I went to Germany, I had my cold shower. But that was in August and my idea for this month’s blog was to talk about solar showers since we were spending the last weekend in September down on the Gower peninsula in South Wales walking and surfing. Our friends Rossi and Karen, and their son Ollie, live there, and they have a solar thermal system.

But then, as happens to all the best blogs, it got hijacked by a chance remark on the night we arrived. Back in April I was in Wales blogging about Dylan Thomas and his well known tales of showering. What I didn’t mention was that I was sharing the holiday cottage with three Germans (and three Indians) and one evening decided to research the mentality of cold showers. Who takes them and why? And is it true that they are a German thing?

Both Gisela and Rolf scoffed at the idea of cold showers but Margaret was more enthusiastic. However it soon transpired that her cold shower was in fact a hot shower finished off at the end with a colder bit that was quite organised. Outside of legs first six times, then inside of legs six times going up and down the legs followed by the same method on the arms and finally the torso. Afterwards I wish I had asked more questions but at the time I kind of switched off because to my mind that wasn’t really a cold shower!

And then here I was staying at the house of another German so perhaps it was worth raising the subject again. And now I know about the “Kneipp Cure”. Sebastian Kneipp was a Bavarian priest (1821-1897) and one of the founders of the naturopathic movement, but his specialism was a form of hydrotherapy involving the application of water through various methods, temperatures and pressures, which he “invented” after he cured himself of a severe case of tuberculosis by taking short immersions in the freezing cold Danube. It is a movement that is still very strong today, has its own institution, but doesn’t require access to an icy river to get the benefits.

The idea is that using cold water in the way as described to me by Margaret, stimulates the circulation and strengthens the body’s immune system. Rossi knew all about the methods and reckoned that most Germans do. She had a Kneipp book from the 1950’s (printed in Berlin, American sector) full of “how to” diagrams and had recently visited a spa town in Bavaria which has a Kneipp area in the municipal park. There are a series of basins in the park filled with cold water for visitors to dip their hands, arms and feet into. All very interesting.

The next morning I had my shower (not solar heated unfortunately due to the incessant rain of the preceding few days), but it was my first LPG heated one and was a very efficient (probably too efficient if truth be told) 3.6 litres/minute. And did I have the cold shower afterwards? Well, in a word, no. The advice on the Kneipp website says “cold water treatments should be very short and only applied to parts of the body that are already warm!” Having used just 14.5 litres of hot water for the shower I didn’t feel my core temperature was warm enough. (Well that’s my excuse and I‘m sticking to it…)



September 2012 – Cold showers – A public health service broadcast