What are Freibäder?
Published on May 29, 2020 / Updated on January 9, 2024
Summertime in Germany! Biergarten visits, grill evenings, and visits to the Freibad. A free bath? Well, not really. These German institutions are a terrific place to spend a long hot day in the Deutschland.
A Freibad is loosely connected to what we might call a public pool in North America or a lido in the United Kingdom. Loosely, because it is so much more than that. Your average Freibad usually includes at least one big outdoor pool, often several smaller pools, a café, outdoor seating, a grassy meadow for sunbathing, and sometimes even waterslides, playgrounds, whirlpools, saunas, a swimming lake, and more. They became popular in the 19th century, as doctors started extolling the benefits of swimming for health.
Waldbäder is literally forest bath, but it’s not the Japanese concept of forest bathing, though we all know hiking is close to the German heart. It just refers to the surroundings of the Freibad. Therme Bäder are swimming pools heated by thermal springs – these ones usually involve more wellness-type amenities, like saunas, or even brine inhalation rooms. Brine inhalation rooms sound very high tech, but actually a traditional one involves sitting in a small hot room while naturally salty water drips on a pile of hawthorn branches. Steam is pumped in, and you inhale salty air. A bit like that first deep breath at the seaside.
Oh yes! If you arrive in the morning, you will see families wheeling in luggage carts full of food, towels, toys, loungers, and whatever else they may need. You don’t need to temporarily move in, however, to have a good day at the Freibad. Your bathing suit, a towel, some snacks, a book, sunscreen, and maybe a spare battery for your phone is all you really need. I particularly love the sunbathing meadows next to the Freibad. It’s all the best bits of an afternoon at the park with the added benefit of a pool right there. This also allows you to get a bit farther away from the joyfully squealing children playing in the pool, if you’re looking for quiet, or didn’t bring your own squealing children with you.
For those of us used to North American public pools with their paltry snack options, the full-service cafes at the Freibäder are a revelation. A beer to enjoy in the sunshine on the grass? Some currywurst and pommes? Sure. Ice cream, sandwiches, bratwurst, radler, a nice glass of wine – these are all common menu options. If you didn’t pack in your own lunch, of course, which is also allowed. There is nothing like a good bratwurst after a few hours in the pool, accompanied by a cold drink in the sun.
Of course, Freibäder also participate in FKK, or Freikörperkultur. This is the popular German concept of going without clothes. Some Freibäder will have special weekly evenings that are FKK, or certain times of day will be reserved for those who want to go naked. Though pools with waterslides encourage a bit of protection, understandably. Evenings can be quite fancy at some of the big Freibäder, with lights floating on the water, music, and a general party atmosphere.
Practice your water-related words, or how to ask your German crush object out for a day (or an evening) out at your local Freibäder in your next Lingoda lesson. Your German colleagues will be impressed you spent part of your weekend blending in so well, too.