Confessions of a Therme Addict – Konstanz, Germany, Europe

I developed a firm travel rule years ago – never go anywhere without a bathing suit. Give me a pool of warm water and I’m content. Add some bubbles, natural or injected, and I’ve found Nirvana.

At the end of six days of cycling around Lake Konstanz, “The Bodensee” in Germany, Switzerland and Austria, nothing was going to prevent me from visiting the Bodensee Therme of Konstanz. We had cycled past it in the middle of day two: a huge, modern lakeside swimming complex, so new the landscaping was still in progress. At the end of that day, after riding 45 kilometers, we had visited a similar facility in Ueberlingen, so we knew what to expect. Back in Konstanz for a rest day before the journey home, we still had our rented bicycles; my GPS indicated the Therme was only four kilometers away from our accommodation.

My friend and I spent the morning separately, so I arrived at the Therme by bicycle without my German language supporter. I’d studied German through high school, but had discovered during the days of our ride that my skills had faded more than I thought. Nonetheless, I made use of the abundant bike racks to secure my vehicle, then ventured into the glass-fronted lobby. Standing near the counter, I listened to the receptionist instructing a teenage couple. The procedure seemed similar to that in Ueberlingen, although the layout and pricing structure were different. For fifteen euros I could enjoy the sports pool, thermal pools, and sauna for three and a half hours. That was enough to waterlog even this old Scorpio water lover.

When my turn came, I discovered that the young woman behind the counter spoke more English than I did German. While her instructions for using the computer-chip enabled access bracelet were not comprehensive, combined with my previous experience across the lake, they were adequate.

Beyond the first turnstile I found a long counter below a window supplied with mirrors and blow dryers. That was for the end of the visit. Opposite this was a row of doors – the dressing rooms. I selected one and lowered the lever that locked the doors on both sides of the cubicle. Once I’d changed into my swimsuit and tucked my clothes into my pack, shoes dangling from the straps, I opened the doors and exited through the opposite one from where I’d entered. This put me in a unisex locker room where I selected a numbered locker. Unlike Ueberlingen, where the locker numbers were matched to the bracelet, here I had to pick a number I could remember. Hold the bracelet against the knob, press, and rotate, and the locker is secured, matched to the bracelet in the facility’s computer system. A scanner at the end of one row of lockers read the bracelet and displayed my remaining time. Yikes, I had already used ten minutes!

As I looked for the way to the pools, I was met by a naked man emerging from one of the dressing rooms. He proceeded through a glass door into the sauna area. As in Ueberlingen, the saunas are “keine textile” (and keine children, as far as I could tell). As it turned out, the stairs down to the pools were through those same doors, so I followed.

The turnstile at the top of the pool steps yielded to my bracelet and I descended into the huge, glass-walled indoor pool area. The big thermal pool was indoor/outdoor, with a small passage through the glass wall. Adjacent were a smaller hot Jacuzzi and a shallow kids’ pool with fountains and jets. Actually, there were fountains and jets everywhere, but more on that later. Along the back wall were toilets, showers and changing rooms. Under the staircase there was a snack bar, with indoor and outdoor seating. Ahead of me through a side door was the outdoor sports pool. Only later did I realize one could enter this pool inside and swim out through another passage in the wall, rather than be exposed to the chilly outdoor air – perfect design for a year round facility. Fortunately, the air temperature was in the sixties.

As I approached the fifty meter pool, a man in a Speedo dove into one of the lanes and started swimming. When was the last time I’d been to a public pool where one was allowed to dive?
All of the roped lap lanes were taken, so I stepped up next to the last rope that divided the lap lanes from the recreational swim area and dove in. There were only a few people in this vast part of the pool, and I was able to swim ten laps – a kilometer – without interference, or interfering. By the time I was done, the formerly clear blue sky had clouded over. It was disappointing to lose the sunshine – there’s something about swimming in sunlight that energizes me. Throughout our week around the Bodensee, we’d had a fair share of rain, so the clouds were no surprise. I skipped the water slide adjacent to the sports pool. I think I’m a little long in tooth for it – I only saw kids and teens using it. Instead I used the water passage to go back inside and commence my exploration of the thermal pools.

According to their website, the water in the thermal pools comes from a nearby natural spring. It’s brought up from 660 meters down and is 85 degrees when it reaches the surface. It’s suitable for both bathing and drinking, according to the Therme’s staff doctor.

There are several separate banks of jets in the warm pools. They are cleverly arrayed at different heights and intensities, and include both jets and bubblers. There are submerged railings adjacent to jets in the wall floor, so you can position yourself perfectly for just the right water massage. The various groups cycle on and off at intervals; for a while the ones on the left are on, with the row of bubbling beds boiling away. Then the right comes on and the overhead waterfalls and lower-body jets spurt madly.

My favorite area was what I nicknamed the donut (or bagel, if you prefer). It was a circular outdent in the pool side with an inner circular wall with a five or so foot opening. Inside the inner circle were jets and a couple of overhead waterfall type showers. Around the outer wall of the outer circle, except for the gap where one enters, were jets angled sharply sideways. When this set of jets came on, people plunged through the opening to be propelled around the donut. Adults, kids, parents holding little ones on their shoulders – everyone got into it. Teenage boys clung to the side near a jet trying to resist both the water pressure and the other people bumping into them in their nearly out-of-control rotation. Exiting the current at the entrance gap was hard. Swimmers often smashed into the far wall before being picked up by the next jet for another round, whether they wanted to or not. Timid swimmers hung at the entrance, reluctant to let go and be carried around.

Eventually I retired from the pool (when the donut jets went off) and tried the Jacuzzi. That’s where my friend found me. I had the singular pleasure of introducing her to my new favorite water sport when the jets came back on.

Finally we retired to the saunas, progressing from warm, to cold dip, to hot, to cold dip, and trying out all the different shower options. One was an overhead wooden bucket. You took a deep breath and pulled the cord to be doused with cold water. Another was a booth with three controls for overhead rain, overhead mist, or side nozzles. Sitting in the dry saunas we could look out at towel wrapped people sitting at the bar quaffing beer. What a life!

My time was running out. I couldn’t experience the last thermal pool in a quiet space in the sauna area adjacent to the sun deck. After final showers, rather like coals to Newcastle (my hair needed conditioning), we figured out how to unlock our lockers with the magic bracelets. We made use of the dressing rooms and blow dryers.

I was sorry to pedal away from the Therme. I am already plotting my next visit to the Bodensee to experience it again.

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