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Recently I’ve discovered a volume devoted to exploring the development and experience of life in East Germany. Katherine Pence and Paul Betts, Editors of the volume entitled East German everyday culture and politics (University of Michigan Press, 2008), write in the Introduction that

The reunification of Germany in 1989 may have put an end to the experiment in East German communism, but its historical assessment is far from over.

East German everyday culture and politics

East German everyday culture and politics

They indicate that most of the literature over the past two decades has been driven by the desire to uncover the relationship between power and resistance, but now the study of the everyday history of East German citizens advances to the forefront.

One of the articles in the book is written by Dagmar Herzog and entitled ‘East Germany’s Sexual Revolution’ (p. 71). The issue of FKK (Freikörperkultur), an important part of GDR culture, is touched upon as well. I’d like to give a few quotes from the article that may shed some light on the place nudism occupied in the life of East German people.

Starting in the middle of the 1960s nude bathing became acceptable for growing numbers of GDR citizens, and by the 1970s full nudity was clearly the norm at GDR beaches, lakeside or oceanside. Early attempts by municipal authorities to prevent this practice were simply overridden by the adamant masses, who stripped and would not move.

I found out a wonderful formulation dating back to 1956 (?): “… Nudism is a threat to public safety and it harms our workers. It is a life style of intellectuals and artists, not of workers.”

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-1989-0708-021, Berlin, Strandfest am Müggelsee

Berlin, Strandfest am Müggelsee

Nakedness for the whole family also within the home became increasingly standard practice as well, especially for that generation that had grown up together with the GDR…

The researcher writes that from the point of view of West Germans, the East German habit of naked display at the beach was variously interpreted as quaint and odd, as a trifle disturbing, or as (misplaced) compensation for East Germans’ lack of political independence.

After the reunification of Germany, the West Germans achieved what the GDR police had failed to do decades earlier.

The flood of Western pornography effectively demolished the Eastern culture of nakedness. … Many East German women no longer felt safe going naked now that they were viewed with Western men’s “pornographically schooled gaze” (pornographisch geschulter Blick). And they did begin to cover themselves.

I’ve chosen only a few quotes from the article and hope that this citation will not deprive the whole article of interest. The article is informative and allows to see the issue from the wider perspective.

Sometimes I think that almost every contradiction may be viewed as The Conflict Between East and West.

Seventeen years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the cultural divide between former East Germans and West Germans is being laid bare at beach resorts,” reported Claudia Rach, Bloomberg News two years ago (see also The New York Sun from September 7, 2006).

K. Bacher in his famous “205 Arguments and Observations In Support of Naturism” quotes Lee Baxandall, according whom

“almost every town on East Germany’s coast has an FKK beach, some 90 sites serving 200,000 campers/lodgers annually; more FKK than textile beaches. A GDR poll found 57% of the population approving of nude recreation, 30% had no opinion, and only 13% opposed.”

FKK-Strand am Schwielochsee. Bild 183-1985-0817-002

FKK-Strand am Schwielochsee

Even, if the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was “Unrechtsstaat” (”unjust state”), while now East Germany is “free,” many of its beaches aren’t. The West is blamed for exporting to the East both pornography and beach restrictions.

Nowadays according to the estimations ascribed to the DFK (German naturist federation) as many as two-fifths of beaches previously used by nudists since Germany reunified in 1990 has lost their nudist statuses.

Claudia Rach wrote that

Since communism’s collapse in 1989, Baltic resorts have added new hotels and restaurants, renovated boardwalks and cleaned up water pollution.
That led to a surge in western tourists, with visitors to the Baltic coast jumping to 5.06 million last year from 1.98 million in 1992, according to the statistical office for the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.
Property prices in Germany’s Baltic region have risen 25 percent since 1995, more than the national average, according to a study by the GEWOS Institute for Urban, Regional and Housing Research in Hamburg.
“When people with money holiday in freshly renovated resorts, the last thing they want are naked bodies on their doorstep,” said Wolfgang Weinreich, head of the International Naturist Federation.

The reporter quotes Urs Wagner, the German naturist and Berlin retiree, 57, who said, “It’s a really intense feeling of nature that everyone should experience. But who knows for how much longer. We’re a dying breed.”

On the 21st of December 2007 Poland entered into the Schengen agreement and soon afterwards the Usedom beach on the German-Polish border between the German and Polish towns of Ahlbeck and Świnoujście (Swinemünde), became the scene of … the ‘Nudist war‘. At least the German tabloid Bild depicted the local conflict as ‘Nudist war on the German-Polish border‘. If you are interested in news about naturism or paying attention to anything weird you presumably didn’t miss this story. I think, any book or series of posts about German naturism would not be complete without it :-). So I’ll state it here in brief.

A map of the islands of Usedom and Wolin and environs, Germany/Poland.

A map of the islands of Usedom and Wolin and environs, Germany/Poland.

The Baltic Sea island of Usedom is divided by the border between Germany and Poland into the German and Polish parts. Usedom has six nudist beaches along its 40-kilometer stretch of coastline – one of which is just a few meters from the border. The beaches have been nudist beaches for almost fifty years, at least on the German side (The German part of the island belonged to East Germany between 1949 and 1990).

The oldest publications that I’ve found are dated August 2008, the newest are from April and May, 2009. At the end of 2007 and at the beginning of 2008 everything looked perfect. The online magazine Cafebabel.com cited Janusz Zmurkiewicz, president of Świnoujście, who said in December 2007: ‘Finally we will be able to cross over without showing our passports wearing only our swimming costumes in summer’. But, as Monika Stefanek, the author of the article in Cafebabel.com, noted, there was one thing he couldn’t have foreseen: not everyone on the German side of the beach covers themselves up. The problem came to light with the first summer temperatures.

Achtung Grenze: Die Polen auf Usedom sind entsetzt, wie nackt es auf der anderen Seite zugeht.

Achtung Grenze: Die Polen auf Usedom sind entsetzt, wie nackt es auf der anderen Seite zugeht.

When the border signs on Usedom island were removed, Polish holidaymakers moved their feet to yet unknown beach across the border and many of them were outraged by the nudists. “I do not want my four year old daughter to know the anatomy” said a 47-year-old Polish woman. Kazimierz Sajadeusz, the 68-year-old priest in Świnoujście,  stressed: “From a Catholic point of view the nudists are sinners.” Edward Zajac, a councillor for Świnoujście, a self-proclaimed ‘moral guardian’, wanted to relocate the nudist beach far from the Polish border. If this is not possible, the nudist area should be shielded from view.

The Germans replied that what people forget today is that Goethe bathed naked, Bismarck bathed naked, and the royal spa-doctor Richard Kind from Swinemünde on Usedom warned in 1828 against bathing in swimsuits, because they neutralize the beneficial effect of the pounding of the waves. … The bathing war is as old as bathing itself.

Ein Paradies für Nudisten: Auf der Insel Usedom hat die Freikörperkultur (FKK) schon zu DDR-Zeiten die Touristen angezogen.

Ein Paradies für Nudisten: Auf der Insel Usedom hat die Freikörperkultur (FKK) schon zu DDR-Zeiten die Touristen angezogen.

France24 concludes: ‘Passport controls between Poland and Germany may have vanished. But the border dividing sunbathers in swimming suits and those wearing nothing at all is as rigid as ever.’

Auf deutscher Seite sieht das am Strand oft so aus.

Auf deutscher Seite sieht das am Strand oft so aus.

A few months ago a nudist compromise between Germany and Poland or a ceasefire was set to end the nudist war on Usedom beach. A peace plan provides that signs written in both German and Polish should mark off the naked-friendly territory from the clothes-only section. Additional signs will be prominently placed to remind German sunbathers that the Poles want to keep their beach free of bare bum sightings (quoted from Bild.com).

The locals of the island don’t like the interest that they have provoked by this conflict. They believe that the international press seems to be much more interested in this affair than the local one. And that there are a lot of real important things which are worth to be published. The mentioned international mass media consider it as a conflict of values between open-minded Germans and strict Catholics in Poland. But I would not oversimplify the issue.

In one of my previous posts I wrote about a ban imposed by the East German Communist government on naturism in the 1950s. The book “Sex, thugs and rock ‘n’ roll” by Mark Fenemore may explain what was behind this decision. As always it was due to of ‘high politics’. In 1953 Stalin died in the Soviet Union. The Khrushchev‘s rush for power in the Communist Empire led him to denunciation of Stalin at the 20th Communist Party Congress in February 1956. This in turn led to plots and political manoeuvres under the slogans of ‘de-Stalinization’ in the countries of the Soviet bloc.

From 1950 the leader of Eastern Germany was Walter Ulbricht, the General Secretary of the SED (The Socialist Unity Party of Germany) Central Committee. It was believed that after the death of Stalin his position was in danger for some time, because of his reputation as a hard Stalinist. His opponents began criticizing his policies and style of rule with a view to remove him. They called for a more humanistic socialism.

Many utopian and eccentric ideas how to reform socialism emerged in 1953-56. It was suggested then that the health benefits of nudism warranted not only its legalization but the creation of a nudist mass organization in the GDR. Someone believed that nudism could help in creation of New Communist Man, because nakedness would ‘deconstruct old conditioned reflexes and construct new ones in their place’. Already in 1924 Leon Trotsky wrote in his Literature and Revolution: “The human species, the coagulated Homo sapiens, will once more enter into a state of radical transformation“. The most of the SED leaders did not support these ideas. As regards Ulbricht, he kept and even strengthened his power. In 1960 he became the Chairman of the State Council of the German Democratic Republic, i.e. official Head of State.

The struggle for power within the SED resulted in the zigzag policies in relation to gender, youth and sexuality. In 1954-55 there were numerous futile attempts to suppress nudism by force. Mark Fenemore wrote: “The reason why the communist leaders were so determined to repress nudism was that they viewed it as a dangerous (and contagious) form of Social Democratic immunity (or ‘resistance’ to ideological persuasion). They also felt that young people corrupted by the West were using nudism ‘as a cover for mischief’. As late as 1960, policemen were sent onto the beaches to repress nudist subculture armed with machine guns.

Freikörperkultur an der Ostsee

Freikörperkultur an der Ostsee

Nevertheless, nudism survived in the GDR. Already in the early 1960s it was not considered anymore as a suspect, minority activity and became a largely unpolitical mass- participation, mass-spectator sport.

P.S. Well, these East Germans just wanted to have a nice time by the sea and found themselves engaged in plots based on the idiotic philosophizing!

In the 1950s Johannes R. Becher, the author of the text for the East German National Anthem, the President of the Academy of Arts and later the Communist Minister for Culture of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), went for a walk at the dunes of the Baltic coast and unexpectedly noticed a lady sunbathing in the nude. Outraged, he shouted to her, “Shame on you, you old sow!”. Some time later it was a special event held on the occasion of the presentation of the East German National Prize (Nationalpreis der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik) to the writer Anna Seghers. Johannes Becher was entrusted to welcome the prize-winner. He started his speech and addressed himself to Anna Seghers: “Dear Anna”. But he was immediately interrupted by the writer: “For you, Hans, still old sow!”

Bei Warnemünde, FKK-Verbotsschild

Bei Warnemünde, FKK-Verbotsschild

This anecdote can be found in Rainer Schmitz’s book “Was geschah mit Schillers Schädel?” (What happened to Schiller’s skull?) and it is very popular at the sites devoted to the German naturism. It is presented as a true story. In my previous posts I wrote a few words about the flourishing of the nudism in the Eastern Germany before Germany became united in 1990.  But it was not that easy.

In March 1933 the Nazis banned all naturist clubs and associations. After the World War II, in the early 1950s Ahrenshoop, the seaside resort on the Baltic Sea, was the first place where East German artists and intellectuals introduced the nude bathing. In fact, it was the popular nude beach already in the times of Weimar Republic. Unfortunately, Johannes R. Becher with his pathos appeal to save “the eyes of the nation” from “some people with their deformed bodies provocatively exposed” was not an only opponent to the free body culture (FKK). Among the most influential opponents was Karl Maron, Police Chief, Deputy Interior Minister and later the Minister of the Interior of the GDR (from 1955 to 1963). In May 1954 the town administration of Ahrenshoop banned nude bathing. On August 14, 1954 the GDR government extended the ban on nude bathing (Nacktbadeverbot) for the entire East German Baltic Sea coast and from the Szczecin Lagoon. But some East Germans were ready to defend a tiny bit of private liberty. They began to protest, wrote letters and submissions to the government. The fact that the Communist GDR still supports the prohibition of nudism from the Nazi era did not strengthen the position of authorities. In June 1956 the GDR government had to introduce a new arrangement to regulate outdoor recreation. Henceforth, the nude bathing in “places to which everyone has access” became permitted if these places would “be explicitly marked and adopted by the relevant local councils“. Nude bathing received, with some restrictions, the state’s blessing and soon became the mass movement in the GDR.

FKK-Anhängerinnen an der Ostsee

FKK-Anhängerinnen an der Ostsee

In my previous post I’ve already mentioned the image donation from the German photography archives Deutsche Fotothek to Wikimedia Commons. The East German photography is less known than western, but the works of real masters are worth to be discovered.

Recently, I’ve found out for myself the photographic art of Roger and Renate Rössing. According to Wikipedia, Roger Rössing (1929-2006) was one of the most famous photographers in eastern Germany. Renate (1929-2005) met Roger Rössing at the photographic classes of School of Visual Arts in Leipzig they attended between 1948 and 1951. Together they have published about 90 picture books.

Renate und Roger Rössing mit einem Freund während einer Filmszene

Renate und Roger Rössing mit einem Freund während einer Filmszene

In 1952 they took a series of photographs devoted to Nacktkultur which drew my attention by their old fashioned and conservative style. It was the time when naturism began expanding in East Germany. But only since the 1970s the nude bathing in lakes and the Baltic Sea became widespread.

Badende

Badende

One can discover the photographs taken by Roger and Renate Rössing here.