“Free-body culture” promotes harmony with nature, and today some Germans sunbathe nude, strip down to play sports and even hike in the buff.
After four years of living in Berlin, I’ve learned to embrace Germany’s anything-goes sprit and more casual approach to nudity than where I grew up in the Midwestern US.
While nudity in mainstream American culture is generally considered to be sexual, here in Germany, stripping down isn’t uncommon in certain everyday situations. I’ve grown used to nude-by-default saunas; taken dips in pools where swimming suits were birthday suits; and surprised a massage therapist when I disrobed unprompted before a treatment, leading him to remark that Americans usually need to be asked to take off their clothes.
“Nudism has had a long tradition in Germany,”Arnd Bauerkämper, associate professor of modern history at Freie University
But, as the saying kind of goes, you never forget your first time confronted by public nudity. My introduction came during a jog through Hasenheide, a park in Berlin’s southern Neukölln district, when I came across a cluster of nude bodies taking in the bright afternoon sun. Later, after speaking with friends and acquiring a fairly questionable Google search history, I found out that stumbling across an au naturel enclave in a city park or beach is practically a rite of passage in Berlin.
What I’d seen wasn’t part of Berlin’s hedonistic side, however, but an example of Freikörperkultur, or “free-body culture”. FKK, as it’s usually shortened to, is associated closely with life in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany or “GDR”), but nudism in Germany as a public practice stretches back to the late 19th Century. And unlike, say, taking off your top at a beach in Spain, FKK encompasses a broader German movement with a distinct spirit, where stripping down to your essence in the natural world has historically been an act of both resistance and relief.
“Nudism has had a long tradition in Germany,” said Arnd Bauerkämper, associate professor of modern history at Freie University in Berlin. At the turn of the 20th Century, Lebensreform (“life reform”) was in the air, a philosophy that advocated for organic food, sexual liberation, alternative medicine and simpler living closer to nature. “Nudism is part of this broader movement, which was directed against industrial modernity, against the new society that emerged in the late 19th Century,” Bauerkämper said.
Original publication 9 November 2020
Posted on NatCorn 22nd November 2020
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