Friday, October 14, 2005

In Germany, it's all nudes, all the time

In Germany, it's all nudes, all the time

By Samantha Bennett – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

October 13, 2005

For reasons regular readers may remember, I am considered something of an expert on nudism. I have this exalted status because, while most people have in their lives been nude, I am one of a tiny handful of Americans who have been nude in public. To be honest, I don't know why the talk shows haven't called.

Nudity is a big deal in this country. I participated in an art installation in Cleveland in which more than 2,700 people disrobed as briefly as possible on a very chilly morning so an artist could take a picture of the whole crowd of us, and I am still hearing about it as if I had been Miss September.

"So what's it like to be naked?" people ask me (usually men, for some reason).

I got one anonymous screed, written in cramped handwriting trembling with fury, that scolded my immorality and finished, "I hope you don't have children!" From what I understand, it's actually rather difficult to have children if you don't get naked at some point.

Things are different in Europe, where nudity is so commonplace that it has become dull. The Wall Street Journal recently ran a story about this trend in Germany, a country that has for decades listed "nude Germans" as one of its leading exports.

There is now a lot less call for nude Germans, particularly in Germany.

Just as we in the United States have seen the decline of bowling leagues, German nudist clubs have seen their membership wither and have trouble attracting young people. Who needs club dues and rules when you can bare all at parks or at the beach? Nobody has to peep over club walls to see folks nekkid; you can see them on magazine covers and on TV. When fruit isn't forbidden, it's just another tomato in the back yard.

Conversely, as the land of the free zips up and buttons down, nudist clubs (resorts, cruises, chat rooms, rugby teams, sewing circles) have grown in popularity. Public nudity is still rare enough that practitioners of this unusual hobby need to gather for support and understanding. You know, the way people who read seek out book clubs.

We have to keep our little quirks among friends as the old axiom "Live and let live" dies out. But one Berliner quoted in the Journal story said of his family's weekend trips to the beach, "Everyone accepts each other the way they are. If someone showed up in a fur hat and nothing else, nobody would bat an eye."

Clearly, this is outrageous and immoral behavior. Just ask an anti-fur activist.

The Germans started getting very keen on nudism as healthful and athletic and outdoorsy around the turn of the 20th century. You'd think all those strapping Aryans strutting around and playing sports in the buff would have appealed to Hitler when he came on the scene, but the Nazis initially banned nudist clubs. Hermann Goering declared that "the naked culture is one of the biggest dangers for German culture and morality."

I think we've learned that anything the Nazis were against can't be all bad.

The Journal story also notes that nude beaches were very popular under Communism in East Germany, when nudist clubs were also banned. It was a kind of subtle defiance against the repressive regime to engage in "do-it-yourself nudism."

Here, where thousands were nearly incapacitated by a split-second of nipple on TV, nudism is almost unthinkably subversive, or just depraved. But in Germany, where full nudity is common on TV, both do-it-yourself and league nudism have lost their cachet.

And that's too bad. Because the problem with a permissive society is that you run out of ways to shock the squares and stick it to The Man.

Imagine the frustration of teenagers, artists and political dissenters in such an environment. American teens, for example, can wear their pants down around their hipbones to great effect, but in Cologne, a woman who popped out to do some grocery shopping wearing nothing but a jeans jacket couldn't even get arrested. And the jacket wasn't buttoned!

As for the likes of Janet Jackson, in Germany she'd be hosting a morning cooking show.

Maybe it's not so bad to live in a society where becoming interesting is as easy as dropping your pants. Maybe German youths and artists will have to wear muumuus to offend.

One thing's for sure: The Naked Culture would be a great name for a nightclub.



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