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Sexuality: The GDR & FRG: Nudism


For Peace

Fun in the Sun

Banning Nudism

In the 1950s the leader of Germany, Ulbricht, wrote the "Ten Commandments of Socialist Ethics and Morals" which included the statement: "You should live cleanly and decently and respect your family. Nudism was seen as directly opposed to the morals put forward by this moralistic German leader. When the GDR was formed, many different types of organizations were forced into one of three different state-run organizations that gave the state control over hobbies that could result in organizations being formed without state consent and therefore pose a threat to socialism. These three state-run organizations were the national trade union, or FDGB, the FDJ, and the Kulturbund. Under the control of the state, nudism was relegated to certain beaches, primarily inland lakes that did not attract as much attention as coastal beaches. But nudism became an official threat to the state when onlookers were attracted to these nude beaches and even joined in the nude swimming, which caused the state to fear for the expansion of an organization's popularity without state consent. So in the 1950s, the government of East Germany attempted to ban nudism altogether, with little success. Swimming without a bathing suit could result in fines or arrest. Policemen patrolled the beaches of the Baltic Sea, signs were posted on beaches that declared nude swimming illegal. 

Demonizing Nudists

After the ban on nude swimming and nudist organizations, many people began to stigmatize nudists, portraying them as either members of the bourgeoisie intellectual elite or hedonistic racists who were seeking to enact renditions of African dances. Some even went so far as to call nudists Neo-Nazi sympathizers. The state characterized nudists as sexually immoral straight away, declaring that nudists were motivated to swim in the nude by sexual desire. Nudists were accused by the state of being sexually deviant and delinquent, animalistic even, when reports were made that nudists were stealing people's clothing and forcing innocent passersby to be nude. The most heinous of these reports claims that boats were being capsized by large groups of nude swimmers. And if the nudists weren't simply being violent, then they were dancing in the nude around fires, painting their bodies, wearing headdresses, and making a mockery of African dance. Female nudists were said to have painted their nipples with toothpaste and wore bright, unnatural makeup. These instances were known as Cameroon parties. But the characterizing of nudists as being bourgeoisie intellectuals exposed the class struggle that was happening in East Germany, which had nothing to do with nudism. 

What was perhaps the most bizarre, and the most damaging to nudists, were the associations with Nazism. Nude swimming was condoned under the Nazi regime, and aspects of nudist culture were displayed in some areas of Nazi culture, through film and art. Thus, nude swimming was synonymous with being a Nazi sympathizer.

Intermixing of Nudists and Non-Nudists

There was a great deal of resistance from nude swimmers to this ban and subsequent stigmatizing of nudism. This resistance included claims that the state was backward instead of socially progressive, that the state was just as stifling and oppressive as fascist police, that the state was ignoring the fact that nude swimming was also a tradition in the Soviet Union, and lastly, that everyone had the right to seek a new identity in the post-war period. Many nudists continued to swim and camp in the nude despite the ban, rendering the policing of nudism virtually unenforceable. In 1954, the ban was amended, allowing small groups of people to swim in the nude, but this law stressed that nudist organizations were still illegal. This revised law remained in effect until the GDR officially ended. By 1960, however, even this revised version of the ban was opposed. Nude campsites were popular with locals and tourists, while nude beaches were often extended to the point that they overlapped with swimsuit beaches. This intermixing and popularity of nudism quickly changed the minds of several people in East Germany, who instead of opposing nudism and calling it sexually perverse, championed it as exactly the opposite. Claims were made that nudism de-erotisized the body, while swimsuits tantalizing covered up certain parts of the human body, heightening the sexual tension and fetishing the parts that were covered. Nudism was also seen as a natural state of being.

By the 1970s, the East German state had become more interested in portraying the GDR as progressive, so the nudist movement was somewhat hijacked by the state. Suddenly, exposure to nudity was important to developing a healthy adult sexual identity. This theme was presented in sex education films. Furthermore, GDR propaganda posited the act of nude bathing as a family activity and that bathing in the nude was natural and healthy, even an act of sexual self-control instead of perversity. This effort of the state to portray nudism in a positive light was only undertaken to gain favor in the eyes of East German citizens, many of whom participated and enjoyed nude bathing and camping, but also to appear progressive in the eyes of the world. By allowing tourists to experience nude swimming and an at-ease attitude with nudity, the GDR was putting forth a new lack of sexual stimulation by nude bodies as a commentary on sexual progression.