Thursday, 12 October 2017

Interview with a Sauna Master (Wellness)

Wooden sauna house in the garden of Vabali Spa in Berlin.
Sauna Garden. Vabali Spa (Berlin, Germany). Photo © Vabali
Whipping red hot air into naked strangers' faces might not sound like an obvious career choice, but with wellness retreats and spas springing up across Germany, the role of sauna master is certainly an alternative way to pay the rent. Andreas (34) works as a sauna master at Vabali Spa, a luxury wellness retreat in the heart of Berlin. Isabell (28) is a thermal bath expert who works at the famous Friedrichsbad & Caracalla in Baden-Baden. Exploring the theme of wellness in Germany, Simon Raven "grills" the pair in a bid to explore this hot new profession…

1. How do you become a sauna master?

Andreas: I started out as a pool attendant at Vabali Spa in Berlin, and then became a sauna master by lateral entry and in-house special training.

Isabell: In Baden-Baden the education takes two weeks with a finishing exam.

2. Why do the sauna masters wear textiles, while the guests must be textile free?

Andreas: We are not part of the guest community and therefore show decency by wearing clothes.

Isabell: The clothing of the sauna staff can be variable. But in general we feel a uniform looks more aesthetic.

3. Why do sauna masters sometimes wear gloves?

Andreas: To prevent blisters when using a fan during the Fan Infusion.

Isabell: You can easily burn yourself with hot water when pouring it onto the stones during the infusions.

4. Do you get used to the temperatures of the sauna?

Andreas: Absolutely – I have even developed an affinity for the heat!

5. How many litres of water do you drink during work hours?

Isabell: We recommend drinking a lot, at least 2-3 litres of water per day.

Andreas: During a long shift I can drink as much as five to seven litres.

6. How many hours do you spend in a sauna per week?

Andreas: It depends on the rota system, some work a little more in the sauna area, others more in the spa area.

Isabell: 240 minutes per day (4 infusions per day/ 5 days of the week)

7. Do you use the saunas yourself in your free time?

Isabell: This depends on the individual employee, some of them do.

Andreas: I really like to visit the saunas at Vabali, even though it is my workplace. I love the tranquillity and the heat.

8. How do you cater for everyone? Some people like the infusion to be very hard, whereas people visiting for the first time may prefer soft?

Isabell: At Caracalla in Baden-Baden our infusions are based on the specifications of the Sauna-Bund e.V. (German Sauna association). We offer infusions in a large sauna and a small sauna. In the small sauna, the infusions become much hotter.

Andreas: In total we have eight saunas and three steam baths at Vabali. Since our saunas are different temperatures (from 55 to 95°C) we cater for everybody’s requirements, and of course we are happy to recommend guests the sauna which will fit best for them.

9. Where is the hottest and coolest place to sit in the sauna?

Andreas: The hottest place in a sauna is the uppermost bench. This is because of the scientific principle that hot air rises. Therefore, the coolest place in a sauna is the lowest bench.

10. Are you medically trained in case something goes wrong? Has anything ever gone wrong?

Andreas: The sauna masters at Vabali are required to complete a first aid course every two years. I am also benefiting from my work experience as a pool attendant.

Isabell: All employees have completed first aid training. In very serious cases, we would call the emergency services.

11. Which are your favourite infusions? 

Andreas: My favourite infusions at Vabali are: Wenik Infusion and Classical Infusion. Wenik infusion is Russian for birch branch. The infusion consists of pure birch extract, which we get from birch branches that are soaked in water overnight. Birch extract supports hair growth and cleans the skin. During the breaks, guests are served ice to cool down. The Classical Infusion is a shorter duration (eight minutes), but high intensity (95°C). The infusion features scented water. 

12. Which are the most popular infusions?

Isabell: In Baden-Baden the most popular infusions are: "Breathe deeply in the forest" - which is accompanied by sound, "herb garden" - which utilises incredible smell, and "lemon freeze" - which focuses on a natural exfoliating skin peel. 

Andreas: The most popular infusions in Berlin are: Yoghurt, Honey, or Mint Fresh. Yoghurt Infusion: During the second break, guests can apply a special yoghurt-aloe veramixture to their skin. It stimulates blood circulation, cares for and softens the skin. Honey Infusion: With several minerals, micronutrients and vitamins, honey is a real miracle cure. Applied between infusions, it softens and nourishes the skin. Mint Fresh Infusion: Menthol crystals are put on the sauna stones shortly before the infusion. The essential oils relieve the lungs and leave a cooling sensation on the skin – perfect for a hot day.

13. Which sauna is the hottest temperature? Which is more mild?

Andreas: The hottest sauna is our Garden Sauna (95C°). The Bio Lounge Sauna (55C°) features the mildest temperature at Vabali Spa.

Isabell: The sauna temperatures range from 57°C (Sanarium) to 95°C (fire sauna).

14. Do people visit the spa for relaxation, or to improve health?

Isabell: In Baden-Baden both options are possible. For the traditional full relaxation and health experience, people tend to visit Friedrichsbad. At the adjoining new complex, Caracalla Therme, there are more options available including Aqua Aerobics classes and a saltwater inhalation room to improve breathing. The new spa is designed to be fun - we even have an indoor waterfall.

Andreas: People also come to Vabali for both relaxation and health. Each guest has his or her own individual motivation. Vabali Spa is not a “traditional” sauna facility. It is an oasis of tranquillity in the heart of Berlin. There are a lot of different ways to relax here. Guests can go swimming in our indoor or outdoor pools, enjoy a massage, have a meal in a relaxing and calm atmosphere, recover energy in our numerous resting rooms with waterbeds, or take a walk through our beautiful garden.

15. The job of a sauna master is very physical. Do you exercise outside of work? What sports or fitness activities do you do in Berlin?

Andreas: Besides going to the gym and making a lot of athletic sports, I practise taekwondo and make CrossFit workouts.

16. Andreas, do you consider Berlin to be a healthy city?

Andreas: Berlin is a green city with a lot of parks, considering its size. It is versatile in all aspects of life and culture. If you want to, you can live very healthily here, enjoy organic food, participate in a lot of sports and rest in the nature.

17. Can you be healthy and still drink alcohol and go to bars and clubs?

Isabell: Wellness stands for relaxation. It is a chance to forget the daily routine. So in my opinion a wellness day should end calmly.

18. What percentage of spa guests are tourists?

Andreas: About 20 to 25 percent of guests at Vabali are tourists, and numbers are rising. For this reason the whole spa is now signposted in German and English.

Isabell: We have a high percentage of tourists (especially in summer time) as well as local guests. The Roman-Irish baths in Baden-Baden are very famous and people visit the spa from across the world: Japan, Russia and even as far as the USA and Australia. 

Follow the links to find out more about the amazing sauna and spa treatments on offer at Vabali Spa in Berlin, and Friedrichsbad & Caracalla Therme in Baden-Baden.