Odessa I – Banya no 4 in Odessa


From my first text on banya no. 4:

“It was packed today when I was there. Really cramped in the locker room. No chance of drinking tea or reading. The cashier is a total grouch. Displeased about everything. 60 griwna (€2) for the entire day. In Petersburg I pay 180 rubles (€4.50 at the moment). When I asked for weniki, the answer was: Dengi! Oh yes, money. Did I say I wanted them for free? 20 griwna. Actually 30. No idea why I got a discount. But to top it all off, at the end, as I was leaving, he shook my hand to say goodbye!! That’s how they are.”

I wrote that in February when I was there the first and only time. Now I know from banya visits in St. Petersburg, that the banya is empty in the summer. People are into the primary Russian thing: the dacha. – Don’t even try to translate dacha as community garden, garden plot etc. That’s not it. So be patient. There’ll be more than one text on that. – So I went to the banya. And it was truly empty. Ten people. But 80 griwna entrance fee and 60 for the weniki. There was a steep increase in prices. As a Westerner, I could say that’s still cheap: 5.60 €. But I wont. I’m comparing it to the other prices that count here and the weniki have become 50 % more expensive in 6 months. Hello. I also don’t buy at the market without paying attention to the prices. If something at a stand seems too expensive, I buy elsewhere. Now the banya was also still relatively empty during my 2nd visit. But in October during my third visit, already significantly more full. People are returning from the dachas to the city. But I’m still not experiencing claustrophobia.


Nah, thanks but I was already there today.


Hey tomcat. Want to come with me to the banya?

I know the hidden secrets here in the meantime. The door on the left leads to the boiler room. The door straight head leads directly to the washroom. The door on the right has everything stored for the weniki. The work table is in front of it. See photos further below.

Die Stufen ins Banja Paradies.

The steps to banya paradise.

As seen in the photos, entry is from stairs outside. There is a changing room there and the toilet and inside there are steps leading to the washroom below. The room below is very large. There are many showers, which as is the case everywhere, are not working. That’s why there are men lined up near the ones, which are working. The others only drip or don’t really mix hot and cold. Everything is tiles, even the ceiling.

The actual banya room is white, completely flat. I could almost touch the ceiling. There are no benches, just a few steps on one side where one can squat. 1.5 meters up the wall, the stone is covered by wooden ledges where one can lie and also receive treatment. Many stand. Me too. I only rest my legs when I work on my them with the weniki in order to better reach my calves and back of my legs.

The Mine

The interesting aspects about this banya are the 2 differences to all the other banyas I had been to previously. Stones aren’t heated. It’s “the mine” instead. That’s the loving nickname given to the banschtschik. It’s a half-globe above the fire where the stones are normally. It’s also heated from below. The mine is made of cast iron. It does look somewhat like an ancient landmine, like a knight’s helmet … The mine is heated. And that’s the next difference. Neither with wood or gas but with mazut (the dictionary says: mazut: a heavy, low quality fuel oil, used in generating plants and similar applications. In the United States and Western Europe, mazut is blended or broken down, with the end product being diesel). So hot as hell. Since the firing continues throughout the day, the banya is always very hot while the temperature in traditional banyas decreases in the evenings. I was allowed to look at the heating chamber but only had my mobile. Still two photos. The old mines are treasured. They’re in the courtyard. They served the banschtschik for many years. It would be disrespectful to put them in a junkyard. I took a picture of the two old ones in the courtyard.

The Weniki

The weniki are the most important thing for the banya. A true banschtschik makes his weniki himself at the dacha. I tried to once. Went to the forest, found branches and then tried to bind them. A total flop. If a dad or granddad has not passed on the secrets of weniki binding, it’s very difficult as is the case for such things. It already starts with the right timing when cutting. When the leaves are fresh and sap-filled. How should that work for me? I’m usually in Berlin then. Of course not the trees directly next to the street. So I just buy them. All banyas have some. But I was surprised and pleased to see that banya no. 4 has homemade weniki from oak, my favorite leaves. They’re kept in the room to the right of the steps. The hang on ropes that stretch across the entire room. The work table is in the courtyard in front of the room. I was able to take a few pictures in dramatic circumstances.

More from the February text:
Outside a grandpa who asked me where I came from. I should learn in Russian: Where were you stationed? That was yet another comrade.
And here is a trick, which was practiced next to me: An older man with such snow-white hair, that I first thought his head was full of shampoo and his approx. 40-year old son. Dad is lying on his stomach and son places a nylon net on his back from shoulders to feet. Then he spreads shower gel over his dad’s body and begins to wash and massage him through the net at the same time. Never knew that one.

Since it was so full upstairs, I stayed in the washroom. There were loungers there and some occupants were dozing off. I had 3 complete rounds.

Interior views of the changing room with cashier. A sign hangs there. “Pay and go into the banya”, the nice translation. But it’s a word game. “Get into the banya” means “buzz off”, so its actually: “Pay and piss off.”

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I was in this banya the 4th time in October and saw something new again. No I actually smelled it. One man was rubbing brown powder on another man. I couldn’t believe myself and my nose. And I asked: What are you massaging your friend with? Coffee powder. Yeah. He was also rubbed down with it and that’s how both “colored people” went into the banya. And afterwards into the shower. (I found out that women do this often in the banya. Coffee grounds are not a great fertilizer. They’re also a great exfoliator substitute. Learned something new again.)

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Creature comforts are also provided in the banya cafeteria. – Thomas, content and recovered on the way out, drinking rose hip tea in the banya cafeteria.

I was lucky on my 3rd visit. The banya was being cleaned when I arrived. During the weniki body lashings the leaves fall and at some point the ground is completely covered and then it’s swept away. But for us banschtschik the highlight is when the room is sprinkled and the door remains open the entire time.
That has 2 effects:
Fresh air comes trhough the open door in an exchange with old used-up air. Air that has been heated can’t be reheated. (In Germany I go to the sauna door and move the door back and forth for 5 minutes to let in fresh air. This upsets the other sauna guests who complain but afterwards there is wonderfully fresh warm air and everyone’s happy.)
All the wood is sprinkled during the cleaning. The speinkling with water increases the humidity. More water hits the body which becomes truly cooked through because the water on the skin heats up earlier than the body. Wonderful.That’s also done in other banyas. (This is what I do in a German sauna: I take a towel, soak it through, then I stand in the middle of the sauna and swing the towel above my head. I “shower” the benches and walls which makes the hot wood wet and increases the temperature again. Of course that’s only possible if there is no one else in there. If there is someone else, I hang the towel near the heating source, hoping that there is as much steam as possible when I’m in the sauna)

Photos of Sommer 2014: Must be Lilija’s new boyfriend, already a topless photo

The inner courtyard towards the exit.



The original text was longer and had a more general section. In order to shorten the text, I removed the story of banya no. 4. In the meantime there are several new sources. As already written, the banja which Dostojewski, Musorksky and Lenin visited still exists. The banya I normally go to is the only one which was open during the occupation. And the Puschkin banya, the first one I visited, is open again. I’ll visit these banyas and write about them and the overall history of the banya. Patience. The heading for this is “banya” among the categories.


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