Five months into living in Berlin, I haven’t been inside a European sauna. Not that it’s a requirement for people who move here but I do believe in really getting to know the country where we are posted. That, of course, entails trying out things that are unique in that area.
**Before you proceed: I did not take photos inside Liquidrom for obvious reasons. What you’re about to read focuses on the experience of this half-Asian girl and can be used as a guide for people who want to try it out too.**
Kuala Lumpur was fairly easy. Get to know the food, learn more about Islam, know where the locals go. Yes, that kind of easy. I adjusted fairly quickly despite the difference in religion mainly because it’s still Southeast Asia. Despite the Philippines being mostly Catholic and Malaysia being predominantly Muslim and made diverse by the Chinese and Indian populations, the two countries do have a lot in common.
Germany and the Philippines, on the other hand, have quite a good number of differences. Despite growing up with my conservative and intensely Catholic grandparents, I’d like to think of myself as someone who’s… err… non-traditional. I don’t adhere to a lot of conservative beliefs. I don’t think women should dress like nuns to earn respect nor do I cringe at dirty jokes when people make them. I believe that a woman’s body is hers and that whatever she does to it is her business. Thus, I also don’t think that the essence of a woman lies in child-rearing. The way I dress can never be described as prudish either. That’s just how I am. I often tell conservatives that I’m just a (non-rabid) feminist with my Danish blood at work so that they’d get off my back over certain things.
With this background knowledge about me, you’d think I would be someone who won’t feel intimidated by a European sauna. But nope. Of course, I was. There’s still enough of my Filipino grandma in me to make me question myself and why I want to try this out.
In fact, when I was sick the first week we arrived in Berlin, my Filipino mom’s advice was to go to a sauna. She’s been living in Europe herself for years and she has since integrated. She has long accepted that in a sauna, you and a whole bunch of other people are naked too. No biggie.
I made my way to the sauna. It was inside the hotel we were staying at while apartment hunting. It was free so might as well. I entered the room and found lounge chairs where people can cool off. At the far end of the room was a glass door leading to the sauna. Lo and behold, it turns out the sauna’s mixed. There were three men and two ladies inside who obviously did not know each other. I slowly turned around and as soon as I was out of their line of sight, quickly walked back into my room.
If it was an all-lady shindig, I was sure I wouldn’t have had any qualms about going in. I’ve been naked with other women back when I was doing a bit of runway modelling. *YEARS ago* Quick changes didn’t leave you enough time for modesty. But men? Men I don’t know? That was a bit… weird.
It’s nothing sexual
“They don’t care. You shouldn’t too.” A friend who’s done this before told me. To Germans and a lot of other Europeans, being naked is nothing special nor is it always sexual. Is this where my apprehension is coming from? The thought that men I don’t know would look at me ‘that’ way?
In saunas and public baths, it’s all about relaxing and getting some health benefits along the way. With this in mind, the idea of trying out the sauna became much more bearable. I wanna try it, write about it, and show my mom I wasn’t chicken. She was able to do it, why can’t I? She’s also skinnier than me these days so maybe in the end, she’s really just better than me.
An awesome idea popped into my head. I should go with someone! Alvin’s definitely out of the list of candidates. My husband, being rather conservative and really private, would never be cajoled into going. That did not stop me from trying though. Spoiler alert: I got rejected. Aside from having work which he would never miss, he just did not want to. I intend on getting him to buy me ice cream one of these days for this.
I did get lucky with my friend Sarah who’s also from the Philippines. She’s been studying in Germany since last year and has also wanted to try the saunas out. However, she was having the same dilemma as I was. True enough, there’s strength in numbers and having each other made us a little braver.
We agreed to go on a weekday afternoon to make sure there would be less people. So, last Friday, we hopped on the U7 and went to Liquidrom.
I heard about Liquidrom from another Filipino friend who’s been living here for a couple of years. She mentioned going there with her boyfriend and how relaxing it was. I guess the name got stuck in my head after that. It was also easier to get to from where Sarah and I were that day. So, it made sense to go there instead of another popular spa – Vabali.
It was about an 8-minute walk from the Möckernstraße station to Liquidrom and we had no trouble finding it due to its unique architecture everyone keeps talking about online. The attendant that day was friendly and she gladly gave us a quick briefing.
First, we paid right off the bat. I was excited to use my new, German debit card where my earnings from writing go in so this was definitely a memorable first time use. We opted for a two-hour single ticket. It’s the shortest one and the cheapest at EUR19.50 (USD23.10). I’m someone with not a lot of patience. I also get bored easily so we thought that would be enough.
We were given round chips that we were to use for ordering food/drinks at the bar inside. The chips also went into our locker keys which can be worn as bracelets. Pretty handy feature, especially for people like me who tend to lose things.
The locker room has two doors. One marked for males, the other for females. Upon entering, we realised they lead to the same big room filled with lockers and both men and women changing their clothes.
I looked at Sarah, feeling rather awkward. Just a few metres from us, at the other end of the room, was a man in his birthday suit. First rule of going to a German sauna: Don’t stare. It was a good thing that I couldn’t even if I tried, anyway. I was deliberately looking at empty spaces. Knowing that there are men there did not make me comfortable. So I started imagining that they’re all gay. I know, how childish of me. But it worked.
More women came in, taking their clothes off with no thought or care about having strangers around. That also helped. It was starting to look weird cos I was taking my time, putting my stuff in my locker. I didn’t want them thinking I was a perv who was just there to watch so after giving myself an ultimatum, I counted in my head – 3, 2, 1. I took of my jeans followed by my shirt. Then, into the locker went my underwear.
I was naked with Sarah and a couple more people. We were both trying to be brave at that point and I think we did pretty well. I was so self conscious at first, thinking about how I may have looked like. I kept giving myself an imaginary pat on the back for being well groomed, body hair wise.
But 10 seconds in to being stark naked in a room with strangers, I started to notice – people really don’t care. It was just me (and prolly Sarah) who were feeling rather awkward. But I do believe we were doing pretty well in hiding it. I think.
After a quick shower, we wrapped some towels around our bodies and walked towards one of the saunas. This one said “Himalaya Salt“. Just as we approached the door, a man came out and in German, he told us that it wasn’t so good because it wasn’t that warm inside. We went in anyway since it’s our first time and it may be just right for us.
There was another man inside. Gulp. Here goes nothing. We went towards the end of the small booth, whipped our towels off and plopped them on the seats. You’re not supposed to sit on the wood with your bare skin, by the way. One wall of this sauna is lined with himalayan salt crystals from which it gets the name.
I was facing away from the door, trying to get my bearings. Sarah and I were conversing in soft voices as we’re not the type who can sit still and meditate. It was not that warm. So we went to an 80 degree sauna facing the garden. This one has a glass wall and we could see people outside by the onsen pool and the lounge chairs.
Some were in their swimwear while others were fully naked. Everybody was relaxing and despite the five people in this sauna being in full view of the ones outside, no one was staring or even looking in its direction. Everyone was busy minding their own business – chatting with the companion or basking in the very little sunlight that was available that day
By now, we were a tad too comfy about being naked. We just didn’t care anymore. Just like everyone else.
That Pool Though
For the pools, it is required for people to have swimwear on. We went back to the lockers to get our swimsuits. As I mentioned earlier, there’s an onsen pool at the garden. But what we were really looking forward to trying out was the pool everyone on Yelp was talking about.
The warm, salt water pool is housed inside a domed cupola. There’s a round window at the centre of the ceiling that allows light to float in. Lights softly change colour while music is heard faintly throughout the room.
I was so excited to do some swimming and burn a few calories. But it turns out the pool was just for relaxation. People were floating in the most serene manner and there was a sign discouraging people from engaging in conversation.
Not really. I enjoy being in water and the salt was doing so much good to my skin that floating around thinking of my backlog and the million other things I need to do after leaving Liquidrom didn’t seem like a bad idea. I’m telling you. This millennial cannot seem to relax. Although I did get to plan out the coming week and pretend my mother ship was calling me through that skylight during the time I was floating.
The faint music can also be heard better through the water. Lying flat on my back with my ears submerged in the water, I couldn’t stop thinking about becoming a mermaid instead of a writer. If only it were possible.
Steam and a couple more things you should know
One thing I really liked is the steam bath. We went after we got bored of floating. This time, we were more careless about the whole naked thing. We were taking our swimsuits off just outside the steam room. We saw other people doing this when we were inside the sauna with the glass wall. Who would’ve thought just an hour later, we’d be confident enough to do the same? However, I couldn’t stay too long as being in there makes my lungs feel like they have lead. But hot damn, my skin looked like a million bucks after stepping out of that room.
Oh and before I forget, let’s talk about the Infusions. They are done every hour at the Finnish sauna, Liquidrom’s warmest (90 degrees). You can check the schedule on their website. They have different kinds and I was looking forward to trying out the salt peeling variant. Sadly, we missed out on one because we took long at the pool.
In case you get hungry or thirsty, there’s a bar facing the Japanese-inspired garden. Should you have a hankering for more intense relaxation, they offer different kinds of massages between EUR35 to EUR100.
It was time to go in a bit so Sarah and I took one more shower. Oh, showers are open by the way. No doors or curtains. Liquid soap is available but there’s no shampoo or conditioner. If you want to wash you hair properly, don’t forget to bring your own. There are hair dryers available for use and after drying hair and putting our clothes on, we made our way back to the counter.
We returned our chips and the attendant wished us a great day. We left feeling different and joking about how liberated we are now.
I fell in love with the effect the salt water and the sauna had on my skin and I felt really great after. Less tired and possibly a little less high-strung.
Will I be back? Sarah and I made a pact that we would go again. I probably wouldn’t go by myself. And maybe never on a weekend due to fear of running into someone I know from the diplomatic corps. Complete strangers are so much easier compared to professional acquaintances.
I look forward to trying out other places too. Someone commented on my Instagram, recommending Vabali. So maybe I’ll go there next.
Am I fully comfortable about being naked in public now? While I don’t see myself being fully naked while sunbathing inside the Tiergarten, I think I’m fine with saunas now. After all, it’s just a body and everyone else looks as vulnerable as the next person. There’s nothing to be awkward about.