Picture this — a large, warm, salt-water floating pool, in a building designed to look like a futuristic circus tent. I put my head underwater and I am enveloped by relaxing music. Lying so just my ears are under, I listen to the music, trying to let my mind slip away, but I can’t shake the feeling that I am Eleven from Stranger Things right now… minus the superpowers, growing up in a lab, being torn away from my mother, shaven head, visiting the Upside Down, dealing with Demagorgons stuff, but other than all that, LITERALLY Eleven, guys.
The whole combination is mesmerising: the warmth, the music, the floating, and the architecture. My immersion in the Musical Pool in Berlin’s Liquidrom, on the west side of Potsdamer Platz, is just the beginning of my weird and wonderful two-hour experience.
The Musical Pool
At 19,50€, It’s not too expensive to get in, and you’ll save money by taking your own towels and swimwear. Funnily enough, I hadn’t prepared for swimming on an April trip to Germany (sarcasm, by the way) so I ended up buying a cheap bikini from Primark. The entry fee covers two hours of access to the Liquidrom’s basic facilities: the pools, shallow enough to be enjoyed by swimmers and non-swimmers alike, the steam baths, and last but definitely not least: the nude saunas.
In the Hot Seat
At this point you have to strip everything off. I’ll admit I was apprehensive at first. If like me, you’ve grown up in countries where public nudity is an offence, where even in changing rooms people might blush or chuckle to themselves if someone goes completely starkers, you’ll understand my brief flash (pun definitely intended) of panic when other people entered the 80 degree sauna and it hit me that I was naked as the day I was born, as was that guy, and that girl and that other lady and…
The thing is though, Berliners are very open minded, and they don’t care about what you look like or the fact you’ve got no clothes on. This is all part of what they call “the urban bathing culture” and they’re just there for some of that sweet heat, mate. It’s pretty awesome really, so it didn’t take long for me to relax and enjoy the warmth and sweet floral smell of the wood.
Once I’d proven to myself that I could handle 80 degrees, I challenged myself by venturing into the 90 degree sauna. I intended to stay for just a moment, purely to see if I could make it without melting. You see, I don’t do well in extreme heat. I’m the first to start sweating in dance classes, the first to turn off the heating or open a window.
Well, now was the time to get over that, so I closed my eyes and tried to ignore the rustle of other people entering the sauna and settling in. My reverie was abruptly broken when one of the spa attendants walked in and rattled off in German (and in case you were wondering, no, he was not naked, he had a towel wrapped around his waist). Everyone else, being German, knew what he was talking about and murmured in agreement. One smart alec made a comment and was immediately shushed by the attendant, which filled me with mild trepidation because I knew there was no way I could ask someone to translate and explain what the hell was going on and, worse, I couldn’t ask to open a window or turn off the heating.
So, I sat (yes, naked) and just decided to go along with it. The attendant poured a range of infusions on the hot coals, then began brandishing a towel (not the one around his waist) above his head, sending waves of delectable, hot, scented vapour in my direction. I tried to immerse myself in the experience once more, but I was finding it hard not to laugh. I felt I was watching some offbeat Magic Mike strip tease, this muscly, shirtless dude whipping the towel round like a ceiling fan… but since everyone else was so serious, (probably because the heat was making them silently combust) I hurriedly closed my eyes again and tried to ‘let go’ instead of focusing on how bizarre this all was. Then just as I was beginning to feel a little overwhelmed by the heat, Magic Mike opened the door to the sauna, announced something in German and everyone stood up to leave. Thank God, I thought, we’re done. To my dismay, however, everyone left their towels behind. My Berliner exposure was far from over.
We went outside and the man handed each of us a huge handful of granulated salt. I think the sauna had steamed my brain like pork dumplings at Sunday afternoon yum cha, because I stood there for a second and just stared at him dumbly with the salt in my hand, wondering what on earth I was supposed to do with it.
It was then that I noticed a board on an easel by the door to the sauna : 9pm, Salzpeeling session — Salt peeling, that is, exfoliation. It all (mostly) made sense now.
I assumed we were meant to rub the salt into our skin so I set to doing that, trying to avoid eye contact with the butt-naked crowd standing around me, and especially avoiding eye contact with the couples getting a little too into the whole salt-rubbing activity together (get a room, guys).
However, because my German comprehension hadn’t magically improved (not that the brain steaming had done me any favours) I still had no idea what we were meant to do once we’d rubbed in the salt. Magic Mike yelled something and people trooped into the the shower. And so, my skin newly soft thanks to the surprise exfoliation, I followed suit and desalted. I’ll give them this, the whole salt and steam combo works wonders for your skin — not only was I as naked as a baby, but now as soft as one too!
It was then back to the sauna, with the heat really amped up. After sitting there for God knows how much longer (one guy even ditched before the end, not being able to handle it) finally, it was over. I hadn’t melted, hadn’t developed a heat rash, hadn’t asked to open a window. I’d survived, my skin had never felt softer and my brain would probably be perfect served with some stir-fried bok choy and sesame squid tomorrow at lunch.
After coming down from the high of knowing I hadn’t died, and feeling the cool air again, I realised I actually felt incredibly dizzy. I put my bikini back on and went to lie in the jacuzzi outside for a little while. I welcomed the breeze (the people who were still naked were welcoming the breeze a lot more than I was. Apart from the musical pool, you can be nude in the other baths in the Liquidrom.) Then, given that I only had about half an hour left in the Liquidrom, I moved on to another bath. I beat a hasty retreat, however, as in it were two couples having a great time straddling each other.
Incidentally, many Liquidrom reviews moan about the PDA from couples. You have to just focus on your own relaxation and ignore them if possible – you’ve paid just as much as they have to enter, so don’t let it spoil your visit! As with all reviews, you’ve got to take what you read with a grain of salt (please tell me you got that pun).
And so I found myself back where I’d started: the Musical Pool. Once again, I closed my eyes, lay on my back, and let the water take my weight. There was quite a range of music being played this time: classical, electronic, some with lyrics and some without. It was spell-binding, so much so that when I opened my eyes again, I realised I’d floated to the other side of the pool into a throng of couples enjoying themselves pretty thoroughly.
I took this as my cue to leave, my time being up anyway. All in all, it was a successfully freeing experience: simultaneously hilarious, disconcerting, and relaxing. And if, while in Germany’s capital you find yourself in need of visiting the Upside Down and killing a Demagorgon with your mind, well, you’ve no excuse to not go to the Liquidrom.