From lakes to saunas and parks: Is Germany’s nudist culture, known as FKK, dying out or still making waves? It’s still strong enough to inspire a change of attitude for Berlin-based expats.
At first glance it seems like a regular beach scene: Children running in and out the water, sandwiches being passed around families and couples sunning themselves.
But on closer inspection most people at Krumme Lanke, a lake in the south west of Berlin have something in common.
They aren’t wearing a scrap of clothing. And it’s a non-event. No one cares and no one is surprised. There’s nothing sexy about it. It’s 25C; it’s a very hot spring day and there’s really no need for clothing if you don’t feel like wearing it.
Three letters allowing everyone to get naked: FKK
Germany has a tolerance of and, in some cases, a fondness for being “textile free.” Whether it’s one of the country’s hundreds of spas and wellness resorts, parks or lakes, many citizens here are known for having no qualms about taking their clothes off.
This is the country of FKK — Freikörperkultur — an informal movement that translates to free body culture.
But with bans on public nudity and the popularity of naked swimming in decline in Germany, advocates of nudist culture fear FKK is on its way out.
A declining tradition?
East Berlin-born Gregor Gysi, president of the European Left, spoke out last year on the decline of FKK and called for more designated areas for nudists.
The politician said that according to a sex researcher it was the “pornographic gaze” of Westerners after reunification in Germany that destroyed the pleasure of nude bathing that had always been more widespread in East Germany.
“It think it’s a pity because FKK has class,” says Gysi, 70.
An expat’s perspective
Back at the lake a cyclist has just arrived, peeled off his bodysuit to reveal bare skin and jumped into the water. I’m not surprised at all the bums on show but it’s taken some time to become accustomed to this laid-back attitude to nudity.
Why? Because I’m from Scotland, and, like other parts of the UK, there isn’t the same attitude towards stripping off. To put it bluntly, if you take your clothes off in public you’d probably be accused of being a pervert. It’s just not that common.
For Scotland the reluctance to go nude could be blamed on year-round terrible weather, but it’s also something deeper. The British attitude to bare skin differs hugely from the continent. We’re not used to seeing naked bodies unless they are highly sexualized in advertisements, music videos or porn.
So “normal” nudity in saunas or beaches can make expats giggle or feel embarrassed.
“In Anglo culture, people tend to have a very different relationship to the body, says Annegret Staiger, associate professor of anthropology at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York. “Where as if you go to Germany, Bulgaria, France, Austria… it’s a different story.
“In the US people are scandalized about skin and at the same time make such a hype about showing it,” adds Staiger, who grew up in Stuttgart, Baden-Württemberg, before leaving to study in the US in 1987.
Original publication 24 July, 2019
Posted on NatCorn 19th January 2021
Reference to an article does not infer endorsement of any views expressed.