I awake at half past six this morning to golden rays of sunshine streaking through a slit in the curtains. For a moment it feels like the long Bavarian winter might finally be drawing to a close - last week did after all mark the official start of spring. Let's not be lulled into a false sense of security though; we're still very much in the grip of wintertime. Last year it still snowed here late April. By that time, mind you, most of us had long stowed away the ski gear - we'd had enough.
So what do Bavarians do to blow away their blues? They head for the sauna, of course. It's funny, really. Tourists tend to treat Scandinavia as the definitive destination for hitting the hotshed. They've probably been watching too many Scandi thrillers starring sweaty souls beating each other around the thighs with fresh-cut birch tree branches. Maidens in Lederhosen films might be dull in comparison, but as every self-respecting Bavarian will tell you, here is where it all began.
Hey bro', that's my end of the bench....
Germans, remember, invented FKK - free body culture (local lingo for "getting nice and nude"), and they've developed a cult around everything to do with saunas. I was just reading that you can actually train to become a qualified Sauna Meister - a title which carries every much respect in Germany as that of, say, qualified accountant or lawyer.
Don't be fooled into thinking the man above is taking a swipe at the guy after some heated (no pun intended) argument. He's actually wafting cold air into the sauna, an intricate process known as "Aufguss", or infusion. More show than sauna, the Meister invariably cracks a few jokes about the pain he's inflicting on his captive audience before marching out to a hearty round of applause. Bavaria has more Sauna Landschaft, nude landscapes, than anywhere else in Germany. My favourite is the Kaiser Thermen, just south of Regensburg.
Just one tip if you're a foreigner - any form of clothing in the sauna is an absolute no-no. Brits and Americans typically find that hard to deal with, but really it's no big deal. When I arrived in Germany one of the first things I did was join a spa health club, the highlight of which was an underground landscape dotted with steam rooms, thermal pools and jacuzzis. No clothes, naturally. It was a bit like stumbling into the The Garden of Eden. Prude Englishman as I was, I nonetheless soon shed the towel around my waist.
Wild things - last week's ski trip to Lenggries
November and December, notorious for gloomy skies and dearth of sunshine, is not a great time of year in Bavaria. But from new year onwards winters here are just like winters should be - as cold as a dog's nose, yet with crispy clear air and bright sunshine. Yes, spring does typically arrive here later than in most parts of Europe, but Bavarians have a remedy for that too. In recent years they've taken to dressing up in kinky costumes. As animals. And not just for Fasching either. You'll also find Bavarians disguised as half-bearded policemen, vikings, and Elvis.