Sunday, 15 August 2010

Dare to compare

Soaking in Southeast Asia and it’s sister / daughter sites focus mainly on countries within Asia where enjoying hot springs are less well-known practices and/or totally waiting to be discovered. In many cases these hot springs are under-developed or poorly developed.

Intending to seek out why in for instance Europe, soaking (and bathing) is very much a part of life, I was in the circumstance to visit a town known for it’s mineral waters while on business in Germany’s Harz region over the past summer.

Bathing History

Bad Lauterberg lies on the edge of the Harz, hemmed in by hills to the north, which shield the town from cooler winds. On the confluence of 3 streams, Lauterberg was known until the 19th century for mining, as was the whole of the Harz region. Wikipedia has a good entry on mining in the Harz.
It was then discovered that water emanating from lower layers of the mountains also contained high concentrations of minerals which can be attributed to an improved health level if frequently bathed in. Such was the interest that gradually the Lauterberg economy shifted from relying on mining (and metal manufacturing) to relying on bathing and it’s associated culture to survive; it became one of Germany's oldest spa-towns (
A few (up-scale) bathing places were created as well as the town undergoing development so as to make the bathers more happy, for instance the construction of promenades and parks.


Since the demise of mining, Lautenberg has been named
Bad Lautenberg as in Germany much is gained by the term Bad. It is a government approved qualitative acknowledgment of being a place to bathe which can lead to an improved health status; a main reason why Germans are interested in ‘baden / kuren’ (and soaking).
In the case of Bad Lautenberg, the bathing waters are natural, though unheated. In Germany there is little difference between the two, as unheated waters are heated for bathing and both forms (heated and unheated) can be regarded as having significant health properties. This is scientifically backed up.

More famous bathing places such as Baden-Baden, Wiesbaden and Aachen do have natural hot waters. But not Bad Lautenberg.

Soaking in Bad

Bad Lautenberg possesses three locations for bathing. The choice falls on the Kirchberg Therme as it combines swimming pools with sauna without aiming at families, with the complete water circus of wave pools, slides, chutes and what have you. After all silence is golden ...
Connected to the Kirchberg Medical Centre, the therme (or spa) is part of the overall facilities used by ‘patients’ and/or guests. The therme consists of a restaurant, a fitness centre, two indoor swimming basins and a sauna complex.
Visiting on an early morning, most bathers were guests from the medical centre; use of the therme was free for these guests before 2 in the afternoon.
The 2 modern free-form swimming basins were little used this morning (why?) and the cooler of the 2 pools surely could not be described as an attraction to me (too cold!).
Much better was the clothesfree sauna complex which contained a variety of sauna’s, a steam room and an outside swimming pool with extensive sunning lawn.

Somehow the larger swimming area required bathing clothes, possibly because the benefits of soaking should not be withheld from the less inhibited. However as said, the pools were mostly deserted whereas the sauna area was considerably populated by 20 or more patrons on that particular morning. Clearly most thought more highly of sauna use than of the possible advantages of the pool use; or couldn’t be bothered dressing up to use the pools.

A photo from the spa's own web site.
In front the two pools while behind the rocks is the sauna garden ...

Your notes
Comparing to any experience in Southeast Asia is hardly possible.
First of all there is Germany's love affair with hot springs, which dates back to at least the era of Roman occupation (Cooper-Erfurt & Cooper, 2009) Since, soaking modes in Germany have waxed and waned, but to Germans soaking or 'kuren' is a scientifically proven method of medicine.

How important is this?
  • For instance the bible of Germany's spa's, Größchen's
    'Heilbäder und Kurorte in Deutschland. Conradi-Bäderkunde-Lexikon'
    counts more than 600 pages!
  • In 2006 nearly 6.5 million soakers were recorded (Erfurt-Cooper & Cooper, 2010); visits lasting multiple days .
One must also note that when taking a longer wellness treatment German health insurance will covers this. No wonder soaking is so important ... See also the following:
'Today, Germany has one of the most comprehensive spa cultures in Europe, with the support of the German federal health care system to boot! The German equivalent for spa is Heilbad or 'healing bath' or Kurort which literally mean 'cure place'. Any town in Germany can qualify and choose to use the prefix 'Bad' or bath before their town name i.e. Bad Soden. Those towns that qualify have met the strictest air and water quality standards and have been able to establish the necessary medical staff and infrastructure to cater to those seeking treatment.
Once a Kur or cure therapy has been approved, a patient will be sent to a certified Kurort or spa where a patient will enjoy a holistic experience of exercise, nutrition, relaxation, communication and motivation custom-fitted by doctors and medical staff. The focus is to provide a Kur guest with the best possible natural environment to cure or prevent the further development of illnesses'.
Then there is the level of facilities to draw in the comparison.
Concerning the emphasis on medical efficiency in Germany and German cultural pursuit of high standards, levels of hygiene are extremely high and are first most in thoughts of managers.
Competition between facilities means that increasingly higher lay-outs are required and for the visitor this means the facilities are more and more luxurious and at the same time larger and more diverse.

But other than these two aspects (medical culture / standards ) I believe there is little that would differ between soaking here in Southeast Asia and in Germany. In general soaks in both are mostly visited by locals, most patrons are slightly older and / or health conscious.
Having such facilities in Southeast Asia could be possible, though the price differential would exclude most locals.
So an in-between situation could be created.
For instance hygiene is greatly lacking at 99.9% of Southeast Asia's soaking sites, but simple measures need not cost too much but can result in far better hygienic situation.

My own preference? Well that would be a bit unfair. making a choice. The soaking culture in Southeast Asia is mostly non-existent and / or real foreign to myself whereas the experience above isn't ...

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