Why Germans Love Being Naked In Public

 The "free body culture" promotes harmony with nature. Today, some Germans sunbathe naked, undress to play sports and even go naked hiking.

After living in Berlin for four years, I have learned to embrace the German “anything goes” spirit and a more casual approach to nudity than where I grew up in the American Midwest.

While nudity in mainstream American culture is generally considered sexual, here in Germany undressing is not uncommon in certain everyday life situations.

I got used to saunas where you get undressed by default, took dips in swimming pools where the swimsuits were Eve's outfit and surprised a massage therapist when I undressed without being there invited before treatment, which led him to notice that Americans should usually be asked to undress.

But, as the saying goes, you never forget the first time you are faced with public nudity. My baptism by fire took place while jogging in Hasenheide, a park in the Neukölln district, south of Berlin, when I came across a group of naked bodies taking in the afternoon sun. Later, after talking with friends and gaining a pretty questionable Google search history, I found out that stumbling over a nudist enclave in a city park or on a beach is practically a rite of passage in Berlin.

What I had seen, however, was not part of the hedonistic side of Berlin, but was an example of Freikörperkultur, or "free body culture". FKK, as it is commonly called, is closely associated with life in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany or "GDR"), but nudism in Germany as a public practice dates back to the late 19th century.

And unlike the idea of ​​taking off one's top on a beach in Spain, for example, the FKK embraces a larger German movement with a distinct spirit, where stripping oneself of one's essence in the natural world has historically been a layman's act. both resistance and relief.

“Nudism has a long tradition in Germany,” said Arnd Bauerkämper, associate professor of modern history at the Free University of Berlin. At the turn of the 20th century, the Lebensreform ("reform of life") was in the air, a philosophy that advocated organic food, sexual liberation, alternative medicine, and a simpler and closer life. nature.

“Nudism is part of this larger movement, which was directed against industrial modernity, against the new society that emerged at the end of the 19th century,” said Bauerkämper.

According to Hanno Hochmuth, historian at the Leibniz Center for Contemporary History in Potsdam, this reform movement has particularly taken hold in large cities, including Berlin, despite its romantic vision of life in the countryside.

During the Weimar era (1918-1933), the beaches of the FKK populated by "a very, very small minority" of members of the sunbathing middle class emerged. According to Bauerkämper, there was "a feeling of new freedom after the authoritarian society and stifling conservative values ​​of Imperial Germany (1871 to 1918)".

In 1926 Alfred Koch founded the Berlin School of Nudism to encourage mixed nudist exercise, pursuing the belief that outdoor nudity promotes harmony with nature and the benefits of well-being.

And while Nazi ideology first outlawed the FKK, seeing it as a source of immorality, in 1942 the Third Reich relaxed its restrictions on public nudity - although, of course, this tolerance did not extend. not be extended to groups persecuted by the Nazis, such as Jews and Communists.

But it was only in the decades following the division of postwar Germany between East and West that the FKK really flourished, especially in the East - even though the the fact of getting naked was no longer reserved for the bourgeois class.

For Germans living in the Communist GDR, where travel, individual freedoms and the sale of consumer goods were limited, the FKK functioned in part as a "safety valve", according to Bauerkämper; a way to release tension into a deeply restrictive state by providing a bit of "free movement".

Hochmuth, who visited nude beaches with his parents as a child and grew up in East Berlin, agrees.

“There was a certain sense of escape,” he says. "[East Germans] were always exposed to all these demands of the Communist Party and what to do, like going to party rallies or being asked to do communal duties on weekends without being paid ".

While East Germans continued to sunbathe naked in the early years of the GDR - while keeping an eye out for police patrols - it was only after Erich Honecker came to power in 1971 that the FKK has been officially authorized again.

According to Bauerkämper, under the leadership of Honecker, the GDR began a process of opening up its foreign and domestic policy, a tactic intended to make itself better seen by the outside world.

For the GDR it was very useful to argue that "okay, we allow and even encourage nudism, we are a kind of free society," said Bauerkämper.

Since East Germany merged with the West in 1990 and restrictions were lifted in the former communist state, the culture of the FKK has declined. In the 1970s and 1980s, hundreds of thousands of nudists filled campgrounds, beaches, and parks. In 2019, the German Association for Free Body Culture had only 30,000 registered members, many of whom were in their fifties and sixties.

Yet today the FKK continues to leave an impression on German culture, especially in the former East. It even manages to grab the headlines every now and then, such as when this summer a naked man in an FKK-designated area on a lake in Berlin was forced to chase a boar that had fled with a bag. containing his laptop.

In fact, the FKK and Germany's long tradition of nudism have left a wide tolerance across the country for clothesless spaces and public nudity as a form of well-being. As I discovered, one can still find CFK spaces without much searching, and they are often related to health activities.

The Nacktbaden.de site has a well-organized list of beaches and parks all over Germany, where you can sunbathe in the nude, undress in saunas and spas, or take hikes in places like the mountains. from the Harz, the Bavarian Alps or the forests of Saxony-Anhalt. Or, if you want to get a little more formal, FSV Adolf Koch Sports Club offers nude yoga, volleyball, badminton and table tennis in Berlin.

In many ways, the legacy of the FKK gives travelers a glimpse of the values ​​that still unite many East Germans. For Sylva Sternkopf, who grew up on the beaches of FKK in East Germany, the country's free body culture has both reflected and passed on certain values ​​that it passes on to her children, including open-mindedness. of the country to their own body.

"I think this is still very deeply rooted in my generation in East Germany," she said. "I also try to pass this on to my children, to raise them that way, being open to your own body and not being ashamed to be yourself and to be naked, to show yourself naked" .

For Sternkopf, seeing naked bodies in a non-sexualized way also helps people learn to see others beyond their outward appearance. By prohibiting all of this, it is easier to see not only a body, but also the individual.

“If you're used to seeing people naked, you don't care much about appearances,” she said. "I think this is something that is more prevalent in East Germany in general: we try to judge people not for their outward appearance, but we always try to look beyond."

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