The dos and don’ts of public nudity in Germany
If you haven't done so already, you should make yourself familiar with the concept of Freikörperkultur (FKK) in Germany. This list should help get you started.
The Freikörperkultur (FKK), or free body culture, in Germany is widespread, as may be particularly noticeable in the summer months.
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.
And a full 40 percent said they would even support their colleagues showing up to work in the nude.
But what should you know if you want to get in on the FKK experience - or avoid it entirely? Here are some tips:
Do: Understand the history.
Families sunbathe at Müggelsee in East Berlin in 1986. Photo: DPA.
Acceptance of public nudity goes way back in Germany's history, which might help explain why Germans cling to it still.
The very first FKK club was founded in Essen in 1898, and the first nudist beach opened on the North Sea island of Sylt in 1920. The Nazis cracked down on naked baths and nudist associations, though they eventually relaxed nude bathing bans in remote areas.
After the war, the German Association for Free Body Culture (DFK) was established in 1949 in Hanover within West Germany, but the culture was most prominent in the East where people were more secular. So you may still be more likely to observe the movement today in the eastern states than in the west.
Don’t: Wear anything in the sauna.
The saunas in Germany are often co-ed, and also frequently have strict no-clothes policies - meaning no swim shorts inside, and sometimes no towels. Germans argue that it’s not hygienic to have clothing on, which you might have a hard time believing. You might also be shocked to find that some workplaces have sauna days planned for co-workers.
A little more than half of Germans polled in 2016 by Expedia said that saunas should in fact have rules compelling visitors to bare it all, while just a quarter felt this was inappropriate. Perhaps it’s better to stick with the majority.
Towels are for sitting on, not for covering up. Photo: DPA.
Do: Be polite.
Staring, shielding your eyes or generally being visibly judgemental about those who choose to roam about in the buff will actually make you look like the odd one out, not them. And pictures are definitely a no-no.
Nude-friendly locations are designated as FKK on signs, but you may still find people at least partially stripping down at lakes, the beach, in the park or on their own street-facing balconies. And that’s perfectly German to do.
Don’t: Be surprised by co-ed changing rooms.
On top of mixed gender saunas, you may also be shocked to find some places also have changing areas for both men and women (such as the indoor waterpark resort of Tropical Islands, outside Berlin).
The act of actually undressing in front of strangers rather than showing up already completely naked in front of them can make you feel a bit more vulnerable somehow. And if you can’t get over that, just duck into a bathroom stall if need be.
Do: Be careful about some ‘saunas’.
Just because something is called a sauna, doesn’t mean people there are simply sitting around, absorbing the steamy air. Certain places will advertise themselves as FKK saunas, but they’re actually more like brothels with freelance prostitutes coming by - which is perfectly legal.
Perhaps this is just what you’re looking for, but if not, be sure to check out the website before simply stumbling in.
Don't: Worry (that much) about going topless.
A 2016 poll by Expedia also showed that 61 percent of Germans said it was perfectly acceptable for women to go topless at the beach. Still, only 2 percent of female respondents said that they regularly do this.
So while it might be accepted, you won't find it done so often outside of FKK zones.
Do: Try nude hiking.
The FKK hiking trail in the Harz mountains region. Photo: DPA.
Part of the glory of getting naked in public in Germany is a feeling of oneness with nature - Naturgefühl. So of course there are specific, nature-oriented activities to try in Germany that involve being close to the outdoors - the very first nudist trail in the Harz mountain region of Saxony-Anhalt, for example. And there are various nudist camping spots throughout the country.
Do: Check out the famous places. If you really want to get to know FKK in Germany, try visiting the places with the longest history. Sylt still has a nude beach section, while the Baltic Islands in the east also have their own FKK zones.
Munich's English Garden and Berlin's Tiergarten are also quite famous for permitting visitors to get their kit off.
Don't: Forget sunblock. As eager as you might be to get outside and embrace your body, remember that a healthy layer of sunblock will probably do you good in the long-run to protect those parts of your body that may have never before seen the sun.