June 03, 2006

Swimming in Wurzburg: The naked truth

We landed in Frankfurt, Germany and drove to the Dorint Hotel in Wurzburg, where I’d made reservations. This was an off-season trip, and I’d booked the Dorint because it had an indoor pool. For every hour of cold weather sightseeing they’d give us, we’d give the kids at least as many of swimming and lounging around. This strategy’s worked for us around the world.

We checked into the Dorint and made our way to the Schwimmbad. As we collected towels from the girl at the spa’s reception desk and snack bar, I peered through a window at the pool, a sumptuous haven with a waterfall and grotto-like area with fake caves and swirling water.

And, I saw a buck naked old man.

I turned to the kids and reminded them (they’d been seeing bare-breasted babes on Mediterranean beaches since they were toddlers) that people do things differently in Europe. "You might see a bare body or two in the pool," I warned.

Talk about your understatements.

It wasn’t until the kids and I had emerged from the locker room – there was only one, unisex – and had been splashing around for a few minutes that I realized we were the only people in the whole place with any clothes on. (Mike, who had a cold, wasn’t swimming. He laid claim to a lounge chair and went to sleep.)

I speak mediocre German and knew the "kleide" part of "Umkleide" on the sign above the locker room door meant "clothes." But what I thought was a dressing room was really an undressing room. We used the space to change into bathing suits. Everyone else used it to change into nothing. While we suited up, they disrobed.

Adam, Dana and I hopped into the pool, and the warm water and exercise began immediately coaxing the jet lag from our bodies. Our senses sharpened, and we took stock of the scene around us.

Butts, boobs and genitals greeted us from all directions – submarine, floating on the water’s surface, spread across chaises on the pool deck. Some bathers did the circuit, bursting out of the pool, then flapping around as they ambled from sauna to steam to tanning bed to Frischluft, literally "fresh air," a walled-in outdoor terrace (with paintings of palm trees) where people sat chatting in the 20-degree Fahrenheit great outdoors in their Geburtstag suits.

The kids and I caught the hang of this circuit of events and started to participate (cloaked as we were in our bathing suits, which felt like suits of armor but which, under no circumstances, were coming off). And that’s when we got into trouble.

Evidently, you ’re supposed to shower between each "event." The spa-parcours etiquette goes: pool-shower-sauna-shower-steam-shower-tan-shower-outdoors-shower-pool-shower... A man with a red-striped robe that he alternately put on and took off had deputized himself as the pool police and had been watching our every clothed move. He reported us to the dainty girl at the reception desk, and we were spoken to. We ceased and desisted from doing the circuit because all those mandatory showers, besides being wasteful, were way too much work.

So we swam some more, rinsed off in the shower, then went into the sauna. The Schwimmbad policeman was in there. He didn’t like us, we didn’t like him. As soon as we sat down, he left. Crucial informant work to do?

The pool girl tracked me down and told me there had been "complaints" that we hadn’t sat on towels while in the sauna. My jet-lagged brain called up the best German it could muster, and I shrieked the rough equivalent of "You ‘ve got to be kidding! We’re in this hot space with naked people who are exposing their privates to surfaces all over this spa. We’re wearing clothes, so the way I see it, we’re the hygenic ones, keeping our naughty bits to ourselves. We're hermetically sealed. Please tell the old guy with the red-striped robe that I paid a hundred bucks a room to be here and I’d appreciate his keeping his parts and his opinions to himself."

I was wired. Jet lag lets you speak in tongues.

The pool girl laughed. "Totally OK," she said. "Don’t worry about anything." I laughed back, told her we’d learned our lesson and that we’d perform better – albeit clothed – tomorrow.

When we were ready to leave, we woke Mike, dreaming deeply in his chaise. He’d missed all the drama. For well over an hour, he’d slept, surrounded by nude people whose personal parts sneaked and peeked from terrycloth robes or swung unabashedly through air and water. And through it all Mike had dozed, the most clothed person the Dorint pool had ever seen, his cold seeking cure behind long pants, a turtleneck shirt and a sweater.

But he was barefoot. "Where are your shoes?" I asked him. "Over there. Some guy in a red-striped robe told me to take them off."