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Scene in Berlin

Naked lunch, Berlin style

For some Berliners, summer means ditching the clothes and strutting around without a care in the world. There's nothing wrong with that per se, but for bashful ex-pat Brits, it can be a truly miserable experience.

Scene in Berlin

I recall one summer a couple of years ago lying in the grass in Berlin's Tiergarten park, enjoying the fragrant breeze on my face, the warm smell of fresh summer grass and the playful twitter of birds in the trees. My meditations were disrupted by a male voice asking, "Have you got a light?"

I awoke from my daydream and looked up to see a rather hefty middle-aged man sporting at least five bellies standing above me holding a cigarette. Nothing unusual in this you might think - except he was stark naked. I coughed and spluttered for a moment, rather bashfully rummaged through my bag and held out a lighter in his vague direction while suddenly becoming most interested in intently studying the daisy to my left.

After lighting his cigarette, this colossal lump of nakedness then saw fit to stand there for a further 10 minutes discussing the weather. Given that it is rather rude not to make eye contact with someone with whom you are engaged in conversation, I did rather feel obliged to cast the occasional furtive glance in his direction. However, given that I was lying in the grass and he was standing above me, all I ever seemed to make eye contact with was his looming collection of dangly bits and pieces. Most disturbing.

This bold example of nakedness is known as FKK - Freikoerperkultur, or naked body culture - and your average German doesn't have a problem with it. Even if they themselves don't strut around in their birthday suit all summer, they seldom seem to notice, much less comment on, other people's nakedness. At this time of year, when the temperature has risen at least four million degrees, most Berliners are launching themselves into the nearest body of water. And a good number do so without a stitch on.

Visit one of Berlin's many lakes (or indeed some parks) and thrown into the mix of bathers wearing sensible swimwear, you'll also see mountains of naked flesh. Some lakes and beaches have designated nudist areas while many others are mixed. Of course this open attitude to nudity in Germany is a very healthy one; small children can splash about in the lake with no clothes on without their parents fearing that a paedophile will jump out from behind the nearest bush while Granny and Grandpa can enjoy an early evening dip au naturelle quite content with each others' sagging bodies.

Nudist park and swimming pool in Hamburg, file picture from 1973

Germans in touch with nature in the 1970s...Brits should enter at their own risk

The first FKK club was founded in Essen in 1898 with the first nudist beach (on Sylt) welcoming naked bathers in 1920. While attitudes to FKK became increasingly conservative in West Germany throughout the 70s and 80s, their East German counterparts still revelled in the feeling of freedom that comes with prancing around in the sun with all their bits and pieces jiggling about. It has absolutely nothing to do with sex and more to do with man in touch with nature...or such other primitive nonsense.

Of course, as a Brit, while I find the concept of FKK harmless, in practice it is highly embarrassing. We have no culture of public displays of nudity in the UK unless you can class the occasional streaker at a cricket match in the 1970s as a healthy display of FKK. On the contrary, nudity is something to be sniggered at by the prudish Brits. After all, we grew up with Benny Hill and the Carry On films; types of comedy which taught us that big wobbly breasts were hilarious and the word "knickers" among the funniest in the language.

A friend of mine once admonished me for hiding behind a newspaper when some naked swimmers walked past with the rather flimsy justification that "the ducks are naked and that doesn't embarrass you." No dear, but then again, when was the last time you saw a duck waddling down the street in a three-piece suit?

With this summer being hotter than ever, more and more Berliners are trekking to the shady tranquility of the city's lakes with a good proportion content to do so with no clothes on whatsoever. Next time you're there, take a break from casting a peep at the naked breasts beside you and indulge in some Brit Spotting instead; they're the ones tittering and spluttering behind their sandwiches at the sight of someone's bottom.

Gavin Blackburn still enjoys a swim at the lake...dressed in sensible trousers, a duffel coat and balaclava.

Editor: Kate Bowen

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