At first glance, it is difficult to believe anyone would willingly get into a mud bath. But thousands of Germans bathe in them every year to benefit their health, and these warm baths have a long history as a natural cure.
Patients have sought out the brownish-black mud in Bad Wilsnack in Brandenburg for more than a century, originally to ease back pain or arthritis. Today, it is also available to those who simply want to relax or get away from it all.
The case is similar at the Therapy Centre and Spa Baths in Bad Kissingen, Bavaria. Irene Hoffstadt says the heat does more than reduce pain. It relaxes muscles and inner organs, greatly easing symptoms of stress.
Verena Wegner, head of physiotherapy at Bad Wilsnack's spa, treats people with chronic pain, inflamed joints or gynaecological problems. Her patients swear by the mud bath's healing properties.
"The people literally float in the mud because of its high mineral content," she says. Every day, she fills multiple, 200 litre-tubs with the brew, which has been treated to remove micro organisms and germs. The ill or stressed then climb in and sit in them for up to 30 minutes.
The peat is gathered twice a year. It is broken up, sieved, freed of contaminants and then diluted with water. Wegner says people usually take full baths, immersed up to their necks in the mud.
Karin Kraft, a professor of natural medicine at Rostock University, explains the difference between bathing in the mud and in the bathtub at home.
"You can really heat the mud up to 39 or 43 degrees Celsius - even higher." The mud retains the heat for a long time, meaning people can stay in longer than in a bubble bath. It also starts a kind of artificial fever, stirring up a person's enzymes.
"That makes the immune system better."
Kraft says the bath's power to reduce pain has been scientifically proven. She recommends mud therapy for people with joint problems, arthritis, skin diseases or menopausal problems.
Patients should try the treatment two to three times a week. People with heart problems or contagious diseases like tuberculosis should skip the treatment for fear of damaging their circulation.
Kraft sees little benefit in home treatments or only sporadic use.
"It is not a wellness treatment," she says. Only ongoing therapies with medical supervision help. She says many insurance companies will cover the cost of mud bath therapies whether as part of a regular treatment under medical supervision or a recuperative process.