Bad Bentheim, Germany

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On our last blog post we were talking about New Year’s resolutions. In addition to not building up expectations is a resolution to do a small, local adventure once a week. Bad Bentheim, located just across the border from us in Germany, is easily accessible by a short train ride, and is home to both a spa and a castle – two of my favorite things! It was an obvious choice for  a weekly local adventures.

Bad Bentheim is a classic small German bad (“bath”) village, so designated by the government due to the thermal sulfur springs located beneath its surface. It is calm and quiet, so much so that when I arrived on my train at 9 a.m. in the morning the streets were deserted and eerie. Rush hour does not exist in this sleepy part of the world.

During our trip to the Dolomites, I was shocked to see the German men in our hotel’s spa area strutting their stuff in the nude and snapping each other with towels like adolescents while Italian children sat in the hot tub, gawking, next to their blushing grandparents. I promptly returned my robe and slippers to the receptionist, who was puzzled as I had previously expressed how happy I was that the hotel had a large spa complex. When I told her about the naked men she apologized. “I told them this is not Germany!” she said. Wanting to be prepared lest I walked into another sauna with sweating, naked men before I went to Bad Bentheim I read up on the spa rules and discovered that most spas in Germany are co-ed and clothing free. Though I have no problem with getting nekkid around other ladies, the thought of doing so in the midst of a spa-full of men too strongly resembled a porno scene for my American prudishness. Thus, I decided the best time to visit Bad Bentheim was on women’s only Monday; the other six days of the week seemed less restfull and zenlike.

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Unlike the town the thermal springs complex, located in the middle of the otherwise deserted Bentheim forest, was bustling, as if the entire population over sixty years old and within 100 kilometers came out for a morning swim. While the men congregated for their water aerobics courses around indoor pools and loungers I located the spa. Instead of being greeted with the smell of herbs and relaxing lavender, however, I was met by a gaggle of angry, naked, rotund German ladies, yelling at me that I was walking with my boots in the flip-flop only area. Huffing, they showed me to the locker room, where I sheepishly stripped down while worryingly glancing around: Everyone else was wrapped in a long, fluffy bathroom and carried an arm-full of towels. Me, I had only my rather garish beach towel from Santorini. It features a donkey. Luckily, I did, however, have spa slippers with me, though I never seemed to take them on or off at the appropriate time as each area of the spa had its own, unwritten rules on spa shoe etiquette. As I sauntered back towards the ladies and made special show of washing my feet, they nodded approvingly at my change of footwear and kept quiet about my lack of fluffy spa robe.

Spas run by Germans are, well, German – full of rules and regulations and codes of conduct. Next to the foot washing station hung the rules of the spa, a detailed chart of the steps for bathing: a warm foot soak, a sauna, a walk, a cold shower, an optional dip in a cold pool, a cold foot soak, another cold shower, a rest, a lay in the solarium, a warm shower, a warm foot soak, and on and on around the circle. No more than three times, however. Though I tried to follow the instructions as best as I could, mostly I chose to do what I wanted – (I’m always breaking the rules in Germany anyway; I even walk across the street on red if there are no cars – gasp!) Occasionally I stuck my feet in the foot soaking basins so the watchful German omas would think I was at least trying to have a regimented spa experience though I continued to make faux pas with the unwritten guidelines – the towel must be placed vertically instead of horizontally so that the bare feet do not touch the wood in the sauna; it’s okay to walk around in the outdoor rest area completely nude, but indoor a robe or towel should be immediately donned after exiting a sauna; etc. The Germany sense of modesty is one only they can possibly understand.

After a few rounds of the spa, I set out to find the outdoor swimming pool, heated by the thermal waters. Given the extreme saltiness of the pool and lack of sulfur smell I suspect it is not longer a true thermal pool, but it was relaxing nonetheless as the stream rose thickly above the bathers.

Even with the occasional glares the spa was extremely relaxing and a wonderful way to warm up on a cold winter day though I could not imagine making a holiday of going to the Bad Bentheim spa as some do. Rather, it was a wonderful way to pass a half day and was no more challenging to get to than my beloved jeju spa in Atlanta.

A short walk back through the Bentheim forest and under the train tracks brought me to the castle park set in front of Burg Bentheim, the other main attraction in this sleepy village. Sitting a top the castle park, Burg Bentheim is surprisingly large, well-intact castle – the highest in Western Germany – and dates back to 1050 A.D. The façade of the main portion of the castle is fitting for a James Bond movie set with intricately-carved sandstone and arched windows. Although the castle continues to be occupied by minor members of hereditary royalty of the region it is open to the public to simply walk around, explore its ramparts, rooms, and gardens, and photograph at will.

Though the town boasts several restaurants, shops, and museums, all were closed on the day I visited. Thus, I settled down into the warm Café Tietmeier with my book and waited from the train back to the Netherlands, relaxed and satisfied with my Monday’s local adventure.

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