Nudity in Germany

After last week’s unfortunate incident, I’m cracking on with the theme of full-frontal nudity. Brits may want to put the kettle on.

For those who managed to avoid reading last week’s 1300-word saga, congratulations. Here’s the nutshell version, as context:

On taking a miscalculated stand for gender equality, I became caught in a river rapid in Munich’s English Garden. Here, I promptly lost both ends of my bikini in front of a crowd. Oh, and a middle-aged woman took a photograph. I’m still not over that…

Upfront on Full-Frontal

Attitudes towards being stark bollock naked have fascinated me since I first started seeing my partner Valentin. He’s German, and we’d been out with a close male friend of his, taking a kayak on the Chiemsee (a lake in the south-east of the country). After a sedate paddle out into the centre, we’d decided to make for a pontoon, where we moored the boat and got out to swim.

I appeared over the top of the ladder just in time to see the pair of them naked and running giddily to the end of the pontoon.

I stood there for a moment, wondering if I’d missed something.

“Are you coming in?” My partner asked, puzzled. His friend had just climbed out of the water and was jogging towards us (think Bay Watch). Now, I’ll be honest, I paused here for a moment.

Looking firmly in the opposite direction, it occurred to me that although this was clearly all just a Saturday afternoon frolic, I’d be seeing this friend on a regular basis.

“I think I’ll watch.” I said, diplomatically. Was this some sort of chastity test?

“Not watch, watch, you know, just —” My face was getting redder and I promptly sat down to watch a sailing boat further out. I wondered how flamboyantly I’d have to wave to attract its attention.

“Well, if you’re sitting out, would you like to take some photos?” Valentin asked.

I nodded slowly, taking the camera. I started with some close-ups of the restaurant across from the pontoon and then a poorly-framed shot of a tree and then the sailing boat at painstaking zoom and then the tree again… I was just contemplating turning the camera back on myself for a “selfie”, when the pair of them came running towards me, shouting something.

Immediately, I engaged prude.

“I wasn’t taking photos of you lot,” I gestured wildly towards the sailing boat. As they came nearer, I realised what Valentin was asking.

“Why not?”

With the exasperation of a toddler whose game is incomprehensible to adults, Valentin turns on his heel and marches back up the pontoon. The pair of them pose at the end, butt naked and arms spread outwards like Christ the Redeemer and his good friend.

“Are you getting this?”

I nod, dutifully.

Is Nudity Really Culturally Specific?

I am firmly against generalising based on nationality. However, I can’t help but notice a distinct lack of prudes in Bavaria. I wonder if this is because the lakes are so inviting. I am yet to see a supermarket trolley or floating turd, as are familiar to the water ways of the UK.

For a while, I admired the way Valentin had been brought up, his healthy attitude towards public nudity, the innocence with which he swims about, not a care in the world, as I squat on the shore like a bomb expert, carefully coordinating undergarments behind a towel.

However, on a trip to Austria with some of his friends, I realised this was not a quirk of Valentin’s, but an attitude more widely adopted than I’d imagined.

We were spending a few days in Pitztal, where his friends rent a little cabin. One of its attractive qualities is that it’s off-grid. Buried in a densely wooded hillside, it boasts a septic tank toilet, with an industrial-revolution-style lever flush, a gas agar and, most charmingly, a shower installation in the back garden that consists of a hose pipe attached to a big stick.

For true exhibitionists, the wooden decking provides an adequate stage.

The four of us had arrived by bike on what felt like one of the hottest days of the year. After giving us the tour of the place, Gini got to work, heating water for showers on the aga. I watched as she poured kettles, one by one, steaming, into a bucket. Positioning it on the windowsill, she attached the hose fixing to a tap on the bottom of the bucket and began to pipe water out of the window.

What proceeded was an orderly parade of very naked Bavarians, queuing up to wander about in the elements, balls to the wind.

Gini remained unperturbed, as she stood at the windowsill, regulating the water and looking down on this naturist spectacle. In the UK, I can’t help but feel she would have been the butt (pun excused) of some low-end joke – the voyeur. The men in the garden would have taken the piss, winked, waggled, flashed and run away. Here, everything was all very sedate. The idea of taking a supervised shower was nothing out of the ordinary.

“Such a nice day for it.” She’d call down to Valentin, mid-back scrub.

“Yes” he would reply, vigorously drying his backside in her direction, “We really were quite lucky.”

I was not spared this curious lack of shame. Eventually, it was my turn, and true to cliché, I would be showering in full swimming attire. Downstairs, Valentin was looking for his clothes as if he were grocery shopping. He disappeared again and Gini’s head appeared in the doorway from outside. I can’t remember what she was talking about now. It was all a blur of horror as she came into the room completely naked.

The female body is baffling. Let’s just put it like that. Growing up I have experienced everything from the desire to flatten its chest, to wearing clothing two sizes too big to hide it, and yet I still never feel completely at home in it. Gini walked into the basement and proceeded to have an extended conversation with me, without so much as batting an eyelid.

I stood there, dumbfounded, eyeballs swivelling as if independent of body. Mentally short-circuiting, I did everything short of putting my head between my knees to avoid accidently staring. The trouble is, when you purposefully avoid seeing the female body, it becomes all the more fascinating when you do. It’s the Pandora’s box scenario, the don’t press the red button.

A strong coffee later, I realised, albeit alarming, I admired this attitude towards the human body. The idea of removing the clandestine, shameful connotations was liberating. Not only that, it solved a bunch of tedious problems:

  1. The Risky Run, on forgetting a bath towel in shared accommodation.
  2. The indefinite wait for a swimming changing cubicle while dripping wet.
  3. The dread of going to the doctors for anything below the neck.

The trouble is, I feel ill-equipped to adopt it. Perhaps it really is because I’m British.

Valentin firmly denies this, quite certain there is nothing remotely German about being naked. We were back in Munich’s English Garden, behind me, a nudist was taking a solitary stroll across the grass.

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