The Guardian, 23 July, 2011
The Teutonic love of stripping off in public parks at the first hint of sunshine can come as a shock to visitors from more self-conscious cultures. In future, however, the tourists’ blushes may be spared as the number of Germans who like to go naked is in decline.
Changes in demographics and shifts in fashion have all had an impact on the Free Body Culture (FKK) movement.
“German society is changing and it’s not easy to be a naturist anymore,” said Kurt Fischer, president of the German FKK Association (DFK). There are about 50,000 registered nudists in the country and seven million Germans regularly sunbathe naked, yet the ranks of the naturism enthusiasts are shrinking.
“The numbers are falling by about 2% each year,” Fischer said. “Times are tough.”
FKK enthusiasts have been disrobing in public since the early 1900s, when nudism became associated with all kinds of utopian ideals. In the former East Germany, it was particularly popular, offering an opportunity for socialising beyond the communist party groups.
The DFK has such a respectable standing in Germany that it is even included in the country’s Olympic Sport Federation. Clubs and sports bodies catering to nudism dot the country and specific FKK areas are often included in outdoor swimming pools and at sections of lakes and beaches.
But Germany’s demographic development is having an impact. The birth rate has been in decline for years and the population has been kept at a steady 82m largely thanks to immigration. Population researchers predict that the ethnic German population will have fallen by 2050 from 75m to 50m.
Many of those who have made Germany their home in recent years are not enthusiastic about embracing nudism. “Many immigrants come from countries with strong religious beliefs,” Fischer said. “They just aren’t into FKK.”
FFK groups are also struggling to attract a new generation of nudists.
Alexander Stein, a 25-year-old electromechanic from Saxony, in the former East Germany, is one of the few of his age group who is a member of an FKK club.
He has been a nudist since birth. “Some people look at me funny when I tell them but it’s not a big deal in my group of friends,” he said.
He blamed the fall in numbers on the way the media links nudity with sexuality. “Young people are brought up more prudishly these days,” he said. “They come with their grandparents when they are children but, once they hit puberty, we don’t see them again.”
He suggested another reason for the sharp decline in new recruits: that there are simply too many other ways for young people to spend their leisure time: “In East Germany, there was just not that much too do, but now are a lot of alternatives.”
Stein said it was a pity that more young people were not getting involved in the movement, which organises events and summer camps. “It’s like being part of a big family,” he said.