German sauna culture is a well-established tradition worth indulging in, especially through the city’s seasonal extremes. From swim-up cocktail bars in summer to the Die Thermen am Europa Center (which one sauna fiend and local called “the epicenter of 80s Westberlin sauna culture”) in winter, the area hosts some of the most innovative, restorative retreats available in western Europe. But when it comes to habits, there are only some worth your addictions. Here are those that struck a chord.

1. Satama Sauna Park

How far from Berlin? 45km. About an hour by train.

Satama is nothing short of sauna theater. On the hour every hour you will sit in a 100 degree room (check) with three dozen naked men and women singing and drumming your knees. You might even sing something in Russian. Afterwards you take your cold dunk in a lake, fish dispersing. Themes on the hour range from Dance of the Vampires to a traditional and robust session of banya to an alcoholic mushroom cloud to Romeo and Juliet.

Miraculously of all, there’s nothing cheesy about it. You’ll feel like you’re accessing a culture you weren’t lucky enough to see yet—a culture not easy to pinpoint but somewhere between tattooed East Germans and their wholesome Russian mothers, their tits reflected gloriously in the fresh-water lake. The place is so peaceful you’ll find yourself taking naps by the fireplace, forgetting everything you left in the locker.

Best of all, it’s cheap. Houses go for 120 a night and fit six people. If you stay two nights, you get into the spa (they call it a “sauna park”) for free. The massages are not what you come for, though they’re cheap, diverse, and easy to book. Really, what you want to do, is the itinerary of sauna experiences. They start at 11am. Last one’s at 11pm.

Don’t forget it: Ask for the honey salt scrub if they aren’t giving it out. They come in little plastic cups and smell like carnival funnel cake.

2. Grand Hyatt Potsdamer Platz

How far from Berlin? Just get on the U-Bahn.

I would never expect this business-style monolith to feel like a cozy retreat but it surprised me. If you can’t leave Berlin, and especially if you decide on this solo retreat during the middle of the night (like I did), I highly suggest you head to Potsdamer Platz.

Unexpected location for anything spa-like, right? Atop the corporate go-to is a quaint and private spa, where immediate views of the Philharmonic and Berlin skyline will leave you breathless. The sauna is exceptional; wide and warmly-lit with a major cold dunk tank and a climb-up ladder. Breakfast downstairs is good too. The slippers are snug. And, hey, you didn’t leave Berlin.

After several rotations of cold dunking and pore steaming, you’ll forget what city you’re in. Tokyo? New York? Na, Berlin, of course.

Don’t forget it: Let them know if that drill outside is bothering you. They’ll send chocolate truffles.

3. Kristall Sauna Spa Ludwigsfelde

How far from Berlin? An hour and a half by train. 45 minutes by car.

While I haven’t given it my personal blessing, this enormous haven has been described by some of my more flamboyant sauna-going friends as “a massive riot.” There’s a swim-up bar where you can choose between cocktails and wellness drinks. There are more saunas than your Finnish grandma would feel comfortable counting. And everything’s got a sort of ironic finish.

This is no Zer Bleiche. Indoor palm trees, paths for strolling and a small stream create a nearly humorous village square with an old fountain and plenty of young people to enjoy with. If you’re in the mood to get in shape, there’s a giant pool with 25-meter lanes.

Don’t forget it: Unless you go on a Wednesday or Sunday, bring a bathingsuit! They won’t let you swim naked! And they’re serious about it.

4. Cowshed Spa at Soho House

How far from Berlin? On Torstasse, right off Rosa Luxembourg station.

This is Mitte’s trusty sauna retreat for all occasions between lunch and dinner and your boss’s afterparty. If you need a sauna to hang in regularly, this is your pad. When I’m in Berlin and not on an interview, I’m nearly always either writing by the pool up top or reading magazines (and- gasp- physically bookmarking them! No internet!) in the cozy hammam downstairs. The reading room between the showers and the sauna has a cucumber water cooler and the absolutely best plush memory foam super royal king bed. The music is controlled by a woman in London who is genius in inspiring calm.

The sauna is small but very hot. The steam room- which I prefer- isn’t bothered with any silly artificial scents. The people sitting nude next to you might be your colleague or your former investor, but she surely won’t say hello. Unlike the roof and restaurant, the spa in the underwings is as private as that thing you did in the bathroom.

Don’t forget it: Cowshed is amazing! At my most dramatic moment in my young career, I went directly there. Do not underestimate the mental power created by indulgence.

5. Schloss Elmau

How far from Berlin? First get yourself to Munich. It’s an hour and a half from there. Not exactly close to the capital but well worth the trip.

Schloss Elmau is a luxury class of its own. When I was there, the losing German soccer team was hiding quietly from public backlash in the warmth of its inner caverns, fresh-squeezed Kiwi juice and salt pools. Every room faces a vast and undeveloped stretch of forest-covered mountains, their dew and storm clouds the constant intrigue of your bedside binoculars. This view out your window seems to change shape every day- your own nakedness nearing theirs as the week passes.

The service is impeccable. The staff will not only prepare you a lunch basket for your afternoon jaunt through the mountains (on the spur of the moment); they will also find and fetch your lost cigarette pack from the field “out front” and return it promptly to your hotel room, long after you’ve returned from your dinner (the wasabi garnishes at which reminded you of your day’s walk, almost creepily).

The people are blamelessly subdued. Bathrobed breakfast conversations between one German politician and her confidante will leave you with the quiet observation that some people manage to speak like they’re always in an interview.

The cashmere throws in the relaxation rooms are without a word replaced, if you so happen to wander off with one. The pool pillows are brought in and out with the inclement weather in an elegant clockwork by the staff who breathe tradition and German spa culture. They glide around unnoticed, making you feel as if at home in the enormous estate of your university pal.

Don’t forget it: If you leave your dirty sneakers out front your hotel room, you’ll find them washed. An hour later.


*guest post written by Marguerite Imbert

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