This past weekend, I had my first guest visit! Julie, a friend from Colorado, joined me in Bielefeld for the weekend, making a stop on her road trip across Europe. We got dinner in Bielefeld (Döner of course), and on Saturday, headed to Bad Salzuflen.
Salt Baths in the Woods
30 minutes east of Bielefeld is the bath town of Bad Salzuflen (Bad= bath; Salz= salt; Oflen=woods). The town was established in the middle ages over thermal salt pools found underground and harvested for their medicinal and market value, though it didn’t become a true “Bad” town until the early 1900s.
Walking through the city center you are instantly transported to the seaside, with the briny scent of saltwater in the air and the sound of the water dripping off the Gradierwerk. It’s kind of a silly juxtaposition for me since the only seaside towns I know are the overcrowded, modern, and kitschy ones of California. I felt like my body was in the Middle Ages, but my mind was in the US. The only thing missing was the smell of sunscreen.
What is a spa town?
Bad Salzuflen is a spa town (hence the “Bad” in its name). Like most spa towns, Bad Salzuflen has a geothermal source, in this case, salt. Typically, spa towns will have spa centers and health resorts centered around this source (i.e. Glenwood Springs, Colorado). People come to these spa towns for relaxation and rejuvenation. Breathing the air from salt springs in Bad Salzuflen is said to moisten the respiratory tract and help cleanse bacteria. The best part is you get to keep your clothes on.
With biking and walking trails, the Kurpark combines the best of German outdoor life with the salt spring. Running through the center of the park is the Salze river, and a large pond that smells like the sea. Get a gust a wind and you’ll feel the salty water mist your face. Throughout the park are cafes, theatres, and spas like the Kurhaus and VitaSol. But probably the biggest attraction are the Gradierwerk.
First built in 1767, the Gradierwerk, or Graduation Towers, act as a giant air filter for the town. These large walls meander through the city and make you feel like you’re walking between old ships. Filled with Blackthorn sticks, the Gradierwerk allows 600,000 liters (158,503 gallons) of salt water per day to trickle down the tower, creating a relaxing seaside climate for the town. Benches that line the towers are filled with people taking in the scent and sounds of the Gradierwerk, head facing the sun and bodies relaxed. Even on a cold day like Saturday, people bundled up (including us!) to experience the salt cure.
Julie and I had to experience one of the health spas in Bad Salzuflen, so during our visit, we went to the Salz Grotto located in the Kurgastzentrum. The Salt Grotto is basically what it sounds like. The walls are covered in salt rocks, the floor is a thick layer of Crystal Salt and Sea Salt, and mini Gradierwerk trickle salt water and produce sea air as if you’re lying on the beach. The only thing missing is the sun.
With our jackets on and covered in blankets (it was a brisk 60 degrees in there), we pushed our chairs back and started to relax, listening to the sounds of the water hitting the wood of the Gradierwerk, and the waves from the music. Within seconds, we were both fast asleep. After 45 minutes, we woke up and our Salt Grotto experience was over. I don’t think we were cured of anything by the salts, but we both had great naps!
From my limited experience in Germany, I have noticed the popularity of homeopathic treatments and natural medicine. Even when searching for a doctor it is common to find one that specializes in homeopathy and prescribes natural remedies. In Bad Salzuflen, it’s clear that the city and the people who visit believe in the healing powers of the salt water.
Are all my ailments gone? No.
Did I feel toxins being flushed from my system? No.
Was I relaxed? Yes.
And sometimes, slowing down and taking a nap is the best cure of all.