William Thirteen gets pampered at one of Berlin’s most unique spas…
Anyone who spends much time here soon realises that Berlin is the three-toed sloth in the zoo of European capitals. While the denizens of London and Paris race about their cities, pressing past each other like anxious antelope on a headlong rush to high-rent, fashionably-appointed dooms, Berliners are hard pressed to tear themselves away from that second Milchkaffee before happy hour–and then only to wander off to the nearest park bench where they’ll lazily admire the afternoon’s assortment of puffy clouds (or exhale a few of their own).
If there was an Olympic event held for competitive slacking, Berlin would definitely take the gold—if they could actually drag themselves to the podium. Seen in this light, Berlin’s saunas, steam baths and spas owe their year-round popularity less to the need to recover from the hectic pace of modern life and more to fact that they provide the perfect excuse to drink fizzy cocktails from a prone position.
And while competition is high – in certain neighbourhoods saunas can be found on every other block – a clear favourite in the race to relax is the city’s legendary Liquidrom. While I enjoy a relaxing steam just as much as the next naked fellow, only recently did I finally arrange with my partner to visit the Liquidrom, which is located just behind the Tempodrom, one of Berlin’s favourite concert venues.
Designed by von Gerkan, Marg und Partner (GMP—who also count Berlin’s Tegel Airport and Hauptbahnhof to their credit) the Tempodrom/Liquidrom complex is easily identifiable by its iconic tentlike facade, a tribute to its origins as an impromptu performance space, a pair of tents erected on the ruins of Anhalter Bahnhof, one of Europe’s largest train stations before World War Two.
After parking our bicycles we were greeted cheerily at the reception desk and offered the opportunity to rent towels, robes and flip-flops, then provided with a chip card to be used for the lockers in the changing rooms and for any refreshments we might desire during our stay. We slipped inside: while I’m almost certain the two doors to the changing room were marked ‘men’ and ‘women’, she and I found ourselves again face to face on the other side, the room being divided only by a central stand of lockers.
Cubicles with curtains are available for the bashful but, this being Germany, no one was very concerned about being seen naked. Proper etiquette dictates a shower before hitting the sauna, and after passing through another pair of gender coded doors to the shower area, we washed up and joined each other outside, our white robes causing us to appear to all the world like a pair of eccentric consumptives at an exclusive sanatorium.
The large main area was uncrowded as we strolled through and we easily located a pair of lounge chairs upon which to drop our towels and plan our ‘attack’. Looking out upon an open atrium with a small outdoor pool, this central area is ringed by steam-rooms and saunas and bounded by a dark panelled bar that runs along one wall. In addition to the obvious liquid refreshments the bar’s menu includes soups, salads and other light fare.
We decided to first take in the heat before anything and made our way to one of the Liquidrom’s signature offerings, the Himalayan Salt Sauna. While I’ve yet to make it to the ‘Roof of the World’ and my experience with salt has been limited to shaker size quantities, after a few minutes laid out upon the sauna’s wooden seating I found myself transported to a realm of relaxation and sodium scented indolence.
A few minutes later an invigorating dip in the ice bath steeled me for the next round. In this way, we methodically sweated our through the Kelo Panorama Sauna, the Finnish Sauna and the steam bath, taking breaks between to cool down and rehydrate.
At last we agreed that we were ready for the crowning experience of the evening, the Liquidrom’s famous saltwater pool. Forty-three feet across and covered with a gently curving concrete dome the watery chamber is illuminated by an ever changing spectrum of colors.
Its high salt content causes the pool to be extra buoyant and the sensation of weightlessness is enhanced by underwater speakers, controlled by a sound booth which looks out across the waters. Electronic DJs, jazz guitarists and classical musicians from around Europe perform here several days each week, creating an auditory environment which transforms the pool into a damp dreamscape. My partner and I took turns gently guiding each other across the pool, floating along on the underwater electronic melodies like pale swimsuited psychonauts.
Eventually our space ship drifted down to Earth and we made our way back outside, falling into our lounge chairs to contentedly doze off for a few minutes before a last visit to the Himalayan Salt Sauna. While two hours may seem like a long time to just sit and steam, as Berliners well know, time flies when you are doing nothing at all. A shower, then back into our street clothes and we were back on the bicycles for the journey home to a well earned nap.
If you haven’t visited the Liquidrom yet, do yourself a favor and take the plunge. While the price is somewhat higher than other saunas in Berlin, the striking architecture and incomparable saltwater pool will leave you languorous, damp and dreamy.
For more information,visit the Liquidrom’s website.