuary, and a good place to start the relaxation.

But I loved the Kaiserbad. This dimly-lit large circular pool had its water set to body temperature at 37°C - it felt about the temperature you'd run for a comfortable bath at home.

Photo courtesy Neptunbad GmbH & Co. KG

I picked up a couple of those buoyant noodle things (do they have a proper name?), placing one behind my neck and one beneath my knees. Lying back to float, I discovered - surprise! - there was meditative music playing beneath the water.

How long I floated on my back, drifting slowly around the pool as I looked up at the wolf symbol set into the centre of its dome, I can't tell you.

What I can tell you is that it was highly addictive, and highly relaxing. As I floated, I could feel all the pain from the week's endless walking radiating from my feet, as if expelled by exorcism.

I had to eventually force myself to leave the pool by sheer mental force. Frankly, I'm amazed I'm not still there. If I lived in Cologne, that bath would be my second home.

Neptunbad can be found at Neptunplatz 1, Cologne, Germany. Its website is entirely in German, but on the day I visited the staff spoke good English (possibly to ward off my dodgy German).

Disclosure time: I travelled to Cologne by train, courtesy of Railbookers.

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