Sunday, 14 April 2013


Today I will hijack the language blog for telling about the weirdest thing I've done in Germany so far. When we moved the Germany, I had the problem that everything was so normal, and we didn't have any funny anecdotes to tell to our friends and family who stayed in Finland. Now, after 2 years, I have something to tell, so here we go...

In most countries there is a form of entertainment where a naked person entertains an audience who is wearing clothes.

But in Germany, the inverse occupation also exists - Saunameister (sauna master) is a clothed person entertaining a naked audience by throwing water on the hot stones in a sauna, circulating the hot steam by waving a towel and flapping it in the air, and telling jokes on the go (because of the language barrier, I only understand a subset of the jokes, sadly). The most advanced Saunameister I've seen even uses a towel flag for the circulating, and that thing is torturously efficient.

You're supposed to find the experience relaxing (entspannend), if you don't, you will be "Zwangsentspannt" (forcefully relaxed).

Curiously, there is no good translation of "Zwang" in English, even though it translates perfectly well in other languages I know (tvång in Swedish, pakko in Finnish). Zwang describes something compulsory / unavoidable / something you must do, but it's not an adjective but a noun. You could say "wearing a helmet is compulsory" and "Zwang" would be the "compulsory" except that it's a noun.

There are also other Meisters in Germany: Bademeister (bath master) is looking after kids in a swimming pool and Hausmeister (house master) is approximately a janitor. Funnily, some Hausmeisters (but not all) are "vahtimestari" in Finnish, that derives from Wachtmeister (watch master), but Wachtmaster is something different than Hausmeister...

From the Finnish perspective, the Saunameister is exotic in a funny way, and the excessive nudity is only mildly culture shocking. So now to the weird stuff: Klangschalenaufguss.

Aufguss (literally "onpour", auf = on, guss = a noun from the verb "pour") is what Saunameister does: pouring water on the stones, and the related activities for circulating the steam.

Klangschale is apparently translated in English as "singing bowl" (never heard), and it's a metal bowl which produces sound when you hit it with a stick. Some esoteric stuff they say.

And Klangschalenaufguss is naturally an Aufguss where the Saunameister alternates between throwing water onto the stones and rings these bowls. I might have missed the esoteric benefits. I tried not to giggle.

The next weird thing doesn't have any linguistic connections, but I need to tell it nevertheless: The crazy Germans have a sauna with an aquarium in it. And soothing music. So you can watch the fish swim around and listen to the music while you sweat. Finns, let me reiterate: Germans have an aquarium in a sauna.

The experience culminated in Salzaufguss, (salt onpour), where you first do the first round of Aufguss (pouring the water and waving the towel) normally, then go out, rub salt on you skin, come back, and do one more round of Aufguss.

When standing outside (luckily the weather was warm), naked, rubbing big handfuls of salt on my skin, among 50 or so Germans doing the same, I said "This is the weirdest thing I've done in Germany so far".

There is a blog by a German biologist living in Finland, Myyrätohtori. It has a subcategory, "Die spinnen die Finnen" (the crazy Finns) for posts which tell about crazy things that Finns do. I of course think that most of the things there are perfectly normal (like a police officer stopping cars, not asking to see your driver's license, but only doing the breath test for alcohol).

But after the sauna experience, I can surely say: Die spinnen die Deutschen!


  1. Still need to build my sauna and that aquarium idea is freaking cool. Have to consider this...

  2. The noun form of "compulsory" is "compulsion", but it has connotations of an irresistible urge rather than (or in addition to) an external force. "Mandate" exists as a noun for "mandatory", but the noun more describes an official order. The best choice would probably be "obligation", or perhaps "requirement", depending on context.

    1. In addition to "obligation" and "requirement", the Finnish "pakko" (not sure about Zwang or tvång) can describe something that simply has to be (because that's how the world is).

      Like, "my keys must be at home because they were not in my pocket" or "the man must have climbed out the window, because the door is still locked". In Finnish you would say the keys have "pakko" to be or that the man has "pakko" to have had climbed.

      And as my father says: "pakko is the best incentive".

  3. You vill relax! It is compulsory!

  4. Well that's certainly interesting to know that there's a form of entertainment specifically just for the sauna in Germany. I like the puns on the name of it too. And the aquarium in the sauna as well, although I'm concerned if the temperature on the aquarium water is the same as on the sauna. There's some interesting sauna traditions it seems for cultures where saunas are part of their tradition.

    iHealth Saunas