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NUDITY

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 dos and don’ts of public nudity in Germany
An "FKK beach" in the state of Schleswig-Holstein in July 2016. Photo: DPA

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.

SEE ALSO: How a sauna taught a prudish American to relax at the sight of naked flesh

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.

SEE ALSO: This is what Germans really think about being naked in the sauna

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. 

Click here for all The Local's guides to Living in Germany

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For members

RETIREMENT

Reader question: Can I get a retirement visa for Germany?

Unlike in EU countries such as Portugal or Spain, Germany does not have a visa specifically for pensioners. Yet applying to live in the Bundesrepublik post-retirement is not difficult if you follow these steps.

Reader question: Can I get a retirement visa for Germany?
Two pensioners enjoying a quiet moment in Dresden in August 2020. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Kahnert

Due to its quality of life, financial security and health care, Germany snagged the number 10 spot in the 2020 Global Retirement Index. So just how easy is it to plant roots in Deutschland after your retirement?

Applying for a residency permit

As with any non-EU or European Economic Area (EEA) national looking to stay in Germany for longer than a 90-day period, retirees will need to apply for a general resident’s permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis) under which it will be possible to select retirement as a category. 

READ ALSO: How does Germany’s pension system measure up worldwide?

This is the same permit for those looking to work and study in Germany – but if you would like to do either after receiving a residency permit, you will need to explicitly change the category of the visa.

Applicants from certain third countries (such as the US, UK, Australia, South Africa, Japan, South Korea, Israel, Canada, and New Zealand) can first come to Germany on a normal tourist visa, and then apply for a residency permit when in the country. 

However, for anyone looking to spend their later years in Germany, it’s still advisable to apply at their home country’s consulate at least three months in advance to avoid any problems while in Germany.

Retirement visas still aren’t as common as employment visas, for example, so there could be a longer processing time. 

What do you need to retire in Germany?

To apply for a retirement visa, you’ll need proof of sufficient savings (through pensions, savings and investments) as well as a valid German health insurance. 

If you have previously worked in Germany for at least five years, you could qualify for Pensioner’s Health Insurance. Otherwise you’ll need to apply for one of the country’s many private health insurance plans. 

Take note, though, that not all are automatically accepted by the Ausländerbehörde (foreigners office), so this is something you’ll need to inquire about before purchasing a plan. 

READ ALSO: The perks of private health insurance for expats in Germany

The decision is still at the discretion of German authorities, and your case could be made stronger for various reasons, such as if you’re joining a family member or are married to a German. Initially retirement visas are usually given out for a year, with the possibility of renewal. 

Once you’ve lived in Germany for at least five full years, you can apply for a permanent residency permit, or a Niederlassungserlaubnis. To receive this, you will have to show at least a basic knowledge of the German language and culture.

READ ALSO: How to secure permanent residency in Germany

Taxation as a pensioner

In the Bundesrepublik, pensions are still listed as taxable income, meaning that you could be paying a hefty amount on the pension from your home country. But this is likely to less in the coming years.

Tax is owed when a pensioner’s total income exceeds the basic tax-free allowance of €9,186 per year, or €764 per month. From 2020 the annual taxable income for pensioners will increase by one percent until 2040 when a full 100 percent of pensions will be taxable.

American retirees in Germany will also still have to file US income taxes, even if they don’t owe any taxes back in the States. 

In the last few years there has been a push around Germany to raise the pension age to 69, up from 65-67, in light of rising lifespans.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Could people in Germany still be working until the age of 68?

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