by ERIC BOND
APRIL 1, 2015: Joni Mitchell sang about a town where “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” Now the city of Takoma Park is preparing to turn that song on its head by tearing up a parking lot and putting down sod.
After decades of wrangling over the best use of the city lot (formerly the Zarpas lot) in Takoma Junction, the city has signed a contract with Himmelgarten Spas, a German fitness company that focuses on holistic exercise programs and spa treatments.
Participants will be required to shed their clothing when they enter Himmelgarten Takoma, which will be an outdoor space with grass underfoot, surrounded by beds of flowers and shrubs designed to attract pollinators. A row of cedar saunas will run along the back of the property and a large in-ground hot tub will be placed next to the wall of the Food Co-op.
“Frankly, we just gave up on trying to make people happy,” said Takoma Park Mayor Bruce Williams. “Another decade was going to go by with an empty lot if we tried to accommodate the community, so we just went with a wild card.”
“Maybe members of the various Takoma Junction committees and city staff can relax together with a schvitz when this is all over,” he added.
“We are very excited to be bringing the Himmelgarten experience to Takoma Park,” said co-owner Eva von Rippe. “We have established several such spas in small towns in Europe, and we believe that they have helped create an atmosphere of wellness throughout those communities. Studies clearly show that when people exercise without the inhibitions of clothing, all of their vital signs improve.”
Nexus of vitality
“We hope that this will become an important gathering place for the residents of Takoma Park,” added Dusty Erstemann, von Rippe’s partner in business and love. “With its location next to the Food Co-op and new health conscious shops and services opening across the street, Takoma Junction is sure to become the nexus of vitality.”
Von Rippe pointed out that their decision to locate in Takoma Park was also motivated by its proximity to the nation’s capital.
“When German tourists and policy makers come to Washington, D.C., they are unable to exercise outside without clothing. We will be promoting Himmelgarten Takoma to those visitors, and we expect to see German government officials participating in natural yoga or receiving basil and oregano whippings at our facility,” she said. “Our proximity to bike rental, laundry service, and probiotics will surely attract many visitors to Takoma Park. And they will surely spend money elsewhere in town after their workouts.”
Von Rippe and Erstemann expect to keep the spa crowded throughout the day and evening with programs to meet a variety of fitness desires: yoga, kettlebells, archery, Greco-Roman wrestling, slap dancing, and more.
While the spa expects a bit of a downturn in business each winter, von Rippe and Erstemann think that their massive hot tub, which will approximate the experience of a natural spring, will attract hardy, health-conscious folks.
“And don’t forget, we are across the street from Bikram Yoga,” said Erstemann. “What could be a better cool down than lying naked in the snow.”
Members of the city council are pleased with finally moving Takoma Junction off of their table, but many members of the community expressed concern about how the rest of the county will view rows of naked exercisers doing downward dog or swinging kettebells along East-West Highway. To address those concerns, the city plans to erect a barrier along the front of the property and has commissioned local artist Jim Colwell to create a mural similar to the iconic “Guardians of the Neighborhood” mural that he painted across the street.
Jim Colwell’s “Guardians of the Neighborhood.” Will he paint “Guardians of Modesty?”
Colwell would not confirm the rumor that his new mural would feature unclothed people, but he did respond with an exasperated sigh: “Look, people from all over the world travel to Rome just to see Michelangelo’s nudes on a ceiling in the pope’s compound,” Colwell said. “Americans really need to loosen up about their bodies. We’re all naked under our clothes, you know.”
When told about the wall, Bruce Phillips, who runs a specialty automotive shop next to the fire station, expressed relief.
“Normally, I am against walls and gates,” said Phillips, “but I have no interest in seeing flabby Germans parade around in their birthday suits all day.”
View the plans for the new Himmelgarten Takoma here.