In Bad Wörishofen, Sebastian Kneipp developed his natural healing method, which consists of much more than just treading water. Guests can take a cure at the birthplace of German wellness and return home in better health.
People roll up their pant legs and step barefoot into the Wörthbach stream, which meanders through the village. They wade leisurely back and forth, stork-like. No trace of any hectic rush. The same scene appears at the water basins in the spa park, indeed everywhere in the town. We are in Bad Wörishofen, the original home of 'water-stepping'. This is where wellness originated in Germany.
There are 23 treading pools spread around the village. These special pools, in which spa guests immerse themselves up to their knees or even their forearms, can be attributed to the priest Sebastian Kneipp, who lived and worked here. Many consider him the founder of the wellness movement, and Bad Wörishofen was the setting for it.
"If there is any cure for me, it will be water," Kneipp said. He experienced it first hand as a student, when he contracted tuberculosis. He took dipping baths in the Danube - and recovered. 2021 marks Kneipp's 200th birthday.
Over the years Kneipp developed more than 120 water treatments, of which water treading is the most famous. Guests take arm baths and facial showers under the supervision of doctors and therapeutic staff in spa hotels and B&Bs. They have cold water poured over their arms with a watering can and give themselves thigh showers with a hose.
Benefits: Blood flow to the blood vessels is improved, circulation is stimulated and the body's defences are strengthened. Kneipp sessions provide a turbo boost for your health. They have a preventive effect and can contribute to healing and rehabilitation. They also have a cosmetic effect, because the showers tighten the skin. The invigorating effect of a cold arm bath is described as a "Kneippian espresso". Treading water shortly before going to bed, on the other hand, can ensure restful sleep.
The treading pools in Bad Wörishofen can be used free of charge and are equipped with instructions so that you can also perform your own kneippings at any time. Doing the stork walk, headaches are dispelled, blood pressure is lowered, and the body is toughened up. Most people feel a lot fitter by the time they go home again. Local doctors recommend a spa stay of at least three to four weeks for the therapy to take effect. And you can take a piece of Wörishofen home with you: because you can also Kneipp at home. All that is needed is a hose in the shower and a footbath or stream nearby for stork walking. One basic rule always applies: never put cold water on cold skin, otherwise you risk catching a cold.
Over the decades, Kneipp refined his teaching, which consists of five pillars and is so flexible that anyone can apply it: in addition to water therapy, it includes herbs and medicinal plants, exercise, nutrition and, as the overriding goal, internal balance. Those who kneipp learn how to bring better structure into their lives, how not to overload themselves, how to find not only physical but also mental relaxation.
Kneipp is a holistic philosophy of life like Ayurveda or Yoga, and it is considered the only natural healing method of a Traditional European Medicine - comparable to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). In 2015, the German UNESCO Commission included "Kneippen as traditional knowledge and practice according to the teachings of Sebastian Kneipp" in the nationwide register of intangible cultural heritage.
And Bad Wörishofen is the perfect place to find the key to Kneipp happiness. Located in the hilly Unterallgäu region of Bavaria, you can go hiking, cycling, walking or strolling and in doing so you have already followed one piece of advice - provided you don't overdo it. "Inactivity weakens, exercise strengthens, overwork harms", said Kneipp. With your body warmed up, you come back to the hotel or the spa grounds well prepared for the next water treatment, which itself invites you to go for a walk and experience Kneipp's teachings first hand.
In addition to treading water, you can walk along a barefoot path. It is one and a half kilometres through a cone pit and mud ditch, over soft sand and through the stream. A labyrinth leads you over stone, wood and cherry stones, so the foot massage is quickly completed. Another barefoot path leads you out into nature to a Kneipp facility. "The first step in toughening up always remains walking barefoot," said Kneipp.
He also said something else that sums up the herbal cornerstone of his teachings: "Nature is the best pharmacy". The "herbal priest" himself researched over 40 plants and their healing powers, and described the effects: lemon balm for better sleep, aniseed for cramps, a clover bath for itching, or thyme and eucalyptus for bronchial diseases.
In the spa facilities, guests soak in hot baths with herbal bath additives, drink teas brewed with fresh herbs, and use tinctures that promise relief. On a walk in the herb garden of the spa park, guests learn how medicinal plants grow, blossom and thrive. The park also includes an aroma garden, with more than 250 different scented plants. Visitors can also take a deep breath at a wall made of bundles of brushwood covered in salt, at the Rehabilitation Centre, which can be used free of charge. Breathing in the salty air has an expectorant and anti-inflammatory effect.
At the green Bad Wörishofen, where hardly any cars drive because of traffic calming, Kneipp himself keeps watch in the form of a large statue. A street was named after him, and the old monastery houses a Kneipp museum that traces the life of this same priest. Soon it will also be possible to take a walk through Bavaria's first healing forest, which is currently in the planning stage. Those seeking relaxation can feel the healing power of the trees during "forest bathing" in the Japanese tradition of "Shinrin-yoku". The forest climate is pure, with higher humidity. This is effective against respiratory diseases and stress - a perfect complement to Kneipp.
Kneipp is more relevant than ever in a world where people long for quality time or want to balance work-life. Kneipp's attitude to food could also be found today in any current newspaper: "Eat more plant-based food, less of the animal-based." In Bad Wörishofen, however, this is not a new idea, but a long-standing tradition that is reflected in the menus of the many local restaurants and inns. Balanced dishes can be found on the menus, wholefood cuisine with plenty of vitamins, trace elements and minerals. Professional chefs have been opting for a mixed diet and using regional products for a long time.
Wholefood cuisine with herbs from the monastery garden, for example, is served where Kneipp's teachings first originated: the Dominican convent, the nucleus of Bad Wörishofen's spa and success story. You can even spend the night there, in the exact place where Father Kneipp refined his naturopathy. The old walls, through whose corridors the wellness pioneer walked, have housed a hotel since 1981. With its own spa pool facilities, of course.