Adrift inside a dimly lit concrete dome I watched the lights change from pink to blue to purple. When I submersed the back half of my head in the buoyant salt water, my ears were filled with wordless electronica from the underwater speakers.
I was at the Liquidrom, Germany's futuristic temple of relaxation. At this central Berlin spa, the city's techno scene meets its wellness culture in a scene from a sci-fi movie come to life. The idea was that before the madness of IFA (Europe's biggest consumer tech show) commenced, I would take an hour for myself to destress, decompress and hopefully prepare myself mentally and physically for the week ahead.
Parts of Berlin can feel like a Brutalist dystopia at the best of times -- nowhere more so than the Messe, the building that houses IFA. But the Liquidrom gives it a run for its money. Based inside the Tempodrom, a spike-topped concrete circus tent of a building (where Samsung held its Note launches in previous years), the Liquidrom is like a low-slung cenote, where you can wallow in a salt water pool while gazing up towards a circular window at the apex that lets in a fraction of daylight.
I hoped that for the 20-euro entrance fee, the experience would be a step above taking a really salty bath at home in the dark with a Spotify's best chillout playlist on in the background. It was -- although it took me a little while to relax into it.
I decided to skip the sauna section where clothes are verboten. I have mad respect for my European neighbors for being so cool with nudity, but growing up in the North of England did not prepare me for social activities that involve getting naked with strangers. To this uptight Brit, that is the opposite of relaxing. And so I headed past the juice bar to the pool -- the Liquidrom itself.
I entered the shadowy chamber, hung up my towel and grabbed a foam pool noodle. Following the steps down and around into the pool I briefly felt like Lara Croft entering a watery tomb. I didn't exactly feel at ease -- more as though I'd entered an alternate sci-fi reality and might at any point get turned around and sent back.
The salt in the water made it so easy to float that the pool noodle seemed like an unnecessary and cumbersome accessory. At one point the otherwise gentle ambient music featured some mangled robotic-sounding speech, and I was reminded of Harry Potter listening underwater for clues during the Triwizard Tournament in his grand Hogwarts bath.
As the projectors spun trippy lights across the ceiling and the speakers bleated slow-paced techno beats along to sinister minor-key melodies, I started to feel truly unnerved. I've never been good at relaxing when I'm supposed to, and at first the Liquidrom was no exception.
But about 20 minutes in, something switched. I floated over to the darkest corner of the pool where the music was most distinct and, resting the back of my neck on my pool noodle, I discovered a comfortable way to keep my head supported and my ears fully dunked under the water.
The next half an hour passed me by as though I was in a trance. On two occasions I may have actually drifted off -- once I was jerked away by my restless leg, the other time I came to after having floated into the wall. Every time I opened my eyes, I was never quite where I thought I'd be. It was disorientating, but not unpleasant. The lights and the gentle hum of the music now made me feel like I was safely cocooned in an aquatic dreamworld.
The last time I remember feeling this blissed out in a public place was in Pipilotti Rist's Pixel Forest exhibition at the New Museum in New York two and a half years ago. There too, I tumbled deep into an immersive world of light and sound while lying back on pillows, allowing myself to teeter on the knife edge of consciousness.
After an hour in total in the liquidrom had passed and my fingertips had turned to wrinkled prunes, I emerged, salted and blanched like an almond. A ring of powdery white sodium residue clung to edges of my face, but the stresses and tensions I'd carried with me to Berlin and into the spa that morning were otherwise washed away.
In the end, I could have stayed longer, but it was time to exchange one Brutalist dystopian vision for another and head to the Messe. IFA and the promise of new tech were calling.
Originally published earlier this week.