With a tear in one eye and laughter in the other I am looking at my almost packed suitcase. One more sleep and I’ll be on the way home. I had a wonderful three week “Kur-Holiday” in relaxing Bad Woerishofen with daily concerts morning, afternoon and evening, long walks in the forests listening to cuckoos and song birds and after a few kilometers a stop in a place offering the most fantastic meals or cakes… early mornings are busy with treatments, between 4 and 5 AM a wrapping or hay-pack (called the morphine of the Kneipp cure) in bed, an hour later an alternate rinse or bath for arms, legs or back, whatever the doctor ordered, after that twice a week a massage or reflex zone treatment for feet up to the knee, bedrest after that for an hour, breakfast (no chance to lose weight – unless you are on a type of fast) a 3-course noon meal at 12.30 and a lighter evening meal at 6 PM. I always needed a nap… did I have time for shopping? Yes and no, not enough. Shops close over noon hours, are not open after 5.30 or 6.00, Saturdays they close at 12.30 and only once a month are open Sundays. I want to come back next year, God willing to give me good health for traveling. Wanna come?
The centre boulevard in the relatively small but world-renowned Bavarian Spa city of Bad Woerishofen was filled with people slowly walking to and fro. Everybody had time, nobody was hurrying. Occasionally a biker would wind his way through the throng, attracting annoyed looks because this was a walking street. Most bikers wore either lederhosen or a typical Bavarian dirndl dress, an indication they lived and worked here in one of the elegant houses or hotels. Little ice cream parlours, small cafés with lots of outdoor seating had clusters of people milling around waiting for a table. I loved sitting there, watching people. Everybody was dressed up like in the good old times. Jeans? Hardly. Elegant elderly couples were holding hands or had their arms around each other, smiling and talking, looking happy and relaxed. They had met here during their “Kur” and enjoyed a ‘fling’. They were each other’s “Kurschatten”, the ‘shadow’ who stayed with them as long as they were here. Married people just didn’t act like that…
Flowerbeds with seasonal plants were alongside a small but very fast flowing stream coming from the Alps on one side of the boulevard. Little bridges crossed for access to shopping at the elegant boutiques, offering the best of everything money can buy. Their sales people were chic and sophisticated, so much so that one didn’t even dare to enter. How do they get you to enter? There was always a sales rack next to the entrance. If you stopped to see if there was something affordable they were right there and lured you in…
Would you believe that this elegant boulevard with those enticing shopping venues used to be a mud path for the cows to come home to their barns on the left and the right? The first time I was here was in 1958 and I saw it with my own eyes. Some farmers didn’t sell out and still lived in their old, but now groomed, houses but the barns were turned into condos and townhouses or shops.
Today I was checking the sales rack of a men’s shop. I loved buying something for my grown son or the significant other in my life – if there was one at the time. For myself – I didn’t really need anything. It was more of I wanted something – if I couldn’t resist. Before I knew it I was inside this super elegant gentlemen’s shop, looking around, wanting to compare prices, but there weren’t any. If you had to ask – you can’t afford it anyway. A well dressed, above middle-age, lady stood at one of the glass counters and apparently had a hard time to choose from several beautiful ties. She held one after the other against a pale cream coloured shirt. Fascinated I stopped and watched her. She must have felt my admiring looks at her incredible jewellery, complementing her elegant finely knitted dress. She glanced at me, gave me this tiny little smile and asked me,
“ Which of these ties would you buy?” I had already made up my mind, so I pointed to a buttercup yellow one with tiny specs of light gray in it. It looked great next to that shirt. The set would not look good on my young son, it was way too elegant. But for the husband of this lady? Or her ‘Kurshadow’? Perfect.
When I heard the price I almost choked on my own saliva but I behaved and slowly moved away. I didn’t even want to know the price of the shirt. I probably could have bought two or three suits for my son in a ‘normal’ shop. I left and was looking at a jewellery display window next door when I saw the reflection of the lady in the window. Now it was my turn to glance at her. Would I mind joining her for an ice cream? She was alone here and would enjoy my company. We spent at least two hours chatting and getting to know each other.
We parted at dinner time but made a date for the daily evening concert. Since I was in charge of my time as well we spent most of the next three days of her visit going on walks, sitting in one of the many cafés and I heard many of her life stories. Some were very shocking. I had never known anyone who had been sexually abused as a child by her father. Her mother had accused her of lying and was very cross with her, she never believed her. The abuse started when she was ten and went on until she finished grade school, ran away and then lived with her grandmother. The father had also abused her younger sister who was only eight.Their mother never believed either girl and made their life hell. “Helga” – my new friend – got married to a very nice man, they had a daughter but her husband died after twelve years. She worked as a waitress, she became an office girl, and she worked her way up and a few years ago became the secretary and then the mistress of a wealthy gemologist. His wife was begging her to keep the romance going since she does not want sex with her husband anymore. He never left his family and she was agreeable to the setup. She asked me to visit her in her hometown as soon as I had a chance.
When we first met I was in Bavaria with a group of Canadians to enjoy the health spa. Helga was intrigued and readily agreed to come to my hotel, share our dinner and meet them. I vividly remember her entrance to our cozy dining room. She stood in the door, looked over the different tables to our large one with this incredible one-thousand watt smile. All conversation stopped and everybody looked at her. She really was a sight to behold. She had this special radiance about her as if she was lit up from within. Three of my single Canadian men told me later,
“What a woman! My God, that lady can really light up a room.”
I can only think of one other who can do that: Julia Roberts. We exchanged telephone numbers but never had any correspondence. It was the late eighties. A year later I visited her after my annual group had left. By that time her lover had died of a heart attack and she was left in charge of his business with a generous salary. He had also appointed her to be the executor for his family. There were three grown children over twenty. She had tried to refuse but the wife begged her to accept since otherwise her children would pressure her for money-money-money and squander everything. The son was into betting on horse racing. One girl was into partying and drinking and the other child was still under age. The two women became quite close.
By this time, Helga’s own mother was now also in need of help and asked her estranged daughters for assistance. Her sister absolutely refused to even see her mother. Helga felt obligated to take on the deed. Her father had passed away a few years earlier. I heard more horror stories and the worst was that the mother still did not believe that her husband had abused his own daughters. Helga was totally stressed out because her mother failed to control her anger against her girls every time Helga was there. She refused to go into a care home. My common sense advice was of no use. Helga felt she needed to be there for her mom despite everything. The government could even order her to pay for the mother’s upkeep. She chose to do it out of her own free will and her sister never helped her. I invited her to visit me in Canada and we made plans. She had a cousin in New York and got excited about the prospect to visit her as well on the same trip.
It was the beginning of June the next year. I was already back in Canada from my annual trip to Bavaria and had an early appointment. I was on the way out of my door when my phone rang. I grabbed it on the run thinking it might be my secretary but it was Helga. She wanted to talk to me but I told her I had a meeting, was working all day and would get back to her the next morning because of the nine-hour time difference. She made small talk, seemed to want to hold on but I was already late. Somehow I felt guilty but really, I had no choice but to hang up. I couldn’t get her out of my mind all day. I stayed up late and phoned her at midnight, about nine in the morning her time. There was no answer. I tried several times during the day to no avail. I decided to write her a long letter. I never heard from her, no letter, no call. I tried every few weeks. Then, in September, I received my own letter to her back with a note next to her address: “Adressat verstorben” – meaning this person has died. I had to sit down. I never knew anyone who was so full of spirit and life, who was so sparkling and had lately tried to find another partner through an ad, went to dancing classes, exercise classes, had many lady friends; how could she be dead? Impossible! I had no way to get any other information since she had never given me the address of her daughter who lived with her boyfriend in another city.
Another year came around and I took my new Canadian group to the lovely spa city in Bavaria. By pure chance, I met a younger lady who came from the same city where Helga had lived and, to top it off, her mother was in the same exercise class. What I heard next shocked me and now, about thirty years later, I am still not at peace with it. Apparently, Helga had planned to renovate her condo and had made an appointment for a representative from a construction company to come at 4.00 PM and give her an estimate on the day she had phoned me. To his surprise the door was open, he called out and then went in looking for her. Beautiful flowers were on the table, Beethoven music was filling the room, lots of candles were lit, there was a festive mood, a wine bottle, and a half full glass was on a side table by the couch where she was resting. He couldn’t raise her and, shocked, he spotted an empty pill bottle next to the wine glass. He realized what must have happened, knocked on the neighbour’s door, an ambulance and the police came. Too late. She was gone. Had she made the appointment with this man to make sure she was found? Alive – or dead?
Why did she do it? What had happened? Did her mother drive her to it, did the early childhood years catch up because of the constant fighting? Why did she phone me? What was it she needed to tell me? Why didn’t she scream it out to me that morning… Why? Nobody will ever know. She did not leave a note. She had not talked to any of her lady friends or her daughter. None of them knew her secret. Did she tell me because I was a stranger? I feel guilty to this very day because I had no time to listen. Listen to a friend in need, a friend desperate for my ear. Or did she just want to say goodbye, had planned her exit from this world and I couldn’t have done anything anyway?
God, I wish I knew.
Sebastian Kneipp was by no means the inventor or the first one to use ‘water’ for healing. The Persians used water therapy 5000 years ago, the Romans did several hundred years ago followed by a decline caused by an outbreak of venereal diseases. (Too many unwashed bodies sitting in the same pool) Two medical doctors, Father Siegmund and son Johann Siegmund Hahn are credited with bringing the idea of using water to improve health back to life in the very early 18th century. The little book “The Effect of Water unto and into the Human Body” (loosely translated) was the next BIG step in the developing water therapy. Before S. Kneipp discovered this book and used its recommendations, got well and is now known as “The Water Doctor” several other personalities using their own form of water therapy need to be mentioned.
A farmer’s son, Vincent Priessnitz in Austria with similar experiences as the later living Kneipp. Johann Schroth, who developed the “Schroth Kur” involving some water therapy, extreme fasting with very light vegetarian food, walking and interesting ‘dry’ and ‘wet’ drinking days. The ‘wet’ days starting with a glass of light wine. This “Kur” is still offered in Oberstaufen, Bavaria and people from far and wide attend. Another, a very sick man coming from USA was Benedict Lust who spent time with Father Kneipp as well as attending the Oberstaufen Kur, got well and started the “natural healing movement” in America. He studied medicine and became one of the founders of modern Naturopathy on his continent. There were a number of others, especially in the UK, who contributed to the development.
Father Kneipp started out with just cold water. He insisted to get warmed up before any treatment through wood splitting or fast walking and having a bed rest covered in blankets after the treatment to induce the body to heat up and sweat out the disease causing impurities. The rule is “no cold treatment on a cold body.” To go back to bed for up to an hour after any prescribed water treatment is still followed to this day. The reason is to get the body to respond, create warmth and thereby also affect the immune system. During the last twenty years of his life (he died 1897) Father Kneipp gradually changed his approach. As he saw not just tough hard working men but more and more aristocrats, weaklings in his estimation who had to be ‘built up’ he came from cold water to alternate and from full body immersion or ablutions to partial body treatments and warned ‘no two treatments on different body parts one after the other.’ So if the legs were treated in the morning you did not get a treatment for the arms or the upper body until the afternoon. There should be at least three hours between applications. For physiologic reasons the medical profession confirmed the wisdom of it, once they got involved.
“I bequest my system to the medical profession with the challenge to keep it, improve it but mostly, make it accessible to all.” That was written in his testament. Over the years following his death there were disagreements between the Brotherhoods who had received his sanatoria and different doctors. After WWI wounded and recovering soldiers were sent to Wörishofen for rehabilitation. During the time of the Great Depression until after WWII there was a decline but the flood of wounded soldiers during and after WWII caused a resurgence of the “Water Cure”. A few years after the West German Republic was founded and life had stabilized, the German Insurance companies paid for a “Kneipp-Kur” for their members when prescribed by a medical doctor. It proved less expensive than other methods of rehabilitation. In the nineteen-eighties the Insurance companies even started to build their own sanatoria. The Austrian Government approved a study with 15.000 people led by trained Kneipp-Doctors which proved without a doubt that the group treated with conventional PLUS Kneipp treatments recovered much faster than the group treated the old way and reduced the health care cost by three times.
An International Kneipp Organisation and a Kneipp Doctors Association were founded before Kneipp died and they encompass now thousands of people worldwide. You’ll find Kneipp groups in almost every German town and in most of Austria, Switzerland and other European countries as well as Africa. More than anywhere else Kneipp Spa sanatoria are all over Germany, often the treatments combined with climatic or terrain cures. The full “Kur” consisting of three or four weeks, requires one to be under medical supervision, and now rests on five pillars:
- Water: Treatments consisting of all forms of water: Cold, warm, alternate, steam; full body treatments or partial treatments with water from washings, immersions, ablutions, packs, body wraps partial or full treatments according to the health issues diagnosed and prescribed by a certified Kneipp doctor. They are administered by a certified Kneipp Therapist.
- Herbs: The use of the healing power of herbs inside and out. Herbal infusions or extractions in all bath treatments.
- Food: Simple, healthy, wholesome nutritional food, diet if doctor recommended. Herbal teas although Kneipp also allows a wheat beer on occasion. At this point I would like to mention that Kneipp was the first to collect and catalogue herbs and healing plants which became the base for what we now know as “Naturopathy” and “Homeopathy.” Another man very much involved in this development was Kneipp’s former patient, Benedict Lust from America who is the “Father of Naturopathy” in USA.
- Exercise: Active and passive exercise. All forms of exercise from yoga to walking, biking and everything in between. Passive exercise consists of all forms of massage used to increase circulation.
- Emotional and spiritual balance: Kneipp said: “In all my years of treating people I have never found any healing taking place until emotional and spiritual balance was restored.”
“DO NOT FORGET YOUR SOUL”
The easiest water treatments are the ‘water stepping’ and the cold ‘arm bath’. All Kneipp Spa cities and most Kneipp Groups in villages and towns have established water stepping sites along their hiking and walking trails in forests, meadows, and many resting places in parks. After a good hike the water stepping is very refreshing and surely will avoid swollen and tired legs. The water usually comes from a stream and is quite cold. You walk through the basin two or three times like a stork, lifting the leg out of the water for an exchange of air-water, air-water until the cold “bites”. Now it’s time to get out and walk on the adjacent lawn until your feet are dry and starting to get warm; sit down on a bench and put socks and shoes back on. Just use your fingers to rub the place between the toes dry to avoid the moist warm spots that fungus likes.
Usually next to the stepping basin is also an arm bath trough. A sign tells you NEVER do both, the stepping and the arm bath. Many people prefer the stepping for the incredible feeling of wellbeing. The arm bath feels refreshing as well, it especially clears your head, lifts your mood, and in general is good for your heart, lungs, brain. Take a deep breath before you dip your right arm in first, followed by the left and e-x-h-a-l-e deeply. Now breathe normally. Count to about twenty or thirty or wait until the cold ‘bites’. Lift the arms out, stroke the water off with your hands and swing the arms until dry while walking around on the nice lawn next to the stepping basin. Make sure the hands and arms get warm again. It feels good to wear a long sleeved shirt or something of that nature after the bath.
In both cases, water stepping or arm bath, – do not use a towel to dry the skin! Stroking the water drops off and letting the air dry you, is the water doctor’s prescription! By the way, you can do water stepping in your bath tub and a cold arm bath in your sink at home.
For detailed advice on how to use water for healing at home, order my inexpensive booklet with photos from: https://giselleroeder.com/bookstore/ or send me a message on my FB page https://www.facebook.com/WeDontTalkAboutThat since I still have a few copies for the special price of $7.00 plus (approximately) $4.00 postage.
Can you imagine the triumphant reception when Father Kneipp returned from Rome to his small little village? Not excommunicated, but praised by the Pope? The simple folks at home had trouble pronouncing and calling him ‘Monsignor’ – but he just laughed and said ‘don’t even try, I am what I always was, your ‘Father Kneipp’. He had been sent to Wörishofen by the Archbishop to hide him away, to get him away from the ‘water splashing’ and just be the Father Confessor to the nuns of the existing convent in a small village in the middle of nowhere. These nuns were mainly second and third daughters of rich aristocrats who couldn’t be “married off “, a privilege reserved just for first born babies, sons to inherit and daughters to marry other heirs. The nuns had spent their days singing and praying and were shocked when Father Kneipp told them “Ora et Labora” – pray and work, because work is a form of praying. He ordered them to tend the overgrown gardens, plant and harvest vegetables for the convent’s dinner table and establish an herb garden. They had to perform kitchen duties and clean their own quarters. Tears and complaints about ruining their soft white hands in dirt and sun did not result in suspension from work; pretending to be sick or having a sore back resulted in being treated with water.
The convent was close to bankruptcy despite owning fast stretches of land, meadows and acreages, forests and streams. Father Kneipp found the acreages and meadows were “sour” but knew the farmers would not accept his advice, the advice of a priest, who knew how to change it. Therefore he invented “Fritz” and wrote booklets about “Fritz, the successful Farmer”, “Fritz the Bee Keeper” and several others. The advice was followed and the land became rich and fruitful, the farmers were happy and the convent thrived with “Fritz’s” help.
Despite his book “My Water Cure” to keep them away, health seekers and especially poor people kept coming. The laundry room of the convent became the first treatment center. The odd items used in this “Wash House” are displayed in a specially built hut at the ‘Promenade” in what is now ‘Bad Wörishofen’. Several nuns and handpicked men became helpers and the first therapists. A few curious doctors asked permission to attend Father Kneipp’s hour of seeing people and hoped ‘to trip’ him. The deep knowledge of the human condition and his uncanny right diagnosis, but especially his healing success puzzled them. Some stayed on to learn, others went home all over Europe to start their own ‘Kneipp Spa’. An ever increasing stream of visitors with no accommodations aside from hay barns enticed entrepreneurs to start building hotels, guest houses and restaurants. Kneipp had written more books. He used the royalties and the donations freely given by the wealthy to build two sanatoria, the “Sebastianeum” and the “Kneippianum” and a wonderful “Children’s Hospital” where a mother or father could stay with their sick child until ‘cured’. Kneipp, once upon a time a very poor boy, was now considered “rich” but in truth he did not own anything. He donated those buildings to different catholic brotherhoods (i.e. the Benedictines) to run and take care of other health seeking brothers. There is a rumor the “Sebastianeum” was empty on many nights – and since one entrepreneur had built a hotel for nuns close by that’s where the brothers could be found… Don’t take my word for it! The Children’s Hospital was given to a convent and run by nuns.
I have stayed in the now, available for both sexes, “Sebastianeum” (168 beds) several times. I always felt close to Father Kneipp as all his advice and his teachings are followed there. I consider him to be one of my spiritual fathers. The “Kneippianum”, still run by nuns today, was developed into a highly specialized clinic for heart disease, employs the best doctors; it owns all the diagnostic machines and tools to diagnose and treat patients scientifically, always complemented by Kneipp therapy.
Let’s go back to Kneipp’s history. He saw up to 200 patients a day. He treated everybody the same, calling them by their first name, rich and poor. He ordered everybody to go barefoot and split wood for exercise, including the Archduke of Austria as well as the Maharadsha with forty attendants from India. Kneipp invented the sandal to give the feet the much needed ‘air’. He visited the Children’s Hospital daily. He fulfilled his duties in the convent as Father Confessor for the nuns as well as his duties when he was voted in as the village priest. He was always available for the farmers who now trusted his wisdom about agriculture. He was called to many surrounding villages to treat or spiritually help the ones who could not come to him. He held daily lectures in an open area about the different aspects of health, often attended by up to 5.000 people. Pearls of wisdom about each aspect he was ranting and raving about made it into our day:
“Fresse and saufe wollet se all” = you all want to eat and drink like pigs but nobody wants to die. When you feel you have eaten you have already eaten too much.”
Part 3 will deal with his treatment system as it was developed and used to this day.
May Day is a traditional holiday in several European countries but for me the intriguing part is what leads up to it in Bavaria. A few weeks before the first of May the young males of every village go scouting for the straightest and tallest tree in the surrounding forests. Once they find “the one” they have to guard it to avoid it being claimed by the young men from another rival village. Before anybody can cut any tree they need permission from the Forestry to cut it down and bring it home. Once permission is granted the tree is marked. Now the dangerous game of protecting your own tree and trying to steal another marked for another village is in full swing. The young men of every village, and there are many villages every few kilometers, get involved and they are busy every night with the protection of “their tree” because attempts to succeed are made by every single one. Why? If one village or another succeeds in ‘stealing’ a tree the loser has to pay for all the beer they will drink during that year whenever there is a chance or they get together. I wonder how much beer is already consumed during the cold nights protecting their prospective tree!
The tree has to be cut and brought home in the old fashioned way, no machinery allowed. It also has to be erected without any help of modern conveniences. Ropes and muscle power is what’s needed. The bark is removed in a certain way to leave a design according to tradition in the particular village. Once the tree is “up” a wreath, called a “crown”, is hung at the highest possible spot, often they even attach another small tree on top to reach even greater height. Eighty or even hundred meter high May poles are not rare. All the way down from the top carved logo signs from every profession in the village or city are attached. I gather that those professions, be it a tailor, shoemaker, farmer, hotelier or even the church have to pay to have their painted carvings depicting the profession on the May Pole. And they are proud to do so! Most villagers get involved in the erection of the tree and especially the celebrations during and after they completed the task. Since it is hard work without any mechanical help the men get very thirsty and again lots of beer will find its way into thirsty throats. Usually there is a brewery in the village or close by and they have a fresh brew, the May brew, which surely has to be tested as well. After the May Pole is proudly standing and secured the people hurry home because now they have to prepare for another happening.
April the 30th is ‘Walpurgis Night’. It’s an anxious and frightening night for all the villagers. It is the night when all the witches are loose and they do some crazy things and no one stops them. One year I happened to be in the beautiful Bavarian Health Resort city of Bad Wörishofen and my hosts were taking all their lawn chairs, terrace furniture and garden ornaments into their hallway. They explained to me that these items could end up in a totally different part of the city or even hidden in places you wouldn’t think of looking for them, in some cases overturned or broken. Police? Forget it. After all, the police do not deal with ‘witches’. It’s free rein to do mischief without being punished. Mostly it’s all done in good fun. During breakfast next morning we had a really good laugh because something “new”, never done before, had happened. All the street signs were covered and new names making fun of certain officials or happenings in the village were placed on top. The one most people got a kick out of was “Roter Platz” (Red Square) at the centre surrounding the statue of Father Kneipp, the “Water Doctor”, a priest who had made this city famous during the 19th century. (As a matter of fact, at least 95% of the population still make their living catering to the “Water Kur” guests.) This plaza had recently been tiled with red tiles and the former grass and the flower beds had been removed. The old-timers in the city didn’t like the transition and this joke did not go over too well with the Mayor’s office either. However, the old street names were restored within a few hours.
The first of May is a big holiday! Literally everybody has been praying for sunshine and, with luck, the weatherman has listened. People gather in their old fashioned costumes around the “Kurhaus”, the bands tune their instruments and in good time a parade winds its way throughout the city aiming to end the march at the May Pole. There are lots of stalls with bratwurst, pretzels and beer (of course!), herring buns and home-made torts and cakes hosted by the different women’s groups. There is coffee, ice cream, sugar puffs and drinks for the children and more beer for the ones who happened to be lucky enough to find a seat for the rest of the day. The bands play their catchy tunes, the folk dancers as young as two years old or ninety congregate around the May Pole and do their infectious dances and lots and lots of cameras click to catch the excitement. When the official part is over the pubs fill up and the new fresh Maybock beer leads to the downfall of many a drinker who overestimated their capacity to “hold their beer”. But May Day is fun, it’s so much fun! If you ever have a chance to experience it, – rather than aiming for a big city, try to find a smaller village and mingle with the ‘natives’. And be sure not to overestimate your capacity for the Maybock!