Free Body Culture




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The “Englische Garten”, a big city park in Munich tends to have quite a few  nude or near-nude sunbathers in summer. In 1999,  when my then boyfriend (guess which nationality?) and  I took a walk there with the friends we were visiting , he could not help staring, ogling and commenting, and I was thoroughly embarrassed. This was before I had moved to the US, and I was not really aware of how problematic nudity is in American culture.


You will frequently encounter full or partial nudity in Germany. mostly in the media,  but  occasionally  in real life. In parks, on beaches, in saunas, sometimes even in public outdoor pools. The latter might have something called Nacktbadetag (nude bathing day) – but even on “dressed bathing days”, some parents might let there toddlers or even preschoolers run around without a stitch on, and some ladies might sunbathe topless. And they will not respect your aesthetic sensibilities as to whether you (or anybody for that matter) might think they are young or pretty enough to expose themselves.


Let’s not forget the FKK-Strand – the nudist beach. Yes, often the weather warms up enough at the North and Baltic Seas for people to go without. FKK stand for Freikoerperkultur – free body culture, which I consider a rather cute term, its implication being that you free your body of clothes for health resons, maybe to expose more of it to fresh air ( read my entry on that topic here).


Growing up with parents who had both conservative and liberal tendencies, who were at times prudish and at times open-minded,  I am conflicted about many aspects of German bodily exposure… and yet, the pragmatic attitude of “if you don’t like it, don’t look” served me well when I still lived there.


I have not gotten used to the American not-so-free body culture (yet?): the breastfeeding-in-public debate astounds me, the prohibition of spaghetti straps in schools amuses me, bikini tops on one-year-olds still seem ridiculous, the disgust many Americans exhibit towards speedos strikes me as bizarre. I live in a society that is obsessed with, and yet freaked out by the body, sex, and appearance. Yes, of course, the Puritans, Christianity, etc., etc. But this is also the country that brought forth the hippies,  the sexual revolution, and Dustin Hoffman’s diving board scene in “The Graduate”.