If you’re coming to Berlin for the incredible nightlife, or just to disconnect from the world and unwind, then you might want to swap the dance floors and sightseeing for some pampering and relaxation. What Berlin lacks luxury hotel spas and ‘wellness’ centres, it makes up for with a few superb spots to chill out and be treated like royalty for the day.
The recent opening of the vast Vabali Spa just a short walk from Berlin Hauptbahnhof, the city’s main train station, has upped the relaxation stakes significantly of late. Here, in the most unlikely of spaces, just a few blocks from wasteland around where the Berlin Wall once ran, a 20,000 square metre Balinese-style day spa has been created.
Here you can enjoy indoor and outdoor pools, jacuzzis, Finnish saunas, steam baths, a Russian banya and massage in a complex that’s beautifully finished in expensive wood and stone, and spread out over a huge space that includes gardens, sunbathing areas, a restaurant and fabulously comfortable relaxation rooms. For as little as €18.50, it’s a great deal – a one-stop shop for forgetting about the outside world and pretending that you booked a flight to Bangkok rather than Berlin.
Visits to Vabali are timed: you simply clock in and out and are charged for the time you spend in the spa, plus any extras you may accrue, such as massage, ayurvedic treatments or cocktails. And there is plenty to keep you busy, with regular infusions in the different saunas (don’t miss the ever popular birch infusion in the Russian banya) and even free facials.
Vabali isn’t for the body shy, however: while it’s perfectly normal to lounge around in your dressing gown or towel, swimming is only ever done naked – don’t even think about trying to wear a swimming costume – though this is on hygiene grounds rather than for any more risqué reason.
Until Vabali’s recent crashing onto the scene, the smaller, more intimate Liquidrom in Kreuzberg was for most Berliners the go-to choice for a post-party spa day. Particularly well-known for its trippy, dark saltwater pool where ambient music and gently glowing lights accompany you while you float in its warm waters sheltered by a womblike concrete dome. It’s hard not to see how this place appeals to the club kids, as it is not so different to the places where they might have dancing a few hours earlier.
But it’s a thoroughly respectable place, too, with an interesting and sophisticated design integrated into the parkland around it, with a ‘breathing space’ at its centre where those lucky enough can grab a deck chair in the sun on days when the Berlin weather cooperates. There are saunas, jacuzzis and wet rooms here, a gym, bar and café and plenty of nooks and crannies to hang out in, wet or dry, perfect for wasting a day in.
If the outdoors attracts you more, then come the summer months, a cheap and extremely fun alternative is to join the crowds at Badeschiff, one of Berlin’s most popular and unique attractions. Here, among the splendidly urban decay of the Arena nightclub complex on the riverbank of East Berlin’s Treptow district, a barge moored in the Spree has been repurposed as a heated swimming pool, and a giant wooden sunbathing area has been constructed over the water around it.
Add to this a ‘beach’ where real sand has been brought in by the truckload, a cocktail bar, massage station and a great sound system, and you’ve got one of Berlin’s best summer chill-out spots. Even in the long Berlin winter, this place doesn’t lie idle, however: the pool gets an architecturally imaginative cover and saunas are added into the mix, allowing it to get use the entire year round.