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A day in the hamam

Many of you have certainly been in a sauna before. But have you been in a hamam? Hamams are the Turkish variation of the public steam bath. In the Islamic bathing and body culture, one even spends multiple hours in a hamam, a place of purity and communication.

We visited Sultan Hamam in Berlin and spoiled ourselves. Sultan Hamam is a Turkish family-owned business, run by Özgür Bayraktar. In the 80s, his mother was active in the so-called Schokofabrik in Kreuzberg. At the end of the 90s, he fulfilled his dream of opening a hamam in Schöneberg, where men could also enter.

 

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For those who would like to learn more about hamams, here is a short how-to guide.

Before you head off to the hamam, make an appointment for desired services. We recommend the traditional peeling (kese) and then a soapy massage (sabunlama).

A hamam is usually separated by gender. Find out whether or when men and women are separated, or if they are allowed to come together.

If you’ve signed up for a trip to the hamam, you don’t have to do anything other than pack the usual bathing gear, as well as one to two additional towels or robes, and look forward to a few relaxing hours with friends. If you’d like to do it the traditional way, leave your bikini at home. Instead, you can use a special cotton towel (peştemal), which is used as a loincloth or placed across the entire body. In every hamam, one can either buy or borrow such a towel, in various colours and prints.

In the Sultan Hamam, one is welcomed with Turkish tea, aromatic fragrances, and Eastern music. Then you will receive a small metal bowl. Get changed in the changing room and put on a bikini or peştemal, as well as bathing shoes/sandles. Without taking a shower, you’ll enter the heart of the hamam, the cosy, warm central room. It is made out of marble , and has a heated, circular area to lye down in the centre. On the walls, there are washing nooks with mesmerising marble sinks. You will fill these with water, so that you can pour it over yourself or your friend, using the metal bowl. In another room, the sauna, you can raise your sweat level if you wish. The air here, damp and hot, completely envelops you and allows you to forget your daily life.  While doing so, it’s advisable to fill the sink with cold water, in order to cool yourself down once and a while.

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After you’ve literally “softened up” for about an hour, your masseuse will pick you up and lead you into a separate room.  Lying on a heated marble bench, the kese begins. Here, the masseuse will rub your now softened skin from top to bottom with the help of a raw glove made of crude silk, goat hair or the most often used today, hemp.  This frees your skin from dead skin, opens your pores and simulates blood flow.

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At the end, you can look forward to the sabunlama. Using a “foam bag,” a type of thin cotton sack, a large amount of foam is produced through swaying the bag in the air. The masseuse will then cover your body with it.  The soap is made almost exclusively of olive oil, without special scents or perfumes. The application takes about 30 minutes and makes your skin smooth and soft..

After the cleansing, you will feel softer and cleaner than ever before. Now, cosy in your robe and blanket, and you can go into one of the quiet areas to relax and gossip.  Caution! Because you feel so clean and light afterwards, such a hamam visit can be addictive..

Credits
Text: Anne Groß

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