July 25, 2002 10:24am
Shy German Nudists Hurting Tourism
by: Erik Kirschbaum
(MUNICH, GERMANY) -- The naked sunbathers who once filled Munich's central park on warm summer days are turning their backs on Germany's famous open-air celebration to nudity.
Officials worried that the new-found prudery will damage the international reputation of the park and cause a drop in tourism to the Bavarian city have appealed to local sun-lovers to come back and leave their clothes behind.
"We've lost many of the nudists who made the English Garden a special place," said park director Thomas Koester. "Especially good-looking young women and men who made it such an attraction aren't here as much anymore. It's becoming a real problem."
Nude sunbathing has long been widespread in Germany, a country where the Free Body Culture (FKK) movement founded in the early 20th century succeeded in taking much of the smut out of nudity.
But nowhere have the nudists been more prevalent than in Munich's English Garden.
During the hot summer days of the 1970s and 80s some 14,000 nudists visited the leafy 360 hectare (890 acres) park each day - a tenth of the 140,000 daily visitors.
Today the number has dropped to less one percent, or perhaps at most a thousand.
"Before you would see whole families wandering around naked or young nude people sitting in the beer gardens here," Koester said. "Society has become more prudish. You don't see as many attractive young Munich girls anymore. I hope they'll come back."
Drawn by tour guides published in countries where public nudity is non-existent, visitors from Japan, the United States, Britain, Italy, France and Spain flock to the park to ogle the bare German flesh.
A number of hotels on the English Garden even advertise their rooms with clear views of the nude sections.
"A lot of tourists from Asia but also England, Italy and Spain go out of their way to include stops in Munich to see the nudists," said Koester. "These people come from cultures where they even wear bathing suits when they go into a sauna.
"With fewer nudes it could hurt tourism," he added. "You can sit in a beer garden anywhere. The special fascination here is that you might bump into some naked people in the beer garden or walking along on a path."
Feels Like a Zoo
On a warm summer afternoon, about 30 people wearing nothing but smiles and seamless tans were spread out on a grassy knoll next to a small river.
They seemed oblivious to the hundreds of people wearing clothing who walked past -- most of whom were unable to contain curious glances.
"It feels good to come here and relax with my clothes off," said Ilona Scholl, a 32-year-old post office worker who has come to the park for 15 years.
Wearing nothing but a necklace, Scholl said she could understand why fewer naturists come to park to seek the sun.
"What really bothers me is the stares from Turks or Japanese or men from countries where there isn't this sort of nudity," Scholl said. "They come here just to gawk. It's really unpleasant. It makes you feel like you're in a zoo."
Gerhard Meyerhof, a 59-year-old retired engineer, said he could not understand why fewer nudes were coming to the park, a splendid green lung in the centre of Germany's third largest city that was created in the 19th century as a copy of a London park.
"It's a tremendous experience to feel the air and the wind all over your body," said Meyerhof, who was oblivious to a group of giggling middle-aged German women taking pictures of his naked backside from behind nearby bushes.
"The ancient Greeks ran around naked," he added. "The tourists don't bother me at all."
A group of young foreign men wandering through the park were trying to conceal their stares and were at first reluctant to admit the purpose of their excursion.
"No, we're just here for a stroll through the park," said Abo Rebhe, a Palestinian who lives in the nearby town of Augsburg.
But after a few moments he and his friends happily admitted there was a special thrill to the English Garden and that they had made a special trip to Munich on their day off to inspect the nudists.
"Of course I came here to see the beautiful women," Rebhe said. "There are not that many today, but you should come back on Saturday and Sunday," he said with a big smile. "Then the place is full."
His colleague from Iraq nodded in agreement.
"Beautiful women," he said.
Koester said it was difficult to pinpoint any single reason why fewer nudists were coming to English Garden. A new conservative era and accompanying prudery may be among the causes.
He said his own personal theory is that young people these days prefer to spend their time at posh cafes in the nearby Schwabing district. In earlier decades, taking your clothes off was a popular form of rebellion.
"The new zeitgeist is to show off yourself in expensive convertibles or by wearing fancy clothes in posh cafes," Koester said. "It's hard to show off when you're naked."