Munich designates six areas for nude sunbathing. What does that say about the rest of us?
When statewide laws in Bavaria regulating public nudity expired last fall, the city of Munich decided to take the issue of nude sunbathing into its own hands, by officially declaring six urban naked zones, where people can partake in as much nude sunbathing as they like.
While public nudity is a rarity in the United States, and many other Western countries, German culture is much more well accustomed to going sans clothing in public saunas and thermal springs. In fact, in most of those places, it’s odder to wear a bathing suit than not.
Munich’s large park Englischer Garten has long been home to people basking in the sun in the nude. But the urban naked zones make six designated areas specifically for nudists who don’t want to be bothered by their clothing (or lack thereof) choices. (Atlantic Cities has a map of all of them in case you are interested.)
This may seem as extremely progressive to some, but this is a culture that has much less prudish attachment to nudity. When you grow up in a culture that often has same-sex, public saunas you get used to it. Nudity isn’t sexualized. It’s just natural. As Andrew Welch wrote in an editorial in The Independent in regards to the British views towards nudity, “Our society is still obsessed with Victorian attitudes towards the body, and the idea that skin equals sex.”
You can sort of envision prospective tourists to Munich snorting about how funny it will be to see naked people sunbathing in a park. But if there’s one thing about German culture to know, it’s that being nude is normal. Certainly, not everyone chooses to go nude sunbathing, but German, and other Northern European cultures, have a much more normalized relationship to nudity that makes these types of citywide decision not as shocking as they seem to us in more reserved cultures. “[S]tripping off in public is the voluntary removal of a heavy mask, a return to unvarnished honesty rather than some titter-worthy peek-a-boo,” wrote Feargus O’Sullivan in Atlantic Cities.
Spread out across the city, the six areas are all in parkland, meaning that you’re not going to come across a nude sunbather just anywhere, and it certainly isn’t acceptable to go and hop on a Munich bus without your clothes on. Instead, areas in natural spaces are open for enjoyment, and if you want to do that without your clothes on, then you are more than welcome to. In a culture that has a lot of respect for the outdoors and nature, when you think about it, it’s not that odd or radical of a decision.
Maybe it’s time to rethink our own Victorian ideal-induced relationship to nudity. Look at things like the World Naked Bike Ride. Nudity doesn’t always have to mean sex, and while there are few that advocate for going naked 100 percent of the time, we’re certainly at a point in our culture where most of us have become entirely removed from our natural state of being. Because even if we don’t want to go nude in public, we could all spend a little more time being okay with our naked bodies.
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Image: leo gonzales