“It has nothing to do with sex,” insisted Udo Schumacher, 64, as he stood, stark naked, on a beautiful but bracing beach in Prerow in what was once communist East Germany.
“If you go in and experience how lovely it is to swim with a naked body, and come out without wet trunks on, you feel healthy. And if you can get over the fact that you are naked, it is great,” he told AFP back in August.
“Freikoerperkultur” (“Free body culture”), or “FKK” for short, was hugely popular in the otherwise highly restrictive German Democratic Republic (GDR), much more so than in West Germany.
And 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall this November 9, the habit is still going strong, and has even attracted a loyal band of followers from what was West Germany to the beaches of the east.
With life so tightly controlled in other ways — no freedom of speech, little freedom to travel, the Stasi secret police spying on citizens — FKK was a rare liberty that people made full use of in the GDR.
Nowhere was this more evident than in Prerow, a picturesque seaside town 300 kilometres (190 miles) north of Berlin, with its long, pristine beaches, sand dunes and crystal-clear, if chilly, water.
In GDR times, 2,500 border guards, 70 watch towers, searchlights, barbed wire, boats and radar all made sure no one escaped by sea to West Germany or to Denmark, Doris Pegel, 53, curator of the local museum, told AFP.
Sailing and even surfing were off limits. But one thing people were allowed to do in the shadow of Prerow’s watchtowers, and on other beaches and lakes around the communist country, was to indulge in FKK.
And indulge they did, in huge numbers, as people flocked to the seaside in summer and gave FKK a try. In Prerow, for example, nudists created one of the GDR’s first nudist campsites, where demand for pitches was massive.