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VIDEO: Why do Germans love getting naked?

VIDEO: Why do Germans love getting naked?
An FKK sign at Wannsee beach in Berlin. Photo: DPA
Just like Oktoberfest, techno and cars, nudism is a big part of German culture. Why? And what does it mean?

During summer in Germany – and all-year-round at saunas and spas – you are likely to see a lot of people without any clothes on.

That's because nudism is traditionally very popular in the Bundesrepublik, arguably more so than many other places across the world.

It's normal to see people in Germany baring all in saunas, some swimming pools, at the beach, at lakes and even at parks.

There's even a word to describe the movement of going Textilfrei (textile free): Freikörperkultur (FKK), or free body culture.

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How many people practise FKK?

There are about 600,000 Germans registered in more than 300 nudist or FKK clubs throughout the country.

The DFK (Deutscher Verband für Freikörperkultur or German Association for FKK), which is a member of the International Naturist Federation, has around 40,000 members of all ages.

The DFK has a strong connection with sport and members get together for hiking, volleyball and swimming among other activities. The DFK says there are around 135 clubs throughout the country in the nudist sports scene.

According to the German Sauna Association, around 30 million people in Germany – 17 million men and 13 million women – regularly visit the country's 2,300 “clothes free” saunas.

Even Angela Merkel enjoys visiting saunas – on the night the Berlin Wall fell she famously took a trip to the sauna with a friend.

Bathers at a Schleswig-Holstein beach. Photo: DPA

But apart from FKK, Germans seem to be a bit more comfortable with getting their kit off in general, for example in gym changing rooms or while taking on and off their swimwear at the beach.

Whereas people from other countries, such as the US, might squirm around trying to cover their bits when changing, Germans do not have the same anxiety about feeling the need to hide their body.

A poll by German holiday site web.de in 2019 found that the vast majority (60 percent) of Germans said it was totally fine for people to be partially or completely nude – on the beach or elsewhere.

Meanwhile, 40 percent said they would even support their colleagues showing up to work in the nude. We're not sure about that but of course each workplace has different rules.

Our video by editor Alex Dunham talks you through FKK in Germany

Why is FKK popular – and does it have anything to do with sex?

FKK-followers strongly believe that the movement doesn't have anything to do with pornography or sex.

It's about celebrating your body and being outside or in a safe and respectful community environment.

The German Association for FKK says taking your clothes off is about getting back to nature and feeling free to just be and, well, let it all hang out.

“When people go swimming unclothed next to the shore and amidst the light reflecting on the water” any onlooker can see ” how much we are made for harmony with nature,” says Lorenz Kerscher rather poetically on the DFK's website when explaining what FKK actually is.

 

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“In view of current economic, environmental and social crises, there are more and more voices that are bringing the subject of our relationship with nature back into play,” Kerscher says.

“The fact that one wants to follow this path can also find its expression, for example, through nudism. In this way, man blends into the beauty of nature, just as many painters have seen and captured it on canvas. And this visible harmony also shapes the activities of the large nudist community.

“It begins with the community task of designing and maintaining the nudist areas in harmony with nature, one moves in the air and sun, one enjoys the stay in beautiful scenery, the early morning gymnastics in the morning sun, the midday rest in the shade of old trees and the evening mood at the lake.”

Summer in Munich. Photo: DPA

Die Linke (The Left) politician Gregor Gysi, who was born in East Berlin and previously called for more designated areas for nudists, said naturism stands for “self-confidence and the departure from social constraints”.

It can be confusing to those not familiar to the culture because some sauna clubs and brothels label themselves as FKK – but they are offering something completely different to the FKK movement.

Gysi said nudism in FKK “isn't really erotic.”

Rather, he said, “I see FKK as a possible counterweight to the ubiquitous sexualization in advertising, but also in society in general.”

When did FKK start?

Throughout history acceptance of public nudity has been a huge theme, such as in ancient Greece.

In Germany this form of naturism started in the late 19th century when many Germans started to think it was healthy to strip off and bathe without any clothes on.

Germany's first naturist association was founded in Essen in 1898. Berlin was also a pioneer of the new movement.

The country's first nude beach opened on the northern island of Sylt in 1920.

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FKK was initially banned by the Nazis when they came to power in 1933, but they eventually relaxed nude bathing restrictions in some areas.

Some historians argue that the party adopted the culture in some ways through their obsession with bodies.

After the war, the German Association for Free Body Culture (DFK) was established in 1949 in Hanover in West Germany.

But FKK and nudist culture took on a special significance in East Germany where it was thought to be a form of escape from the conformity of the communist state.

Many East Germans had no qualms about taking off their clothes at lakes, beaches and camping grounds, no doubt feeling a sense of freedom.

People sunbathing at Müggelsee, East Berlin in

Meanwhile, some West Germans took their clothes-free habits on holiday across Europe.

Nowadays there are still several FKK beaches across Germany, although there have been outcries in recent years that FKK has dwindled in popularity.

However, reports say that in some nudist associations such as in Berlin, the number of members are actually rising, suggesting a renaissance of Germany's nude culture. 

Are there any rules to FKK?

Yes. Those who want to get naked can't strip off anywhere they like.

If you're interested in trying FKK you have to visit a designated space or FKK marked area. Some beaches have FKK 'Naktbadestrand' signs which shows you where the nude bathing spots are.

No mobile phones or recording equipment is allowed in these areas so that people who take their clothes off can feel completely free and relaxed.

Another rule is that in the FKK areas you have to take all your clothes off. If you don't want to do that then you should stick to the other beach areas.

And finally, whatever you do, don't stare.


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