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Black in Berlin: In The Nude

Germans really dig being naked in public, a tid-bit that was missing in my Berlin orientation packet. During my first summer here, a German friend invited me out for a day of bike riding, swimming and sunbathing. Despite the fact that I couldn’t swim and didn’t need any sun, I decided to go for the fresh air. When we arrived at this lake I was surrounded by hundreds of pale naked Germans, in every size and shape. Kids eating ice cream, men playing Frisbee and old ladies making sandwiches, but there was no clothing in sight aside from the occasional towel. I wasn’t sure which made me more of a spectacle, the fact that I was the only Black person there or the only person with clothes on.

To make sure I didn’t stare at anything I kept my head down and concentrated on the book that I was reading, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Around the point when Harry unluckily picks the Hungarian Horn-tail in the Tournament, a bright light catches me in the eye like the sun’s reflection from a mirror. I look up to try and locate the source of the disturbance and then I see it, something burned into my memory that causes me to shudder even to this day. Hanging from the testicles from a hairy man standing less than five feet away from me was a big silver hoop piercing. The sun’s rays had bounced off this dude’s massive piercing and hit me smack in the face. How rude. I am permanently scarred and will most like have to seek out counseling to decouple my negative association of genital piercings with the Tri-Wizard Tournament.

The general German openness to the nude body can be attributed to the idea of Free Body Culture (FKK), which encourages enjoying nature and sport activities in the nude. In the past FKK enthusiasts would horseback ride and hike in the nude, but today, bare-assing is limited to places like the sauna, beach and forest. It’s very common, especially in the east, to have gatherings result in everyone getting naked and jumping into the water. A colleague of mine often shares the mortifying tale of meeting her future in-laws for the first time at a family picnic. Everyone was naked and when she arrived they popped out of the water and introduced themselves wearing nothing but smiles. Imaging trying to maintain eye contact so fiercely that you can barely communicate …

As an American my first introduction to the nude escapades of Germans was startling, but I think they are on to something. Seeing the real bodies of the people around you combats the unrealistic ideals perpetuated in today’s society, from magazine covers to television and films. You can also save a few bucks on swimwear.

I have come a long way from my first visit to the naked forest. I don’t even blink twice at the sight of Germans in their birthday suits nowadays and I have even gone swimming in the buff. It was oddly liberating.

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