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In two hours, I saw more naked people than I've seen in the last two years. Since the Roman emperor bathed in the mineral waters of Baden-Baden, this town has welcomed those in need of a good soak. And it's always been naked. In the 19th century, it was Germany's ultimate spa resort, and even today the name Baden-Baden is synonymous with relaxation in a land where the government still pays its overworked citizens to take a little spa time.
I happened to be here when one of my company's tour groups was in town. I told the guide that it was a great opportunity for her group to enjoy the spa. She said, "No one's going. They can't handle the nudity. It's long been a frustration for me as a guide — the difficulty of getting Americans into spas with naked Europeans.
My first time was with my wife and some German friends — a classy, good-looking young couple. We were swept into the changing area with no explanation. Suddenly they were naked and I felt like the Road Runner just beyond the cliff's edge. Then — we eased up, and got naked. It's not sexy…simply open and free. Whether on a Croatian beach, in a Finnish sauna, a Turkish hammam, or a German spa, a fun part of travel can be getting naked with strangers.
Traditional, stately, indoors, and not very social, these baths are extremely relaxing…it's just you, the past, and your body. Wearing only the locker key strapped around my wrist, I started by weighing myself — 92 kilos. The attendant led me under the industrial-strength shower — a torrential kickoff, pounding my head and shoulders and obliterating the rest of the world.
He then gave me plastic slippers and a towel, ushering me into a dry-heat room with fine wooden lounges — slats too hot to sit on without the towel. Staring up at exotic tiles of herons and palms, I cooked.