The International Naturist Federation just turned 60. Modern naturism has its roots in 18th century Germany where 'FKK' still thrives. New to Germany, Emma Wallis got a bit more than she bargained for on a Baltic break.
Perhaps I should have been warned. FKK (Free Body Culture) is said to have originated in Germany, but I was a little unprepared for the full shock of quite so many naked bodies strolling, standing, gambolling, strutting, playing volleyball, flying kites, swimming and well, happy as Larry or Lara with their kit off. I knew Germans, well some Germans, are quite happy to strut around naked, even, shock horror, in front of their friends, colleagues and the greater public. Saunas here, which I have carefully avoided so far, are mixed and naked but it's still quite a weird experience to feel overdressed in a bikini on a beach.
It's not just that people are naked on FKK beaches, which is perhaps obvious. The disconnect, for me, comes from the fact that they are going about all other activities naked, too. So, as you slip off your flip flops and feel the soft sand between your toes, your eyes are immediately assaulted by two families playing volleyball, naked. That is far too many bouncing spherical objects for one ball game I think, feeling faintly annoyed. Walking just a few meters down the beach, for every discrete couple lying sun bathing, naked in their sun tent, dug in and bronzing nicely, there is a man, and it's usually men, standing surveying the beach, his body parts thrust proudly forward just below his equally protruding belly.
Perhaps it's all those Victorian and Edwardian books I grew up reading, but I feel the need to come over all "Room with a View", and gather my ample skirts, crying out to everyone in my party "Oh dear, oh dear, don't look Lucy dear at that naked man" whilst simultaneously casting disapproving glances back at the offending object a little more than is perhaps strictly necessary, and then raising my hand to my eyes to try and block out the awful sight. In short, it makes me all hot under the collar. I, like many from the English speaking world just don't seem to be able to disconnect nakedness from sex, and so I feel assaulted and affronted that someone should so brazenly walk right past me at the water's edge naked, breasts, balls and members bouncing merrily away like it's quite normal.
The size and variety of body shapes on offer is quite mind boggling. Penises lying nestled on a presentation pillow of enormous balls every few meters as I desperately search for a spot away from the "swingers", as I call them. The German FKK website is keen to make clear that sex has nothing to do with most FKK'ers, and swinging is normally not part of the program, but in my straight-laced mind, I can't help thinking that they must be doing other deviant things if they are quite so happy and self satisfied about their own bodies.
Perhaps this is why I am so annoyed by it. How can that hugely fat man or woman, with roll upon roll of naked flesh, really feel happy to display themselves, to laugh, shout and splash around in the water? I ought to be applauding them, and secretly I am quite impressed, but I just can't get with the vibe. As the week progressed so did the items of clothing I brought, and wore, to the beach.
Trying to be more open about the whole thing, I think, OK so they want to celebrate their bodies, and just be naked, natural, and at one with the world. So, how come I wonder, do almost all of the FKK'ers I see feel the need to shave off every bit of body hair they have? Surely that is not very accepting of your natural state? The Baltic beaches were like one long edition of life size tellytubbies gambolling around, all hairless, and in a way looking like giant babies. Not sexy, not clever, not nice.
Then my mum arrives for a visit. Being British, I expect her to adhere to my way of thinking, but no, she bounces on to the beach and out of her clothes before my dad and I have time to protest. "Well you've got to try it once" she grins, turning to my German husband and saying "I will if you will" to him. Oh god, so now my Mum and my husband are in the sea… and naked. My dad sits with his head in his hands, annoyed that the fine sand might be seeping through his socks and sandals and between his toes, something he hates, and past caring about my crazy mum. I try and read my book, ignoring the situation too, but as Hubbie comes back, gets dried and dressed, we hear a plaintive cry. "I think I've changed my mind" shouts mum from the sea, "could you bring my towel down please". "Ha!" I think, "not so fun now" feeling vindicated as I dodge out of the way of a naked teenager piloting a stunt kite to loop a dangerous loop just above my head.
As someone who always regresses to the state of teenagerdom when my parents are around, I couldn't then, and I can't now, imagine how much confidence these guys must have, to think it's alright to display their changing bodies before the world. The thing about naked Germans is they seem to be even more self righteous than clothed ones. If there is a spot of sand, they will take it, if there is air space above your head, they will use it, and above all, they will not apologize for the assault on your mind and your values, because clearly for them, this is normal and I am the weird one. Before I went there, I didn't think I was a prude, but after I left, I feel more entrenched in my state of Britishness than ever before, public nakedness is definitely not something I am, or ever will be, comfortable with and if I'm honest, I don't see why anyone else should be either. Now, where did I put my chastity belt…