| BERLIN, July 20
BERLIN, July 20 (Reuters Life!) - The naked sunbathers who
once crowded Germany's Baltic beaches and city parks are
becoming an endangered species due to shifting demographics, the
fall of the Berlin Wall, growing prosperity and widening girths.
Much to the chagrin of Free Body Culture (FKK) enthusiasts
who have been stripping off their clothing on beaches and parks
since the early 1900s, a cold wind has been blowing across
Germany for nudists and their numbers are steadily dwindling.
"German society is changing and it's not easy to be a
naturist anymore," said Kurt Fischer, president of the German
FKK association (DFK). There are some 500,000 registered nudists
and a total of seven million Germans sunbathe naked regularly.
"But the numbers are unfortunately falling by about two
percent each year," Fischer told a group of reporters in the
Foreign Press Association (VAP) while sitting, fully clothed, at
a beach bar in Berlin's government quarter. "Times are tough."
The main problem is the shrinking population, Fischer said.
The number of Germans fell by more than 3.2 million over the
last three decades even though the country's total population
has managed to remain more or less steady at about 82 million
thanks to immigration -- often from countries in Eastern Europe
and the Balkans as well as Turkey and Arabic countries.
"Our problems are demographic changes and the fact that
immigrants aren't interested in social nudity," said Fischer,
70, whose association has such honoured standing in Germany that
it is even part of the Olympic Sport Federation (DOSB).
"Germany is relying more and more on immigrants to keep the
population steady. But many come from countries with strong
religious beliefs. They just aren't into FKK." Immigrants who
arrive from cultures where headscarves are common will not
usually be interested in becoming naturists in Germany, he said.
VIRTUES OF SOCIAL NUDITY
With one of the lowest birth rates in the world, Germany's
native population is projected to fall from about 75 million to
50 million by 2050, population researchers say.
The dwindling number of Germans has caused a myriad of
problems -- affecting everything from beer and schnitzel sales
to the numbers of schoolchildren. The country's proud nudity
traditions are not immune. Fischer said the trend is inexorable.
"It's better that we shrink in a controlled fashion and keep
a diverse age-group structure with all age-groups than to try to
stay bloated with mostly seniors and few young people," he said.
Fischer added they were using "special trial offers", direct
recruitment and other gimmicks to attract young people.
Nude sunbathing has a long tradition in Germany. The Free
Body Culture (FKK) movement was founded in the early 20th
century and succeeded in taking much of the smut and
embarrassment out of nudity.
Even Germany's top model Heidi Klum was quoted in the German
media recently extolling the virtues of topless sunbathing and
describing difficulties she has pursuing it in places such as
the United States and Italy where it's frowned upon or illegal.
"I love to get a sun tan and I don't like white stripes,"
said Klum. "I don't worry about what other people think." Her
parents often ran around in the nude and still do, she said.
In Germany, public nudity on beaches and lakes is by and
large tolerated and practitioners face no legal consequences,
although some courts have fined some caught hiking nude on
public trails or riding bikes or horses while naked.
For decades nudity was a popular way for those living in
Communist East Germany to express themselves -- and was a small
piece of freedom for those behind the Iron Curtain. East German
beaches on the Baltic were always filled with nude bathers.
But that began to gradually fall out of fashion in many
areas in the east after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and then
tensions sometimes flared when some western German tourists
unaccustomed to the widespread nudity complained.
"When we moved from western Germany to a town in the east,
we noticed there was less of a taboo about nudity," said one
American surprised by the ubiquitous nudity in the east. "It
really struck me at a nearby lake when people were just naked in
the water or getting a tan in the sun and nobody was bothered."
That, however, has also begun to change.
"WE'VE GOT A LOT CHUBBIER"
Increasing wealth and fashion-consciousness in Germany and
especially the east has hurt the movement as well.
"We're all equal in the nude," said Fischer, a westerner who
admitted it felt like "torture" for him to sit in his clothes on
a bright sunny summer afternoon while talking to journalists.
"When people are naked you can't tell the difference between
the man with the doctorate and the man who collects trash. There
used to be more of an egalitarian attitude. People now want to
distinguish themselves and one way to show off is with fancy
swimsuits. It's not easy for the nudist in a society like this."
There are other reasons contributing to decline of the
unique German cultural tradition. As a 70-year-old eastern woman
named Brigitte pointed out, growing prosperity has led to
growing waist sizes.
"In East Germany, there were a lot more people with
attractive physiques," said Brigitte, a retired dental assistant
and avid naturist who asked that her full name not be used.
"But with the rise in prosperity a lot of people have come
apart at the seams and they can't show their bodies in public
anymore. We've become a lot chubbier with all this prosperity.
It's not really very aesthetic anymore."
Brigitte said she misses the East German era when entire
beaches and camping areas were packed with nudists even though
parts of West Germany, such as Munich's English Garten park and
West Berlin's Tiergarten, have proud FKK traditions.
"I miss those places more and more," she said, admitting
that she often feels inhibited about being nude and now wraps a
towel around herself until she gets to the water. "You
definitely see fewer people in then nude. But I don't think the
movement will die out. It's too much fun."
(Additional reporting by Kalina Oroschakoff and Scot
Stevenson; editing by Paul Casciato)