This post actually took place on the same day as the Bärenquell adventure with my girlfriend, who we shall once more refer to as Maya, in the interest of her modesty. We shall refer to the other character in the tale (me) without alias, for I have no shame.
So then, mucky, bruised yet elated, we left the old brewery behind us and frolicked our way back to the city. We grabbed some Vietnamese food in Kreuzberg, in an establishment that served excellent dumplings but which was let down by a surly waitress whose sole expression can be fairly summarised as ‘hateful glowering’. With our bellies full of reasonably priced noodles, we skipped over to Hauptbahnhof, which my sources tell me means ‘Central Station’ in German. It is very large, and there was a man vomiting loudly on the floor outside a sandwich shop.
Maya and I were searching for Vabali, a mysterious spa we had heard whispers of on the breeze; a magical, tranquil place trapped in its own wormhole right under Berlin’s drug honking nose, where, for the low low price of €27, one can be transported away from the chaos and kebab shops, straight to 13th century Bali. Our quest began with a brief yet expletive laden row as we got lost leaving the train station. I’ll take the blame for that one. My iPhone 4 is a bag of shite, and, like a beloved grandparent slowly going bonkers, spends its days failing spectacularly at performing basic tasks and stubbornly insisting it knows where it’s going. The best the ‘Maps’ function can do these days is pinpoint my location to within a couple of miles, which, I’m sure you are aware, is absofuckinglutely useless. YES, I ALREADY KNOW I AM IN BERLIN, THANK YOU IPHONE 4, MY GOD.
We eventually found it, obviously. It’s tucked away in a quiet housing estate. It looks like a car park, to be perfectly honest, with a small building down at the far end. Great, I thought, as we approached the front doors, no doubt I will have cocked up once more and Vabali will turn out to be some run down 1960’s era swimming baths that once were cutting edge but are now faded and wallpaper peeling, and the used plaster-laden pool water is inexplicably green and cloudy and frothing.
Fortunately, t’was a baseless concern. We entered a grand foyer, and were embraced by vivid incense, lazy sitar music, and the faint smell of chlorine. Immediately, the atmosphere was one of calm. The girl on reception spoke with a gentle smile as she gave us our wristbands, and sent us on our way. Beyond, we found a huge, ornately decorated main hall, with airy, candle lit corridors leading off in every direction, each lined with gongs, dragon statues, and papyrus artwork. We hired towels and headed to the lockers. We were excited, for we had decided en route that we would first enjoy a jolly good bonk in the mixed-sex changing rooms before heading into the spa. But, nay.
The term ‘changing rooms’ implies cubicles. A more accurate name for the area we stumbled into would be ‘grand genital chamber’. There were not any cubicles, just a big, mixed gender nude-hall. No secret giddy humping for us. Foiled again. We had known about the public nudity before going. Vabali is a no-textiles spa. You’re not nude the whole time; you can wear a towel or robe as you wonder around. However, as with many German baths, if you want to go in the saunas, hot tubs or pools, you’re off in the buff.
I was curious to see how I would feel being naked in public. I’m always keen to learn about myself, and the best way to do this is to force yourself into unfamiliar territory. I was also very unsure about how I would feel about my girlfriend being naked in public. Would I burst blood vessels with jealousy every time another man’s eye swivelled in her direction, or would I be spending the next 4 hours sporting a hapless boner watching Maya’s delightful bottom work its way around the complex? Only one way to find out. I got my dick out.
Right from the off, this is a strange and liberating experience. I am English, and a general fear of all things sexual is bred into us from a young age. Our nation’s collective attitude towards sex is completely in tune with the prevailing voice of the UK press: conservative, fearful, and self-loathing. The tabloids gleefully ‘report’ on celebrity nip-slips at the beach, because that’s what journalism is nowadays, while politicians toy with the idea of banning various sexual acts they have secretly always wanted to try. Face-sitting is now banned in UK pornography, for example, because it is apparently dangerous. Right. The UK is a sexually repressed nation, but underneath it all, we are human. Come on. Everybody is horny pretty much always, but in the UK, to admit as much is to open yourself to ridicule. In Berlin, it’s quite the opposite.
I stood there naked and looked around the changing room. The first thing that crossed my mind was ‘how odd, nobody is staring at my cock’. The second thing was ‘wow, having seen all of these naked men, I actually feel pretty great about my own body’. The third thing I thought was ‘don’t be so judgemental of other people’s bodies, you arsehole’. The fourth was ‘Christ, Maya looks hot, keep calm.’ Maya and I meandered through the complex in our towels. The main room consists of two open-plan storeys, with the upper floor looking down onto a large, serene pool below. Huge, billowing curtains hang from ceiling to floor, and everywhere we looked naked couples were stretched out comfortably on luxurious beds, chatting and relaxing. On all sides, people were entering and emerging from saunas, heralded each time by thick clouds of steam that twirled and dissipated as they rose skyward. We found a sauna that seemed reasonably empty, and looked at each other.
“Shall we go in?” I asked.
“Yeah, sure,” came the reply. Dammit, she seemed more chilled about this that me. I was hoping we’d be nervous together. It’s easier for girls; Maya’s body won’t suddenly betray her without warning. She doesn’t have to contend with a rogue dick with no shame and a selfish agenda. We took off our towels and pushed open the door. There was only one woman in there, and she was sprawled across the bench with her eyes closed. Maya and I sat side by side on our towels and set to work sweating. To anyone reading this who has never done the whole ‘nude in public with the person you love’ thing, I will say it is a strange experience. Seeing my girlfriend being naked has always been a joy, but now my private treat had become everyone else’s, too. I felt an initial flash of jealousy, as did Maya. However, she looked damn fine, she was all mine, and an overwhelming pride gave the boot to the green eyed monster. We laughed at the absurdity of it. In a strange way, I’d never felt so close to her.
After the sauna, we headed outside. It was -2 degrees, the kind of bastard-cold that makes you a eunuch, and I shrieked internally as we dashed across the patio, threw off our towels and submerged in the hot tub. The outside of Vabali is even more achingly gorgeous than within. The garden is vast, immaculate, and painstakingly rendered with traditional Balinese architecture, tiers of dark, gleaming tiles on the rooftops, curling up at the edges like a genie’s shoes. The gentle waters of azure pools lap against their shores as if in a daydream, idly playing catch with the ringlets of light cast from torches that line the garden’s winding pathways. All semblance of the outside world is muted, thanks to the encircling evergreen woodland and the spa’s carefully chosen location, nestled in low-rise streets. These is literally nothing to indicate that you are not inhabiting a paradise in the depths of some far flung Shangri-La.
We visited a host of different steam rooms and saunas. The moments when I felt the most naked were when we were climbing in and out of pools. It’s such a bold act – standing above all those who are already bobbing around nude in the pool, dropping your towel, and trying to act nonchalant as you descend into the waters like the Birth of Venus in reverse. The more shy you are, the more ludicrous this display comes. Drop your towel halfway, reveal a single pink bollock, panic and claw the fabric back over yourself, rally, take a deep breath, ceremonially reveal your quivering genitals to the congregation, and submerge yourself under the warm waters until only your eyes remain, like a terrified hippo.
After a couple of hours, this shyness had disappeared, sautéed out of me by the sheer brazenness of it all. At one point (as happened several times over the evening) I’d got a bit excited seeing Maya nude, and to my horror, found that at that exact moment, she wanted to leave the pool.
“But… we can’t leave… yet…”
“Why not? Come on.” She stood up and climbed out. Oh, god. To all my fellow males out there: remember in high school when, at the end of a frighteningly dull maths lesson, in defiance of all rhyme and reason, you would be ambushed by a malevolent hard-on, and would have to wrestle to conceal it as the teacher dismissed the class in order avoid being found out and forever nicknamed ‘boner boy’? Well, imagine that scenario, but you are pale-arse naked in front of twelve fully grown men and women. I had no choice but to wade out of the pool, shamefully nursing a defiant semi. Damn you and your fine buns, Maya.
After that, however, my embarrassment had peaked. Fuck it. I barely bothered with the towel anymore. Back inside, we found a couple of loungers and reclined together, towels thrown off to the side. We fell asleep, nude and entwined, in what proved to be the best nap of my life. We woke half an hour later, and I noted that in my slumber I had apparently flung my legs wide apart. The beds to either side of us were noticeably vacant. However, I was past caring. I was free! Free the nipple! Free the penis! Free the vagina! Free it all! Freedom! Genitals!
We tried a couple of scented steam rooms together, and floated around a bit in the large main pool. I did catch a few dudes sneaking a glimpse at Maya, and I‘ll be honest, my inner monologue did instinctively yell ‘oi’, but in the end, all those possessive bursts were transitory. I feel safe with her, I’m immensely proud she’s mine, and I love her. We had an amazing day together – one I’ll never forget. We left the spa after two hours feeling rejuvenated, newly confident in our bodies, healthy, and happy. If you’re looking for a way to strengthen your relationship with that special someone, I’m telling you: go get naked in public!