Saturday afternoon. Prime time for family swimming back home in Britain. So I assumed it would be the same in Germany. With heavy snow outside and most other establishments closed, my German partner and I decided to take our baby son Max for his first dip in a swimming pool. What a lovely family occasion, I thought! We packed our swimming gear and drove to a small pool in a town not too far away called Peissenberg.
Twenty minutes later and there we were in the baby pool, surrounded by lots of naked German folk. Men proudly strode around with all their bits on show, while women sat on sun loungers having a good old chat over one another’s bosoms. Poor little Max didn’t know where to look! “Didn’t you know it was naked day?” I hissed at Markus. “It didn’t mention anything about it when I looked on their website!” he defended himself. “It’s Saturday afternoon!” I exclaimed. “Where are all the other families?” Besides Max, there was only one other child at the pools. She was aged about 7 and wore a swimming costume. She sat on the edge of the pool while a naked middle-aged man who she didn’t appear to know stood alongside her, waiting to dive in. A sight you definitely wouldn’t see in England. I remembered when I was about eight and my grandfather was almost thrown out of a swimming pool’s spectator area there for filming us diving with his video camera. “You might be a pervert,” staff told him. How different things were in Germany – over 20 years on. Having just had a baby, and more so for being shy and British, there was no way I was going to shed my bikini. But we were definitely the odd ones out for not going nude, and it seemed we were offending those there for wearing swimwear.
As we had paid to use the sauna I decided to pop in quickly. Bikini and all! I had it to myself until an older gentleman joined me. He was completely starker’s of course. We had a conversation which mainly involved me trying very hard not to look at his penis. “Ah!” he said, when I explained that I was English. He may as well have shouted “so that’s why you’re the only ones wearing clothes!” By that time I was ready to leave. Others joining us were giving me dirty looks for daring to wear anything in the sauna. To make matters worse I had committed a massive German faux pas by forgetting to bring a towel to sit on. Then I washed my feet in some sinks that I’m sure were actually for people’s faces. We left pretty quickly and haven’t been back since.
Besides the pool there have also been naked people discreetly sunbathing down at our local lake in the summer. Germans also seem to be obsessed with changing out of their swimwear the moment it gets wet. So expect to see lots of bare bottoms and other bits being flashed during clothing changes on the lakes. Then many other swimming pools have sauna areas where wearing swimwear is strictly forbidden. We obviously escaped lightly down at Peissenberg. Going naked in Germany does seem to be more popular among older people. So maybe this is a cultural difference that could soon die out.
I remember once in London I was in a gym’s mixed sauna when a man who had dared to go naked was chased out by another in trunks shouting “you bloody pervert!” I wonder if that poor guy was a bemused German. I think that helps to explain the difference between the British and the Germans when it comes to being naked in public. In Britain it’s seen as perverse. Sexual. We associate being naked with sex. We giggle about it like little kids. In Germany, they don’t. You’re naked because you were born that way. And it’s no big deal. At all! People do it. And it means nothing to them whatsoever. The Germans I have seen naked also seem completely happy with their bodies, no matter how ageing and overweight they are. They appear to have a better appreciation of nature, whereas the British wouldn’t dare to bare unless their bodies were magazine ‘perfect’. “Don’t they go naked in British saunas?” my Bavarian father-in-law asked me recently. “Only in sex saunas,” I replied. “No!” he said. “Here it is for freedom!” he added, raising his arms in the air like a flying bird.
I have also noticed that people in Germany are less paranoid about paedophiles than parents are in Britain. I’m not saying it is completely safe here, but we do feel a lot safer here in general.
What does surprise me is, why are many Germans happy to bare their bodies when many are also so shy about revealing their personalities? “Germans are generally very private people who don’t like others to know anything about them,” my German teacher once told me. I guess that’s another issue for another post. Please do enlighten me if you know the answer!
And although I haven’t quite worked up the courage to go naked just yet, I am warming up to the idea. Even if just for a very nervous British laugh.
UPDATE: I did it. Read all about it here.