A Very German Idea of Freedom: Nude Ping-Pong, Nude Sledding, Nude Just About Anything


BERLIN — The first time Michael Adamski noticed his mother-in-law bare it was awkward.

But it wasn’t as awkward as seeing his boss bare.

Mr. Adamski, a police officer in Berlin who investigates organized crime, first began going to a nudist camp at a lake outdoors Berlin after he met his spouse, whose household owned a cabin there.

One weekend, when he had nearly gotten used to stripping in entrance of his in-laws, he ran into the highest-ranking colonel in his precinct — who promptly challenged him to a recreation of desk tennis.

They have been on first-name phrases ever since.

“Once you’ve played Ping-Pong with someone naked, you can’t call them ‘colonel’ anymore,” Mr. Adamski mentioned as he ready to hitch a triathlon the place the swimming and working parts of the race had been bare. “Nudity is a great leveler.”

Germans like to get bare. They have been getting bare in public for over 100 years, when early naturists rebelled towards the grime of industrialization after which the mass slaughter of World War I.

“Free body culture” — principally bathing the entire physique in water and daylight whereas ideally additionally performing some train — grew to become the battle cry for a wholesome, harmonious way of life and an antidote to a damaging modernity.

Mr. Adamski’s camp, based in 1921, was the primary licensed nudist membership on a lakeside within the nation. Nearly 100 years later, whole stretches of German waterfronts are designated as nudist seashores. There is a nudist mountain climbing path. There are sporting occasions from nude yoga to nude sledding. German saunas are blended and bare. People usually take their garments off on tv, too.

To a relative newcomer, like my British husband, all this nudity could be disconcerting. When I took him to a sauna a brief drive south of Berlin the opposite day, he didn’t know the place to look.

“It’s all about freedom,” said John C. Kornblum, a former United States ambassador to Germany, who has lived here on and off since the 1960s, and was once shouted at by a naked German for not taking off his swimming shorts in a whirlpool.

“Germans are both afraid of freedom and deeply desire it,” Mr. Kornblum said. “But hierarchy and rules are so embedded that direct political or social dissonance is simply not thinkable.”

“When people walk down the beach naked, it allows them to feel a little rebellious,” he said.

The Nazis tried to root out nudism, and so did the Communists, briefly. To no avail.

A lot of Germans don’t get naked in public, but nudists are ubiquitous enough that the practice has entered the national psyche.

“Most Germans finds it totally normal to be naked in the sauna, see bare breasts on the beach and naked children in the paddling pool,” said Prof. Maren Möhring, a cultural historian and nudism expert at Leipzig University.

Although there are nudists around the world, no other country has developed a mass nudist movement, Professor Möhring said. “It is a German exception,” she said.

And when someone, somewhere, tries to change the taboo against nudity, that person is likely German, Professor Möhring added.

The first nudist congress in New York was organized by a German immigrant, she said. German nudists also tried to colonize pockets of South America.

At the same time, all those naked Germans I encountered while writing this article appeared happy and unselfconscious.

On the Baltic coast one recent morning, I asked Tina Müller, a 39-year-old mother of two, why she felt the urge to get naked. She promptly returned the question: “Why do you feel the urge to wear a wet and clingy bathing suit?”

When you swim naked, she patiently explained: “It tingles on the skin. You feel every movement of the waves, every gust of wind directly on your skin. You feel your whole body. You feel alive, you feel free.”

Suddenly, I was the one who felt self-conscious.

Further down the beach, Gert Ramthun, an 80-year-old veteran nudist with snow-white hair and not a tan line in sight, said he started coming to Prerow, Germany’s most storied nudist beach, in the 1950s. The parties in those days — dress code: shell necklace only, please — were legendary, he said.

Outside of designated clothing-optional areas, public nudity is treated as a petty offense in Germany, punishable with fines up to 1,000 euros. But legal precedent has de facto legalized nudity near a beach; and nudity in nature is tolerated as long as no one complains, which rarely happens.

Some worry that Germany’s nudist tradition is slowly going out of fashion, not least because of the widespread use of smartphone cameras and the popularity of photo-sharing sites like Instagram.

“Many younger people don’t want to get naked because they don’t want to be on the internet the next day,” Ms. Möhring said.

Formal membership numbers in nudist clubs have halved since the end of Communism to about 32,000, but Mr. Utecht of the free body culture association said the numbers are rising again — especially as young families rediscover nudism and the egalitarianism it offers.

“When you get to know people naked, all that status stuff ceases to matter,” said Mr. Adamski, the police officer. “You stop paying attention to how expensive their suit is or what brand their sneakers are.”

So much so that when Mr. Adamski ran into a fellow nudist in the city center the other day he did not recognize him, because, “He was wearing clothes.”



Source link Nytimes.com

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