Despite the fact that public nudity is a punishable crime in many countries in this world, in Germany – and especially in the former socialist East – everyone is familiar with the term FKK and – even though it has been decreasing over the past three decades – the practice of going to the beach fully naked is still popular. When I was a child, my parents went to the FKK-beach with me many times. FKK means “Freikörperkultur” (“free body culture”) and there is nothing nasty about it, nor has it anything to do with sex or voyeurism- it’s about liberation!
Located mostly in the liberal-progressive part of the society, it was (and still is) seen as way to practice a society without classes and to establish a deeper experience of and connection with nature. The term “FKK” itself came up in the late 1960s and was very popular on the Baltic Sea’s beaches of East-Germany. It became mainstream and almost every beach had a textile- and a nude-area.
But the idea – as mentioned before – is much older than just “FKK”. The very roots of this movement date back to the 1890s, a time when industrialization reached its peak and people lived in overcrowded, grey and polluted cities. Hence the German naturist-movement is one of the oldest in the world. By practicing nudity “in every place where it was not forbidden” the people tried to break with traditional taboos, to rebound with nature and keep a healthy lifestyle (Before the industrial times, it was a common thing for people to swim naked in rivers and lakes, though gender-separated, until in the late 18th, early 19th century stricter moral taboos were established).
The first official naturist-club was founded in 1898 in the city of Essen, Germany, but the center of the movement was located mostly on the coast and around the (already back then very liberal and open to experimenting) city of Berlin. Their aim was to establish a society that lives in harmony with nature and with no regard to one’s social status or class, and also to be comfortable with one’s own body and appreciate being different but united at the same time, to be more self-aware and conscious. Due to this long tradition of the naturism and life-reformer’s movements, the general handling of (public) nudity in the German speaking countries – as also in the Scandinavian countries – can be defined as “quiet relaxed”. And the idea that the naked human body shall not cause any feelings of shame and doesn’t have to be immediately linked to sexuality is much more common than for example in the USA. Thus, even nowadays Germans are still considered to be the “world champions of nudism” and you can find a “FKK-section” on most beaches (sea and lakes) and also many sauna clubs, nude-camping sites and even some nude-hiking trails in the mountains.
After reaching a first peak during the Weimar Republic (1918-1933) in the 1920s, when over 100.000 people were members of such a naturist or nudist club, the Nazi-regime’s authorities in the 1930s tried to ban nudity for being “immoral and sinful behavior”. After World War II it then became very popular and widespread among mostly young and liberal west-Germans in the frame of the upcoming peace- and hippie-movements. In East-Germany it became mainstream during the 1960s and 1970s, as it was also considered to be a way to express protest and being rebellious towards the elites (even though the “General secretary of the central committee of the Socialist Party and chairman of the state’s council of the GDR”, President Erich Honnecker used to spend every summer vacation on the nude beach too) and for most people, it was considered to be a small piece of freedom in this country that – for its citizens – was unfree in a lot of ways.
But after 1990 things changed and the Free body culture is decreasing. Nowadays around 80% of the members of these naturist or FKK-clubs are 70+ and latest news reportage on the German media announced the demise of the German “Freikörperkultur”. Reasons for this might be seen in a change of moral values. Especially the younger generation is confronted with a more and more sexualized society. In times of internet pornography and Instagram, many youngsters feel this pressure of optimizing to have the “perfect body” and the competitive mentality of the late-capitalist society does not stop at the human body. Many people can hardly imagine how nudity cannot be linked to any kind of sexuality and often the term “FKK” (which is not a registered and protected mark) is misused as a disguise for – let’s say “under-the-hand erotic businesses”.
But still there is a pretty large number of members in the naturist organizations such as FKK-clubs (Germany is a very “organized” country) and still also many young people have the desire or feel the need to experience themselves as also their natural environment more lively (for example by just being naked). Comparing our modern times to the late 19th century, some interesting patterns might be found: such as a more ecological and “back-to-nature-mentality” among the youth, the will to be rebellious and overcome old traditional structures and a struggle for liberation in the society.
(c) Pascal Willuhn, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a7/FKK_Anfang_sign_on_beach.jpg