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GERMANY EXPLAINED

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

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.

READ ALSO:

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.

Check out our video on nudism in Germany by our video editor Alex Dunham here (it’s safe for work!):

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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DISCOVER GERMANY

10 unmissable events in Germany this October

From dazzling light shows to quirky food festivals, October is a jam-packed month in Germany. Here are some of the events you won't want to miss.

10 unmissable events in Germany this October

Oktoberfest, Munich Teresienwiese, September 17th – October 3rd

As possibly the world’s most famous beer festival, Oktoberfest needs no introduction – and for those who didn’t make it to Bavaria in September, there are still a few days left to catch it at the start of the month.

If you make it on the last bank holiday Monday, you can catch an especially rowdy party atmosphere as professional rifle shooters mark the end of the fest. But any other day at the Wiesn is an experience to remember, with live music and singing in all the tents, delicious Bavarian beer and a gigantic funfair for the most adventurous visitors.

And for those who can’t make it down to Bavaria at short notice, the Hofbräuhaus beer halls around the country celebrate their own mini-Oktoberfests with dancing, singing, live music and of course a crisp litre or two of Hofbräu. 

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about Germany’s Oktoberfest

German Unity Day Celebrations, Erfurt Old Town, October 1st – 3rd 

Marking the day when West and East Germany were formally reunited back in 1990 – a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall – Tag der Einheit (Unity Day) is a truly special bank holiday in Germany. 

Each year, a different German city takes it in turn to host the annual Bürgerfest (citizen’s festival) in honour of Germany’s national day. This year, the Thuringian capital of Erfurt will be putting on an action-packed programme of political and cultural events all weekend. To start with, Germany’s five constitutional bodies – the Bundestag, Bundesrat, Federal President, Federal Government and Federal Constitutional Court – will be represented with large information stands on the theme of “Experiencing Politics”. And for those less keen to take a deep dive into the workings of government, each of the 16 states will have the best of their culture and cuisine on display. 

There’ll also be live concerts, performances and a light installation representing German reunification over the weekend, making a visit to scenic Erfurt well worth it. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How October 3rd became Germany’s national holiday

Cannstatter Volksfest, Stuttgart, September 23rd – October 9th 

If you want to experience big folk festival but want to steer clear of the tourist crowd in Munich, look no further than Oktoberfest’s Swabian sister, the Cannstatter Volksfest in Stuttgart. 

First launched in 1818, the festival has become a mainstay of the autumn calendar in Baden-Württemberg, and it’s an event that is fiercely proud of its Swabian roots. If you go, you can sample some of the best local beers and wines around, as well as other traditional Swabian delicacies. You can also go on rollercoasters and other fairground rides, hear trumpeting Oompah bands and get dizzy on the world’s largest mobile Ferris wheel. 

Weimar Onion Market, October 7th – 9th

Nobody can say that Germans don’t make the most of their seasonal produce – and Weimar’s historic Zwiebelmarkt (onion market) is no exception.

The Zwiebelmarkt tradition dates back as early as the 15th century, when traders would come to the bustling town of Weimar to sell their wares. Over the years, the onion market days became a major social event where locals would also gather to eat, drink and barter. These days, you’ll still find all things onion-related at the onion market, from arts and crafts to culinary treats. But there’s also a funfair, live music, beer tents and family friendly activities to boot.

Ludwigsburg Pumpkin Festival, August 26th – December 4th

If you’re a fan of all things autumnal, look no further than Ludwigsburg Palace, which becomes home to the world’s largest pumpkin exhibition each year from late August to early December. 

It may sound novel, but a walk around the grounds of the palace will show you that in Ludwigsburg, the pumpkin artists certainly don’t do things by halves. Not only can you see incredible sculptures made from around 450,000 pumpkins in total, but you’ll also see a jaw-dropping 600 different varieties of pumpkin there as well. And if you work up an appetite while soaking up the exhibition, you can also sample some delicious pumpkin-based dishes, from soup to Maultaschen.

Pumpkin exhibition Ludwigsburg

Balu and Mowgli from the Jungle Book at the Ludwigsburg pumpkin exhibition. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Schmidt

Filmfest Hamburg, 29th September – October 8

Though it tends to get overshadowed by the show-stopper Berlinale, film buffs who can’t wait until February will enjoy a trip to its Hanseatic sibling: Filmfest Hamburg.

Running throughout the first week of October, the Filmfest brings together the best of contemporary cinema from around the world at a range of venues around the city. This year, the festival is also celebrating its 30th anniversary, so there’s bound to be a truly special atmosphere at the event. 

You can find the full programme in English here.

Berlin Festival of Lights, October 7th – 16th

Each year in the middle of August, the familiar sights of the German capital are bathed in colourful light and transformed each evening into weird and wonderful artistic creations.

This year, the theme of the world famous light festival is “Visions of the Future” as artists explore the question: What will our future look like?

The fruits of their labours can be seen around the city each evening from 7-11pm, after it gets dark. Organisers says there will be a big focus on sculptures this year – as well as the usual large installations – as they seek to reduce their electricity use by 75 percent. 

Berlin cathedral at Festival of Lights 2018

Berlin cathedral lit up in colourful lights at the 2018 Festival of Lights. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jens Kalaene

Frankfurt Book Fair, October 19th – 23rd 

The world’s largest book fair is returning to Frankfurt this October with the theme of “translation”, exploring the idea of translating ideas into new languages, mediums and contexts.

Alongside the sprawling trade fair and conference, there will also be a packed schedule of literary events where people can hear reading and talks by popular authors. You can find out all about the exhibitors at the book fair this year and what’s on at the conference in English on the Frankfurt Book Fair website

Deutsches Weinlesefest, September 23rd – October 10th 

The picturesque wine-growing regions of western Germany hold wine festivals throughout the year, but the Wine Harvest Festival – or Weinlesefest – is by far one of the biggest.

Fittingly enough, the festival is held in Neustadt an der Weinstraße, a pretty little town located along the famous Wine Route. For the few weeks of the festival, this sleepy little town hosts an enormous wine parade and around 100,000 wine-loving visitors. Head there on the 7th to see the crowning of this year’s Palatinate Wine Queen and sample some Rhineland wines out of a dubbeglas, a big glass that holds a whopping 50cl of wine. As always, drink responsibly! 

READ ALSO: 10 ways to enjoy autumn like a true German

Halloween at Frankenstein’s Castle, October 21st – November 6th 

If the name of Frankenstein’s Castle sounds familiar to you, it should do: apparently, Mary Shelley, the author of the novel Frankenstein, could well have been inspired by the castle when she visited the nearby town of Gernsheim in 1814. 

These days, however, the castle is known for something slightly different: in 1978, American airmen set up an annual Halloween festival at the castle, and the spooky tradition has continued to this day.

Halloween at Frankenstein Castle

A blood-curdling character at Frankenstein Castle’s Halloween Festival in 2018. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Andreas Arnold

If you want to enjoy what’s been described as one of the most spectacular Halloween experiences in the world, it’s well worth booking tickets to go up to the castle in late October. In the weeks around Halloween, the 1000-year-old castle is transformed in a phantasmagoria of monsters and evil beings lurking in the shadows.

Every year, the organisers of the festivals pull yet another technical trick out of their sleeve to ensure that visitors are more spooked than ever. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but if you think you can handle the adrenaline, it’s bound to be an action-packed night. 

READ ALSO: What are Germany’s 8 spookiest places?

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