Vabali Spa was my first German spa experience. I had read up on the spa, as well as German sauna etiquette and was ready to take the plunge! From my research, this seems to be one of the fanciest and largest sauna facilities in Berlin. I went alone on a weekday and got a 3 hour ticket, spending a blissful morning/early afternoon exploring the expansive 20,000 sq. meter facilities. I easily could have stayed here all day.
Finding the spa was easy. It was an simple 15 mins. walk through the park from the Hauptbahnhof (train station). I arrived around 10am, trying to get there early to enjoy the place when it was quiet and uncrowded. I definitely recommend this, as the spa got considerably busier as the day progressed (however, never to the point of being over-crowded). The entrance is clearly marked and check-in was efficient. You are given a bracelet that is like a ticket. It will unlock your locker, and if you purchase any food/drinks, it can be charged to the bracelet so you do not have to worry about carrying your wallet around.
I went upstairs to the ladies change room (there is a larger co-ed change room on the ground floor as well), left my belongings in the locker and changed into my robe. I brought my own robe, flip flops and towels to save some money. It’s also nice to use your own robe because it is easy to find on the hooks outside the saunas, whereas all the rental robes are identical.
Now it was time to explore! 3 hours gives you just enough time to try all the different saunas, but if you want to do it at a more leisurely pace, I would definitely recommend getting the day pass. I eased into the nude sauna experience (NOT the norm in Canada!) by starting with the ladies sauna and then walking around to find some of the less crowded saunas, before venturing into the aufguss (see below). It’s easy to see which saunas are more/less full — just look at the number of sandals/robes outside the door!
Not going to lie, the first few minutes of being in a sauna with naked people of all genders felt awkward and uncomfortable. But it’s culturally normal here and nobody is creepy or staring. Nudity is contextual. There is nothing inappropriate or sexual about the German saunas and it doesn’t have to be weird if you don’t make it weird. There is no reason to be self-conscious, no matter what hang ups you might have about your body, skin, etc. Seriously, nobody bats an eye at anything. It also helped that I am practically blind without my glasses, so all I could see was a blur anyway. I allowed my mind to believe that child-like false assumption that if you can’t see others, they can’t see you. Once you get over being naked with strangers, it really is a nicer way to experience the sauna vs. wearing a swimsuit. The Germans consider it much more hygenic than sweating in a sauna and having to walk around in your sweaty swimsuit to different saunas.
Side note: I loved that the sauna had little wooden shelves outside every sauna for you to leave your glasses. Usually at these types of spas, I have to put them on a random ledge or in my robe pocket (and I’m always worried someone will accidentally take my robe and I won’t be able to see!).
Another nice detail is that many saunas have a little timer (like a mini hour glass, but it only goes up to 20 minutes or so) inside, so you can see how long you have been in there. It’s a handy way to test your heat endurance!
Vabali is one of the largest and most well-run spas I have ever visited. I was really impressed with their attention to detail, excellent customer service, and the serene environment that they cleared worked hard to maintain. Staff speak enough English for a non-German speaker to get by. Facilities were spotlessly clean with clear signage. You get a map at the entrance, which trust me will come in handy. It’s easy to get lost amidst all the different relaxation areas. Since it is so big, even if it is busy, you can still always find a quiet spot to yourself.
The decor is beautiful and inspired by tropical places like Bali and Thailand. You would not be blamed for forgetting you are in the centre of Berlin! Some of the saunas have large windows so you can enjoy views of the park while you sweat it out. In each relaxation room, there are shelves where you can leave your belongings (e.g. water bottle, book, sunglasses). I thought this was a really nice touch, so you don’t have to keep moving your stuff from one sauna area to another.
One of my favourite parts of Vabali Spa was their “aufguss” or infusions. Aufguss is a German word referring to a sauna ritual performed by a “saunameister”. Water and essential oils are poured over the hot stones. The saunameister then wafts the steam over the bathers using a towel or large fan in a rhythmic (and sometimes dramatic) fashion, sometimes accompanied by music. Part relaxation, part show, it is a uniquely German experience. They take it very seriously; there are even aufguss competitions. At the end of the aufguss, everyone applauds — before promptly jumping under the nearest cold shower.
A couple notes: aufguss are very popular so show up a few minutes early to get a spot and don’t be surprised if you are sitting so close to your neighbour that you are almost touching; sit near the door and on the lower level if you think you might need to leave early as it will get progressively hotter during the 15-20 mins. that it takes for the ritual; remember the etiquette is to sit on your towel so no part of your bare skin is touching the wood.
Vabali offers aufguss every 30 mins. to 1 hour throughout the day at no extra cost. There is a detailed schedule on a blackboard, including what type of infusion they will be using and which sauna it be will be (this is why you need the map which shows you all the sauna locations and names). They have so many different options including menthol, rose, eucalyptus… I did the “sound meditation” one which used chimes and singing bowls in addition to lovely scented oils. Some aufguss include a scrub or skin treatment that is applied during/after or venik (a broom of branches and leaves commonly used to massage the bather’s skin in Finnish saunas or Russian banyas). There are even little sheets where you can create your “aufguss schedule” to organize your day. So German.
I did not try a massage or eat at the restaurant, so I cannot comment on those options.
Overall, I loved my experience at Vabali and would recommend it to anyone looking to relax and indulge a little, especially sauna junkies who can tolerate the high temperatures. For the luxurious experience you get, it is excellent value. After a few days of sightseeing around Berlin, this was the perfect way to rest (while having a unique cultural experience too!). It was particularly refreshing in February with the contrast between the steamy saunas and jacuzzis and the crisp, winter air. They really enforce rules (e.g. silence/quiet conversation, no PDA’s, no cell phones) to keep the environment really chill, which I appreciated. For my first German spa visit, I was totally spoiled by Vabali!
(All photos courtesy of Vabali Spa)