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 [English] 1999 Cold war over sunshine strip 
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Germans have always been quicker than their European cousins to take their clothes off. But tempers are soaring on the beaches as west Germans complain that the east German desire to let it all hang out has gone too far. Ian Traynor reports on an age-old clash between freedom and order

http://www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Artic ... 39,00.html
Wednesday July 21, 1999

Sunning his backside on a Baltic beach, clad in nothing but a baseball cap, Ekkehard Westphal can't see what all the fuss is about. For years, the retired east German school teacher has been coming to Heiligendamm every July, stripping down to the bare essentials and joining thousands of other Germans in all their naked, sun-worshipping glory.

"What's the problem?" he asks. "Some people prefer to bathe naked, others don't. You can segregate the beaches or you can have them mixed. Here we have them a bit mixed. What's wrong with that?"

The problem is that the resorts on the Baltic coast, which was communist east Germany until 10 years ago, are now inundated with wealthy, cheeky, west Germans who insist on having things done their way, lording it over their poorer eastern cousins.

This summer the temperatures are soaring, and tempers, too, are getting heated as the two unloving parts of reunited Germany vent their mutual grievances and frustrations on the beaches of what is still a divided nation.

It's not that the west Germans are allergic to nudity. Dozens of German commercial television stations pump out a daily diet of soft porn and sexual titillation masquerading as investigative journalism. The mainstream press is full of explicit descriptions which leave nothing to the imagination.

But the west Germans want everything in its place. So the nudists should be banished to separate beaches, the exhibitionists and the voyeurs should join them, and the "textiles" - those who prefer trunks or bikinis - should be left to enjoy their holidays in peace, undisturbed by the sights of east German genitalia.

The Ossis, as the east Germans are known, are hopping. "Look, if we want to go swimming, we take our clothes off," explains Rainer Koch, waiting on the tables at a beachside café. "Nude bathing has always been the culture here. But now the Wessis come and complain. It's typical."

Last week in the nearby resort of Prerow, elderly west Germans hurled sand at an 18-year-old girl defying the senior citizens by lying naked on the beach. All along the coast, the local authorities are being swamped by complaints.

A Munich man got a year's suspended sentence for beating up a male nudist lounging by the River Isar in Bavaria. And in Berlin, local politicians and immigrant community leaders are outraged at the vogue for letting it all hang out in the city's parks and the freshwater lakes dotted around Berlin.

"This is a mixed beach, nude and textile," explains Thomas, an 18-year-old who earns pocket money in the school holidays by working as a lifeguard at Heiligendamm. "We got a complaint from one woman. She got all upset because there was a naked man lying near her. She felt harassed."

In the Tiergarten, Berlin's Hyde Park, nudity is fast becoming de rigueur. A couple of weeks ago, 1.5m ravers congregated here for the Love Parade, the world's biggest outdoor techno club, and gyrated through the city centre for 48 hours in various states of undress.

Since then the city's beautiful people imagine they have a licence to strut their naked stuff in the Tiergarten. Some of the city fathers are apoplectic, particularly since the Palace Bellevue, residence of the German head of state, looks on to the Tiergarten.

"The striptease in the park is a breach of public order and intolerable for the capital's image," thunders Ekkehard Wruck, a conservative councillor from the neighbouring borough of Wilmersdorf. "You have to have more respect for children, guests of state at the Bellevue, and people who object to nudity on religious grounds."

Indeed, the park is a favourite haunt for thousands of Turkish Muslims who turn the swards into a giant barbecue zone through the summer months. Many of them are offended by the constant sight of naked flesh.

"We've got nothing against people going nude. But there are certain places designed for that," says Burhan Kesici of Berlin's Islamic Federation Council. "You understand that we have certain regulations on clothing and many groups in the city, including Christians, can't understand why this sort of thing is tolerated."

When it comes to catering for the naked, Germany is unsurpassed, reflecting a century of naturist culture that makes Germans Europe's most ardent nudists. Hamburg got its first nudist colony in 1903 and by the 1930s, there were three million nudists in Germany.

From the Baltic to the Adriatic there are scores of beaches and havens bearing the sign FKK - German for Free Body Culture - and the acronym has been absorbed as "Efkaka", the standard word for nudism.

Anyone on an FKK beach with their togs on gets greeted with scowls and contempt. Of the 600,000 holidaymakers on the north German island of Sylt this year, 200,000 are estimated to be nudists. Half of the 200,000 tourists in the northern resort of Sankt Peter-Ording this year are stripped naked, according to the resort managers.

Munich's huge indoor and outdoor swimming complex, built for the 1972 Olympics, has introduced Friday-Sunday nude sessions. The municipal pools in the north Bavarian town of Hof have reserved every second Saturday for naked swimmers.

The results of the west Germans' insistence on having everything regulated and in its place can be seen in Heiligendamm, a former communist sanatorium and Germany's oldest organised beach resort dating from the 18th century.

To please the west Germans, who now make up more than half the holiday-makers on the Baltic coast, the Heiligendamm waterfront is now divided in four - into a nudists' beach, screened by trees, a "textiles" beach, a children's beach, and a dogs' beach.

The east Germans have had enough of such organisation and flout the rules. The west Germans shake their heads and wonder at the uncouthness of their fellow-citizens.

"Many of the west Germans really need to learn more tolerance. But they have this mentality that constantly judges the behaviour of the east Germans," says Werner, a west German homeopath holidaying in the east for the first time this year.

In what was otherwise a highly regimented and repressed society, communist east Germany had very relaxed attitudes towards nudity, sexual expression and homosexuality.

Many of the east German bathers currently infuriated by west German "intolerance" and "arrogance" say that nude bathing was one of the few freedoms they enjoyed under the old communist regime and they are not about to abandon it now.

Another reason for the tensions may be the differing attitudes to sexual harassment between west and east German women. A government-sponsored survey found that 34% of working women in east Germany thought that sexual harassment in the workplace was a problem, while the figure for west German women was more than double at 72%.

The arguments over the propriety of naked human flesh this summer are but the latest symptom of the deep-seated divisions between east and west which persist despite unification.

According to a survey of German youth published this week by four universities, almost 20% of young people in west Berlin want the wall back. Another poll found that only 29% of east Germans viewed democracy as the best kind of political system while 37% believed there were better forms of political life.

The stereotyping on both sides appears to be getting worse. "Mutual acceptance is clearly receding," the universities' analysis stated. "Prejudices on both sides are being reinforced."

East and west Germans can barely stand the sight of each other, particularly with no clothes on. But on the waterfront at Heiligendamm, Bernd, a 68-year-old retired west German engineer, can only laugh at the thought of baring it all.

"If you go down to the nudists' beach over there, you'll see all these people who clearly haven't had a good look in the mirror. If I were them, I'd cover up. Just this morning, I was thinking of stripping off for a swim, but then I looked at myself in the mirror and changed my mind."

sabato 10 maggio 2008, 11:52
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