Naturism, A Well Established German Custom

From the BBC News Magazine

By Stephen Evans

Citizens of the former West and East Germany share many well-established customs, including naturism. But does a relaxed attitude to naked bodies mask some division over the freedom of women?

Sex in Germany, I imagine, is much the same as sex everywhere else.

It was, as we know, invented in the 60s, probably in California, and since then the techniques involved are probably pretty universal.

But attitudes to sex and sexuality and nakedness are not. And in Germany, I have to tell you that I have been surprised.

Not least when I was in the changing room of the gym to which I go.

There I was, naked from the waist down – very naked – wrestling to get a T-shirt off my head, and the T-shirt was wrestling back.

When I finally pulled the thing off, there before me was a woman – a pretty woman – in her 20s pushing her broom at my feet.

This very real vision was the female cleaner in the male changing-room. Our eyes met. I blushed. She pushed on blithely, unconcerned.

Or when I went into the local sauna bath, which every neighbourhood has.

My German friends told me that nakedness was de rigueur, so into the cabin I went to find two young, naked women. They looked at me. I looked at the ceiling.

Germans – or at least Germans in the non-Catholic north of the country – say that the sight of the nude body is completely normal – natural, as they put it.

Why, they ask, would one wear a dirty, sweaty swimming costume? And, they say, being naked is nothing to do with sex. There is never a stir or a twitch of a sexual nature.

To which I say: hmmm.

My scepticism was shared, by the way, by both the Nazi and Communist regimes.

In East Germany, nude bathing became something of a sign of dissidence, contrary to the exhortation of the Culture Ministry to “protect the eyes of the nation”.

The Nazis welcomed what Hermann Goering referred to as the “healing power of sun and air” in making a strong nation, but he did disapprove of public nudity which he called a “cultural error” that threatened female modesty.

Both regimes lost the argument. And demographics did the rest. In the rubble after World War II, there were seven million more German women than men.

And in this atmosphere, an industry grew up which was very different from that in other
Western countries, one much more aimed at women.

Germany had a well-developed mail-order industry – and it had exactly the right woman to exploit it.

Beate Uhse had been a pilot in the Luftwaffe – as a woman she had not been allowed to fight but she did pilot planes to the front line.

After the war, as the daughter of a doctor, she was beset by friends who wanted to know how not to get pregnant.

My East German female friends tell me that the independence of women continued in the East of the country far more than in the West”

She started providing them with condoms and with advice on how she thought men could be kept happy. It became what is still one of Germany’s most successful businesses.

All this has been described by the historian Elizabeth Heineman, who told me that because the business was mail-order, women were not inhibited from buying.

Particularly in the catholic South, they would not go into a shop but they would order from a catalogue.

Elizabeth told me that German women emerged from the war particularly independent and strong because the absence of men was so stark, but in the west of the country traditional roles were gradually re-asserted.

Not so, though, in East Germany.

Simone Schmollack writes for the Tageszeitung and a magazine – a women’s magazine – called Die Magazin which was founded in 1929 and continued in East Germany throughout the years of Communism.

Tourists look through remaining section of Berlin Wall Do cultural differences remain 20 years after the Berlin Wall fell?

She told me that women in the East – and she was one – had genuine economic independence and that gave them a strength in their relations with men.

Now that the Wall is down, cultural frictions are emerging.

Here is the way she put it: “When Western men go out with Eastern women, they – the men – sometimes have problems.

“Eastern women are so cool, the Westerners think. So independent. So free with sex. But then they want them to be stay-at-home, too”.

So speaks an East German woman.

With such a mix of regimes and attitudes and cataclysmic shocks to relationships, there is confusion in the unified Germany over the roles of men and women.

Nowhere more so, I think, than when a sweaty, naked Brit strays into a gym or a sauna bath.

Photographs added by Martin.

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Nudity and the Free Enterprise System

This article is from South Africa’s Times Live.

The photographs were added by me. It seems more people than ever are figuring out how much fun and how invigorating it is to get naked.

*     *     *

From naked computer technicians to a concert where the audience — and musicians — are all in the buff, South Africans are embracing whipping their kit off two decades after the fall of apartheid’s stuffy rule.

Membership of the South African Naturist Federation (Sanfed) is growing briskly, from 130 people in 2009 to around 8,000 today, and attitudes are relaxed enough for a new all-naked business to draw bookings. “Twenty years ago nudity was very much a taboo and people didn’t really speak about it, whereas nowadays times have changed,” said Sanfed chairman Carrington Laughton.

Public nudity in South Africa is not legal, despite a decades-old blind eye on certain beaches and at certain resorts, but attitudes are now more accepting since the once-isolated nation opened up after democracy in 1994. “The general approach that the previous political regime had was a very conservative one, it was a very very conservative bunch of people running the country and as a result, certain things were not allowed,” said Laughton.

“And with the changes that have happened, obviously all of that nonsense has fallen away and that which hasn’t fallen away completely has very much taken a back seat.” Around a quarter of Sanfed’s registered members are black, figures Laughton would like to grow, and up to 60% is male. Most white members are Afrikaners.

Prompted by the fast-growing numbers, Briton Mark Taylor, who with his wife has a naturist hotel in Greece and a naked sailing business, opened a dedicated family resort Vasnat near Cape Town in December.

Summer bookings were overwhelmingly international — 79 percent Europeans and 21% local — but South Africans are warming to the idea, he said. “I was extremely surprised at the local interest,” said Taylor, who said a Sunday concert even saw the non-naturist band strip off in the second set.

Equating sex with no clothes is the biggest misconception that the lifestyle faces, he added.

“People think we’re all here having sex,” said Taylor, even though public amorous shows usually lead to an immediate booting-out.

“And that is so far away from the truth — there is no sexual vibe about it, it’s not sexual, it’s not erotic, it’s just people enjoying being in the sun without their clothes on.” Also seeing gain in a “less is more” approach, Cape Town resident Jean-Paul Reid in January started a company whose chef hiring policy is a willingness to work in the nude, or mostly so.

The 29-year-old has signed up more than 75 part-timers with diverse services onto his au natural books — from a computer technician to a law student — after failing to find work in his accounting field. Continue reading

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