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Culture

The Fight to Let it All Hang Out

When summer temperatures soar, so do tempers over the amount of flesh shown in Germany's public places. DW-WORLD talks to an expert on the roots, uniqueness and apparent east-west divide in German "free body culture."

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Advocates of nudism are not welcomed by all Germans

"One of our aims is to show that Germans do not only wear lederhosen, but very often nothing at all!" Wolfgang Weinreich says cheerfully.

With 60,000 registered nudists, 160 German nudist clubs, and the summer season at its peak, Weinreich, vice president of the German Association for Free Body Culture, is a busy man.

In addition, Weinreich, who is also president of the International Naturists Federation, is getting ready for the annual World Naturists Congress which takes place in Florida this August. "Each national nudist movement has its own focus points", Weinrich says. "But we all have one common aim: to make nudist life possible at as many places as achieveable", he says.

A common sight

In summer, naked flesh is no uncommon sight in German parks, pools and beaches. According to Weinreich, some 10 million Germans strip to the bare essentials at least once or twice during the hot and sweaty summer months.

The Germans are known to be quicker than their fellow Europeans at letting it all hang out -- a phenomenon that according to Weinreich lies in the history of European nudism, a movement that has its origins in 19th century Berlin.

"In the wake of industrialism, and the continuing alienation from nature, the Berliners took to fleeing the city to the many surrounding lakes, and began bathing naked."

It didn’t take long for other Europeans to acknowledge this historically scandalous show of flesh and introduce naked bathing in their home countries.

Repressed free body culture

From then on, the naturist movement was to grow steadily all over Europe.

But German movement received a major blow in 1933 when the Nazis came to power and outlawed nudism.

After the war, it was with the help of the British that Germany’s nudist movement got back on track, not least due to "a British major who signed a symbolic official approval". From then on, the number of German nudists has grown steadily, reaching its peak a decade ago, with some 70,000 dedicated naturists.

Since then the number has dropped by 10,000. But according to Weinrich, the grey zone of those who strip occasionally has climbed to around 10 million. Indeed, naturism is still highly popular in Germany, especially in the summer: From the Baltic to the North Sea there are scores of beaches bearing the sign FKK – German for Free Body Culture. Of the 600,000 holidaymakers on the popular island resort of Sylt, 200,000 alone are estimated to be nudists.

East-west divide

But not all is sun and fun in Germany’s nudist world. Less than a decade ago, both temperature and tempers were soaring on Germany’s beaches, as western Germans complained that eastern Germans’ desire to let it all hang out just went too far.

The dispute was sparked on the Baltic Sea coasts of what used to be East Germany, which were literally invaded by wealthy western Germans after the fall of the Wall.

The Wessis, as western Germans are known, wanted separate beaches for nudist sunbathers, and naked flesh-free zones on the resorts’ main beaches, where they could enjoy their holidays in peace, free from the sight of any eastern German genitalia.

"It was seen as unreasonable to expect wealthy tourists to bear naked skin", Weinreich says. "But in eastern Germany going naked was something very normal", he says.

Too much flesh

In what was otherwise a highly regimented society, communist East Germany had a somewhat relaxed attitude towards nudity and sexual expression.

Some former East Germans say it was the only really known freedom they ever had.

Today, eastern Germans have had to come to terms with the current sealed off "FKK" beaches, which are often to be found far away from any tourist resort centre.

But the question of bare flesh remains a hot topic in Germany, as a recent dispute in Munich over naked sunbathers in the famous English Garden showed.

In addition, last month’s annual Love Parade, to which some 1 million ravers flocked to Berlin’s city centre in various states of undress, caused concern over what seemed like an unwritten licence for people to let it all hang out in one of Berlin’s most historic, and most beautiful parks – only a stone’s throw from the German president’s official residence.

More room for nudes

"Our main aim may be to increase the number of places where people can go naked", Weinreich says. "But this doesn’t mean we endorse people taking their clothes off in public places".

The German Association for Free Body Culture is therefore looking for more places where naturists can meet in peace, without imposing their nudity on those who may be offended by the constant sight of naked flesh, according to Weinreich.

International naturists’ congress

Health and environment are topics which delegates from nudist associations all over the world will debate at the International Naturists Federation Congress later in August.

Weinreich is already looking forward to meeting old friends who all have one thing in common – a penchant for stripping down to the bare essentials.

"The great thing about nudists, no matter where they come from, is that at get togethers, everyone is equal. No one can show off with their newest Brioni suit or shiny Rolex, there are no national borders, and there there are no differences of class", he says. Indeed, at the English partner club of Weinreich’s local nudist group in Bonn, one of newest members is a gentleman who was recently knighted by the Queen.

WWW links

  • Date 01.08.2002
  • Author Louise Brown
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  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/2WSq
  • Date 01.08.2002
  • Author Louise Brown
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/2WSq