Last fall, three cowboys – accompanied by country music, flashing lights and waving towels – strutted into a dark, steamy room packed with people. It wasn’t a Shania concert, or a western-themed rave. It was an international sauna competition in Berlin, and this trio of mavericks was performing “show” Aufguss, an amped-up version of the continental European sauna ritual.
In Aufguss (meaning “infusion”), a sauna master, or Aufgussmeister, throws essential-oil-infused water onto a sauna’s burning stones, then swings towels to circulate the hot air. The stylized towel movements, akin to tossing pizza dough or waving a lasso, allow the Aufgussmeister to control the temperature in the sauna while periodically directing blasts of fragrant steam toward guests to evoke different moods and sensations.
Show Aufguss is gaining momentum in European countries with strong sauna cultures, like Austria, Germany and Italy. Combining a sauna’s endorphin-fuelled euphoria with storytelling, costumes and music, it takes place in large event saunas outfitted with high-tech lighting and sophisticated sound systems.