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CULTURE

Why do Germans love getting naked?

Just like Oktoberfest, techno and cars, nudism is a big part of German culture. Why? And what does it mean?

Why do Germans love getting naked?
An FKK sign at Wannsee beach in Berlin. Photo: DPA

During summer in Germany – and all-year-round at saunas and spas – you are likely to see a lot of people without any clothes on.

That’s because nudism is traditionally very popular in the Bundesrepublik, arguably more so than many other places across the world.

It’s normal to see people in Germany baring all in saunas, some swimming pools, at the beach, at lakes and even at parks.

There’s even a word to describe the movement of going Textilfrei (textile free): Freikörperkultur (FKK), or free body culture.

READ ALSO: Only in Germany – wild boar steals laptop from naked Berlin sunbather

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How many people practise FKK?

There are about 600,000 Germans registered in more than 300 nudist or FKK clubs throughout the country.

The DFK (Deutscher Verband für Freikörperkultur or German Association for FKK), which is a member of the International Naturist Federation, has around 40,000 members of all ages.

The DFK has a strong connection with sport and members get together for hiking, volleyball and swimming among other activities. The DFK says there are around 135 clubs throughout the country in the nudist sports scene.

According to the German Sauna Association, around 30 million people in Germany – 17 million men and 13 million women – regularly visit the country’s 2,300 “clothes free” saunas.

Even Angela Merkel enjoys visiting saunas – on the night the Berlin Wall fell she famously took a trip to the sauna with a friend.

Bathers at a Schleswig-Holstein beach. Photo: DPA

But apart from FKK, Germans seem to be a bit more comfortable with getting their kit off in general, for example in gym changing rooms or while taking on and off their swimwear at the beach.

Whereas people from other countries, such as the US, might squirm around trying to cover their bits when changing, Germans do not have the same anxiety about feeling the need to hide their body.

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.

Meanwhile, 40 percent said they would even support their colleagues showing up to work in the nude. We’re not sure about that but of course each workplace has different rules.

Why is FKK popular – and does it have anything to do with sex?

FKK-followers strongly believe that the movement doesn’t have anything to do with pornography or sex.

It’s about celebrating your body and being outside or in a safe and respectful community environment.

The German Association for FKK says taking your clothes off is about getting back to nature and feeling free to just be and, well, let it all hang out.

“When people go swimming unclothed next to the shore and amidst the light reflecting on the water” any onlooker can see ” how much we are made for harmony with nature,” says Lorenz Kerscher rather poetically on the DFK’s website when explaining what FKK actually is.

READ ALSO: The truth laid bare: What you need to know about Germany’s sauna culture

“In view of current economic, environmental and social crises, there are more and more voices that are bringing the subject of our relationship with nature back into play,” Kerscher says.

“The fact that one wants to follow this path can also find its expression, for example, through nudism. In this way, man blends into the beauty of nature, just as many painters have seen and captured it on canvas. And this visible harmony also shapes the activities of the large nudist community.

“It begins with the community task of designing and maintaining the nudist areas in harmony with nature, one moves in the air and sun, one enjoys the stay in beautiful scenery, the early morning gymnastics in the morning sun, the midday rest in the shade of old trees and the evening mood at the lake.”

Summer in Munich. Photo: DPA

Die Linke (The Left) politician Gregor Gysi, who was born in East Berlin and previously called for more designated areas for nudists, said naturism stands for “self-confidence and the departure from social constraints”.

It can be confusing to those not familiar to the culture because some sauna clubs and brothels label themselves as FKK – but they are offering something completely different to the FKK movement.

Gysi said nudism in FKK “isn’t really erotic.”

Rather, he said, “I see FKK as a possible counterweight to the ubiquitous sexualization in advertising, but also in society in general.”

When did FKK start?

Throughout history acceptance of public nudity has been a huge theme, such as in ancient Greece.

In Germany this form of naturism started in the late 19th century when many Germans started to think it was healthy to strip off and bathe without any clothes on.

Germany’s first naturist association was founded in Essen in 1898. Berlin was also a pioneer of the new movement.

The country’s first nude beach opened on the northern island of Sylt in 1920.

READ ALSO: Undressing at a Berlin sauna wasn’t the moment of liberation I’d hoped for

FKK was initially banned by the Nazis when they came to power in 1933, but they eventually relaxed nude bathing restrictions in some areas.

Some historians argue that the party adopted the culture in some ways through their obsession with bodies.

After the war, the German Association for Free Body Culture (DFK) was established in 1949 in Hanover in West Germany.

But FKK and nudist culture took on a special significance in East Germany where it was thought to be a form of escape from the conformity of the communist state.

Many East Germans had no qualms about taking off their clothes at lakes, beaches and camping grounds, no doubt feeling a sense of freedom.

People sunbathing at Müggelsee, East Berlin in

Meanwhile, some West Germans took their clothes-free habits on holiday across Europe.

Nowadays there are still several FKK beaches across Germany, although there have been outcries in recent years that FKK has dwindled in popularity.

However, reports say that in some nudist associations such as in Berlin, the number of members are actually rising, suggesting a renaissance of Germany’s nude culture. 

Are there any rules to FKK?

Yes. Those who want to get naked can’t strip off anywhere they like.

If you’re interested in trying FKK you have to visit a designated space or FKK marked area. Some beaches have FKK ‘Naktbadestrand’ signs which shows you where the nude bathing spots are.

No mobile phones or recording equipment is allowed in these areas so that people who take their clothes off can feel completely free and relaxed.

Another rule is that in the FKK areas you have to take all your clothes off. If you don’t want to do that then you should stick to the other beach areas.

And finally, whatever you do, don’t stare.

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For members

GERMANY EXPLAINED

Why are shops in Germany closed on Sundays – and will it ever change?

Germany's strict ban on shops opening on Sundays can be a shock to foreigners. We looked at the culture around it, and spoke to one of the country's largest trade unions to find out if things are ever likely to change.

Why are shops in Germany closed on Sundays - and will it ever change?

It’s Sunday. You’ve invited people for dinner, but you’ve forgotten the most important ingredient. Tough luck – you’ll either have to do without or wait until Monday because your local shops are shut. 

Most of us are familiar with this inconvenience, and perhaps you’ve even found yourself screaming: “Why?” in frustration in front of a locked-up supermarket. 

But it’s something us adopted Germans have had to get used to. We decided to take a look at the reasons behind Germany’s ban on Sunday shopping – and to find out if it might change in future. 

Where does the rule come from?

The Sonntagsruhe or ‘Sunday rest’ principle is an integral part of German culture, so much so that it is enshrined in the German constitution (Grundgesetz).

Article 140 of the law, which has remained unchanged since 1919, says: “Sundays and state-recognised public holidays remain protected by law as days of rest from work and spiritual upliftment.” 

But the practice of not working on Sunday has been around for much longer. The idea that the seventh day of the week is a day of rest dates back to the old testament and was declared a general day of rest across the Roman Empire as early as 321, by Roman Emperor Constantine.

In the centuries since, however, most of Europe has gradually relaxed the strict ban on commercial activities on Sundays. 

But in Germany, the rules remain restrictive. It’s unlikely to change anytime soon partly because of religious reasons, and also in relation to the interests of workers.

Germany’s biggest trade union Verdi spelled out their view. “It’s not ‘modern’ to work seven days a week,” they told The Local. “That’s the Middle Ages.” 

What exactly does the law mean?

On the face of it, the German law forbids all forms of work on Sundays and public holidays, though numerous exceptions are laid out in the Working Time Act. 

As well as emergency and rescue services, hospitals, nursing and care facilities, exceptions include cultural and sporting activities, and the hospitality sector. 

Another notable exemption to the rule is bakeries, which are allowed to open for three hours on Sundays – which is why you may often find a long queue at your local baker if you want to get your freshly baked Brötchen on Sunday morning. 

A saleswoman reaches for a loaf of bread in a bakery.

A saleswoman reaches for a loaf of bread in a bakery. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Mohssen Assanimoghaddam

Illustrating how seriously the rule can be taken in Germany, there have even been cases of bakeries being sued for selling bread for too long on Sundays.

Shops, however, aren’t exempt from the rule and, the only way they can legally open on a Sunday is on a so-called verkaufsoffener Sonntag – Sunday trading day.

In most federal states, shops are allowed to open on between four and eight Sundays per year, and the States can decide when these should be. The chosen days must, however, be linked to a relevant occasion – such as a local festival, a market, a trade fair, or a similar event. 

Sunday openings also have to be recognisable as an exception to the general rule and Sunday openings that have already been approved can often be later overturned by the courts.

How strictly is the rule enforced?

Retailers who break the rules and open for business on Sunday can face fines ranging between €500 and €2,500.

The strictness of enforcement can vary widely between different regions.

In Berlin, for example, you can still find lots of Spätis (late night shops) open on Sundays. Although this is technically illegal, the authorities in the capital seem to take more of a relaxed approach to enforcement than in other states. 

A "Späti" late-night shop in Berlin.

A “Späti” late-night shop in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Florian Schuh

In the traditionally Catholic state of Bavaria, for example, the law is much more strictly guarded and enforced.

READ ALSO: Why Germany has strict shop opening hours

Is the law likely to change?

A survey by Spiegel in 2017 showed that 61 percent of Germans wanted to be able to shop on a Sunday, and this desire is shared by the trade industry.

The German Trade Association, for example, which represents around 400,000 independent companies, has strongly criticised Germany’s refusal to budge on the issue of Sunday openings on several occasions and argued that Sunday opening is also popular with staff, with many shop assistants appreciating the work in a more relaxed atmosphere.

In its latest statement on the issue, the association stated that, especially after following the economic impact of the pandemic, many retailers would benefit greatly from being able to open on Sundays. 

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“It is remarkable that in no other EU country Sunday opening is as restricted as in Germany,” the association said. “Even in strongly Catholic EU countries such as Italy and Poland, shoppers can generally shop on Sundays. The same applies to France, although they place great value on culture and socialising.”

However, even if there is a widespread desire in some quarters to allow Sunday trading, an amendment to the constitution would require the consent of two-thirds of the German parliament. Also, there remains strong opposition to changing the rule from many workers’ groups and trade unions.

Trade union Verdi, which regularly files complaints against states and organisations which seek to deviate from Sunday trading restrictions, said that Sunday rest is still very important for workers.

A sign reads “Spring for Frankfurt – Sunday trading day” in front of a shoe shop in Frankfurt.

A sign reads “Spring for Frankfurt – Sunday trading day” in front of a shoe shop in Frankfurt. Photo: picture-alliance/ dpa/dpaweb | Arne Dedert

A spokesperson said: “We have just one day a week when employers can’t stop us from going to football together, meeting friends, attending cultural events, or spending free time with the whole family.

“And we want to keep it that way. There are six days a week when we can go shopping, take the car to the garage, do our banking, or get the package delivered from the online retailer. On Sunday, there has to be peace and quiet.”

The Verdi spokesperson added that it’s important to think about “work-life balance, and not about being available 24/7 for a company”.

We also asked the union if the law looks set to change in the near future.

The spokesperson said: “Sunday, which is a non-working day for most people, has so far been protected by the majority of political parties in Germany.

“Verdi, with its almost two million members, continues to work to ensure that working on Sunday does not become an everyday occurrence.”

So it appears that the culture shock for many non-Germans of shops being closed on Sundays won’t change anytime soon. 

READ ALSO: From nudity to sandwiches – the biggest culture shocks for foreigners in Germany

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