A brief history of modern naturism
In the modern western world, organised social nudity started in Germany, then a new nation built from a coalition of city states. It had only recently been at war with its neighbour France, resulting in a social climate far from settled as far as the population was concerned. In hindsight, the roots of the both the first and second world wars were already in place. Empire building leaders such as Bismarck sought to make Germany the leading nation in Europe.
The roots of social nudity came from right and left wing politics in Germany at the very end of the 19th Century as part of the Lebensreform or life reform movement. In the 1890's a German youth league called Die Wandervogel (migratory bird) was started in Berlin. Its members promoted the ideas of fitness and vigour and looked back to Teutonic ideals of nationalism. Although Germany had been the victors the Franco-Prussian war in 1870, the humiliation of French victories over nascent German states prior to that encouraged a military outlook and the nation was ready for huge social upheavals that would only end in 1945 after both World Wars. The youth that joined the Wandervogel wanted to throw off the restrictive views of their elders and to rediscover nature from which they felt they had been alienated. It was common to hike in the woods, bathe in the lakes or simply to bask in the beauty of the countryside, but more importantly, to cast off the old social ways. It was just such an idea that encouraged them to swim and walk naked, this was at least partly as a protest at the old restrictions. The movement was huge but lack of a national organisation makes it difficult to gauge just how huge it was. They never formed an effective political force because one aim was to forget the effects of their parent's politics, hiking and swimming were more important than lobbying.
At more or less the same time, some doctors of the Naturheilbewegung, (Natural Healing Movement), were treating diseases such as TB, rheumatism and scrofula with exposure to sunshine. To be effective, the patients would be nude. This treatment, heliotherapy, would later be used to treat soldiers injured in the Great War.
At the start of the 20th Century, an artistic movement called Die Brücke, (The Bridge) started. A key member was Germany's most prominent exponent of German Expressionism, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Die Brücke consisted of artists searching for an honest response to the zeitgeist (spirit of the time). Kirchner wrote in his diary "It was lucky that our group was composed of genuinely talented people, whose characters and gifts, even in the context of human relations, left them with no other choice but the profession of artist The way this aspect of our everyday surroundings developed, from the first painted ceiling in the first Dresden studio to the total harmony of rooms in each of our studios in Berlin, was an uninterrupted logical progression, which went hand in hand with our artistic developments in paintings, print and sculpture and the first thing for the artists was free drawing from the free human body in the freedom of nature." . His studio was a free and liberal place to be, the nude models were not professionals but came from the artist's circle of friends, nudity was celebrated. Artists in Die Brücke frequented the Moritzburg lakes near Dresden. Here nude bathing was became very common, they would paint landscapes and nudes in an atmosphere of free expression. In 1912, Kirchner wrote "(they) stripped of their clothes and civilised trappings, the artists and their models were at one with nature and led the lives of modern primitives." Sadly Kirchner split from the movement and then suffered a severe physical and psychological breakdown in the Great War. He killed himself for his art after being declared 'degenerate' by the Nazis in 1937.
In this climate of change and renewal, one person who promoted such ideas and those of improved social hygiene was Heinrich Pudor. Just before the turn of the century, this Doctor of Philosophy published a books such as Nackende Menschen, Naked People and Jauchzen der Zukunft, Naked Mankind, both of which became very influential. These were followed by The Cult of the Nude considered by some to be a classic work. Apart from promoting nudity as a treatment for a range of ills, it also outlined the mental and emotional benefits of naturism, as long of course that participants followed the rather austere life it described. A little later, the politically right wing Richard Ungewitter published a book along similar lines, it was entitled simply Die Nacktheit, Nakedness. From its publication in 1905, this book sold over 90,000 copies; no doubt the sales were improved by the illustrations it contained. He followed this with the startup of a nudist society called Tefal, an acronym for Treubund Fur Aufsteigendes Leben, the Confidential Lodge for the Friends of Rising Light. Tefal promoted the ideas in his book, a Utopian view where everyone would be naked, eat only vegetables and abstain from alcohol and tobacco. Anyone putting such ideas forward now might be associated with the New Age but other aspects of his philosophy had a darker side. Members had to be Germanic, blue eyed, blonde. Aryans. It is easy to look with post holocaust hindsight to see the evil contained in this aspect of Pudor's ideas. Although the Nazis did not promote naturism, some tolerated it. Others did not but they did promote the idea of a Aryan race and committed the most evil acts in history to achieve their goals.
As has been said many times, history is like a foreign country, they do things differently there. At the same time that right wing nudist culture was becoming widespread, the left wing used social nudity to further their ends. Adolf Koch, a left wing primary school teacher, sought to use social nudity in a new political movement to free people from "authority-fixated conditioning which held proletarians in deference to their masters: parental authority, the paternalism of school and church, the mass media, and the organs of law and order." He used "organic-rhythmical exercises" in his Berlin schools in the early 1920s. The conservative press formed a campaign against him but, with the support of the Prussian Social-Democratic government, he was able to build up schools dedicated to his methods, eventually having some 3,000 pupils. The nudists went on to become a huge element in the left wing politics of Germany. A subsection of the huge Worker Sports Organisation was the Proletarische Freikoerperkulturbewegung, the Proletarian Naturist Movement and numbered at least 60,000 members, a larger number than those in the right wing naturist associations.
Another interesting character of the time was Werner Zimmermann from Switzerland. He preached against body guilt and encouraged naked education. It is easy to see a darker side now in the light of the current paedophile scare; one can imagine the headlines if works such as his were written and published in this climate, after all, he favoured nudity at school! To do that would be to entirely miss the point, Zimmermann's philosophy was to eliminate body guilt, encourage openness and end what he saw as the cause of sexual deviations such as paedophilia. In his view, it was repression of the human spirit that was the root of sexual and relationship problems. Honest nakedness ends curiosity about bodies and encourages a healthier attitude to sex and bodily functions.
At this time of social change the world's first nudist resort was opened. It was started by another Zimmermann, although not related to Werner. Paul's project was named Freilichtpark or Free Light Park and was sited in Lubeck, north east of Hamburg. It attracted people from all over the world. It was open only to those serious in their beliefs in Nacktkultur, naked culture, and was run on a strict basis.
All this work stopped with the outbreak of the Great War in 1914. At the end of the war, Germany signed an Armistice, but this proved to be a surrender. The terms of the Treaty of Versailles made it worse and humiliated Germany and opened the way for Hitler and his evil ideas. In the 1920's the Wandervogel continued, at least partly as a release from the crushing poverty, unemployment and humiliating conditions under which many lived in Germany. If one was poor, nude swimming in the lakes was free as was nude hiking, the fellowship of like-minded people helped to shut out the horrors of everyday life.
Both left and right wing political activists used social nudity in the inter war years to further their own separate aims. Nacktkultur thrived, not just in Germany, centres opened across Europe, New Zealand, Australia and even in that most prudish of countries, the USA. In 1929 a Congress of Nudity and Education was organised by Adolf Koch.. He had been acquitted by a court for teaching nude gymnastics but the case made him famous and it was this fame that helped to attract over 3000 people to the Congress from all over the world. It was widely reported in favourable terms in most newspapers. Times had changed. A contemporary of Koch, one Major Hans Surén was teaching his soldiers to do their gymnastics nude. After five years the Army sacked him, but this only provided the time and impetus for him to write Mensch und die Sonne, Man and Sunlight. It sold in huge numbers and had to be reprinted 61 times in just 14 months from February 1924.
Times changed again, this time for the worse. The 2nd World War put an end to Nacktkultur, at least in the directly organised way that started before the Great War. After Goering banned all non-nazi organisations, Himmler, once again allowed the practice of nude sunbathing, but such was the situation in Germany that nothing significant developed until after the 2nd World War when naturism or Freikörperkultur (FKK, Free Body Culture) took off again. With another period of unemployment and poverty, nudity is a free way to enjoy life and it is seen as a means to purify the soul and rid oneself of war guilt. There are a large number of clubs but more importantly there are parts of public parks where nude sunbathing is commonplace. The attitude in modern Germany towards public nudity is a very healthy one, the local authorities now promote the lifestyle and it has lost its political connotations. Indeed some concern has been shown recently by the local authority in Hamburg at the diminished number of nude people using the parks. This is a result of increased tolerance of nudity, people do not feel they have to go to a special place anymore to be nude and enjoy the sun and air.
Oddly, in the country where naturism started, some local authorities are attempting to restrict nude bathing on the more popular beaches. Before re-unification, East Germans enjoyed social nudity as a cheap way to enjoy themselves in a poor economy. Now the country is reunified, popular Baltic beaches such as Warnemunde have become packed with West German tourists, some of whom dislike nude culture. In an attempt to reassert their former influence, Catholic and Protestant activists are persuading local tourist officials to restrict nude recreation. Changes in attitudes are never uniform and those that reach the media are often driven by those keen to get the publicity. German remains a nation more at ease with nudity than most others.
The ideas that spread from Germany became known as Freikörperkultur, FKK or Free Body Culture. In England, there had been a tradition of nude bathing in the less populated areas, often just men and poor men at that, but sometimes mixed. Victor Hugo and his mistress Juliette Drouet were surprised to find mixed nude bathing in Guernsey when they visited in 1873. Widespread organised nudity did not come to England until the 1920's when the ideas being developed in Germany caught on. A man by the name of H. D. Byngham start the English Gymnosophist Society, gymnosophist and the modern word gymnasium being derived from the Greek word gymnos meaning naked. Following the loss of their facility at Wickford in Essex, they changed their name to the New Gymnosophist Society and produced England's first naturist magazine. An early member of the society was N. F. Barford who along with others, helped acquire 4 acres of ground at Bricket Wood in Hertfordshire. It is still in use by naturists today.
For much of the 1920's the naturist movement grew in England, even attracting positive comment in the newspapers. One or two attacks by outsiders such as Nesta Webster resulted in those in the movement becoming more secretive; it did not stop them following their beliefs, they simply withdrew into the woods. It also resulted in their using pseudonyms to protect member's true identities. Translated versions of the German publications, books from English and foreign authors all helped to further the cause. One by an anonymous American even had the temerity to mention the role of sex in naturism, he wrote "As a matter of fact, gymnosophic association is much more satisfactory than in clothed society, because both sexes can see everything they crave and no disturbing feelings are aroused by irritating and unwholesome concealment". He was brave to link these two subjects at a time when some would act in a violent manner simply when some men sunbathed in public in just shorts. This violence occurred at one of the most celebrated events in English naturism.
It happened at the Welsh Harp in what is now North London. The Welsh Harp comprises land and a lake, some of the land was privately owned at the time. Members of the Sun Ray Health Club and New Life Society indulged in semi-clad and nude sunbathing in the hot summer of 1930, led by an ex Army Captain, Harold Hubert Vincent. Following a silly season article in a newspaper, angry protesters turned up to harangue them, even though they were on private property and well away from any public area or footpath. The police were called on a number of occasions and had to protect the naturists as they were not breaking any law and were vulnerable to the violence from the crowd. The publicity from the so called Sun Bathing War resulted in widespread sympathy for the naturists, far from removing them from the area, the protestors actually helped them. They should have known, the English nearly always side with the underdog and they hate injustice.
When land near the Bricket Wood camp came up for sale, another key individual in the English movement took his chance and bought it. Charles Macaskie sold his business to raise the funds, he and his wife Dorothy moved onto the land with a tent and precious little else apart from a few tools and the conviction to make it work. They called it Spielplatz or Play Place. In 2004 it is still a centre for owner occupiers to life a permanently naked lifestyle.
Naturist clubs in England open all over the place, they kept themselves to themselves, organising first as the Central Council for British Naturism then simply as British Naturism. They have followed the secretive, "ping-pong in the woods" style of naturism and hence have failed to attract a wider audience, especially younger members. Naturism in England is changing, attitudes are improving as more and more discover the pleasures of social nudity when at foreign holiday destinations. There are thought to be more than two million people in England who have made this discovery, most would not describe themselves as naturists as they have no desire to be linked with the traditional clubs, none the less, they are more accepting of nudity and hence are happy to swim and sunbathe nude in the company of friends and families with the benefits that brings.
It was the French who coined the name naturism or naturisme as they would spell it. This was in 1778! In the 1920s, it really took off in France, it remains one of the best naturist destinations in the world. The La Fédération Française de Naturisme, created in 1950, now brings together 160 associations and 85 holiday centres. For a strongly Catholic country, France welcomes naturism. French Government Tourist Office actively promotes naturism at the many centres around the country.
Croatia and the Former Yugoslavia
Following the 2nd World War, the countries that made up the former Yugoslavia had every reason to hate the Germans and it is greatly to their credit that German naturists have been welcomed in large numbers.
The official story of organised naturism in Croatia starts in August 1936 on the island of Rab. King Edward VIII stayed on Rab and was allowed to take nude swims in the bay of Kandarola accompanied by his wife, now the bay is sometimes called the Engleska Plaza (English Beach). The island had been used for nude bathing long before that, at the turn of the 19th Century Rab was used by naturists and there was accommodation for 50 or more. Croatia was the first country in Europe to have commercial naturist resorts. Koversada opened its gates for nude leisure in 1961, adding to the 100,000 total places for those who enjoyed nude holidays in Croatia. Naturism is strongly supported by Croatian government bodies but most naturists in Croatia are not Croats, it is estimated they number less than 5% of all guests in naturist resorts. Compared with the situation in 1980's, the number of organised naturist resorts in Croatia has decreased owing to the effects of the Catholic Church. The Croats who do try to live a nude lifestyle prefer unofficial or secluded beaches.
In the same year that the Welsh Harp wars were in full swing, the American League for Physical Culture was born. Taking their ideals and example from Germany, people such as Bernarr Macfadden and Kurt Barthel started organised nudity in the USA. As in other countries, the authorities took a dim view. In one incident, a small group of Barthel's ALPC friends were practising gymnastics at a gym in New York. The police broke down the door and arrested the people inside. When it went to court, the magistrate threw out the case, they were doing nothing wrong.
As is usual with controversial court cases, the publicity surrounding the incident resulted in increased interest, organised nudity increased. By 1933 there were centres in 5 states and by 1936 there were over 80 such centres. It was different on a public beach. In a hot summer in the 1930s, a thousands of men had the temerity to go topless on Long Island NY, all breaking the law. It is hard to imagine now a society that banned topless bathing by men.
A rival to the ALPC was started by a disgruntled member. Uncle Danny, whose real name was the Rev. Ilsley Boone, started The International Nudist Conference. Just as well for a country late in the field of naturism, they dropped the International part of their title as they did not speak for other countries, the INC became the American Sunbathing Association. Uncle Danny's influence and power grew until he felt he was in an unassailable position. Having waited for the horrors of the 2nd World War to pass into history, dissatisfied ASA members ousted Uncle Danny was a coup. He stared another organisation but it never prospered, the ASA went on to represent most nudist clubs in the USA, a position it still holds. Unlike the Spartan life espoused by the Germans, the US clubs went for comfort. Many are run as profitable commercial concerns. The ASA is now called the American Association for Nude Recreation, AANR.
Sadly, the USA is also home of ultra conservative Christians, many in positions of power and influence. These people see evil in practically any strand of life and one of their favourite targets are nudists. For a country that claims to be the home of freedom, it is hard to understand just how repressive the culture has remained since the puritanical Pilgrim Fathers. Outsiders know the USA far from being the land of the free but it is interesting to compare their experience with that of Europe. In France where nudity on public beaches is hardly an issue, their rate of sex related and violent crime is a small fraction of that in the USA. A trip around a video shop showing US titles will give great cause for concern, the majority have at least some violence, most show no nudity at all. As Christianity has peace and goodwill to all as a core belief; how can a country that preaches these values produce such an imbalance and at the same time, persecute naturists who try to lead a peaceful life? How can the same country also revel in violence in its culture and its foreign policy and still claim to be a freedom loving Christian country? There is a clear difference between claim and fact.
In the modern USA, prudery reigns . Females are generally not allowed to show nipples even whilst breastfeeding although New York State have legalised exposure of women's nipples on grounds of equal protection to men. There is the related campaign for of "topfree equality" that is being pursued on constitutional grounds of equality of the sexes. It seems likely that suppressed sexuality is one of the root causes of the strange prudery seen in the USA. A visit to any video hire shop will at the very least make you suspicious, most of the titles on the shelves will celebrate violence and the projection of US power by violent means. All these are at the eye level of children. Any "adult" titles in the shop will be kept away from children. Nudity is seen as more harmful than bombing women and children. The oddest thing about this attitude is the placing of titles that deal with naturism. Although there are not many naturist videos, they will be with the adult titles just as magazine sellers keep naturist magazines on the top shelf alongside the porn.
In US made films, the Hayes Code that was used from the 1930s until the 1960s defined what was and what was not allowed to be shown. Since 1st November 1968, this has given way to the MPAA film rating system but full frontal nudity is still rare. This is in contrast to the prevalence of violence, some of which is extreme. The MPAA system allows children to see films that many would consider too violent but not those depicting nudity. US TV is more prudish still. Nude scenes in theatrical films are edited out or obscured in some fashion. There is nudity in some films but it is almost always related to sex rather than to naturism. There is also nudity in art in the US but many works have been removed or covered in a similar manner to the 19th Century Victorians in England.
There have been several reports in the past of when the aboriginal people in Tasmania were given clothes by missionaries, the gifts were accepted graciously. As they did not share the body shame of the religious Westerners, they took delight in undressing at moments calculated to embarrass the priests. Cases of kidnapping occurred where the captured European was examined to see what they were hiding, the aboriginals being puzzled by the discovery that there was nothing different.
Modern Australia shares many of its attitudes to nudity with the UK. In Western Australia the naturists living in Perth won a notable victory. A stretch of beach between the sea and the Special Air Services base was used by nude people for recreation. The local authority took action in the courts to stop them. When the court ruled that it was the Army who had jurisdiction, the authority tried to get the Army to stop nude activities. As it had no effect on the efficient running of the Army, the soldiers took no action. Now the beach, called Swanbourne, is the scene of much nude activity, quite outside the reach of the local council. It seems this is like the UK where a few vociferous folk in a position of power have not listened to their electorate. Huge numbers of people use the beach, the people have voted with their feet and there has not been an large local uprising against the nudes. The council had not listened nor made the effort to become more inline with the wishes of the public.
In Queensland, a hot area ideal for nude living, the State Government has banned public nudity and the police enforce this. In a land famed for its love of an outdoor life, this seems odd, especially when considering of the large amount of money that could be made from providing naturist facilities.
Until western influences caused a change, it was common to see communal nude bathing in Japan, it still happens where people wish to retain a very traditional way of life. Japanese magazines were not allowed to show nude photographs but that situation has changed, at least a little. The An An magazine asked its readers to send in nude pictures of themselves, the 1600 women who responded saw the photographs as complimentary not salacious. This idea is interesting, nudity is not the issue, the assumption is not made that nude images are automatically pornographic. It has been the west, mainly the USA, that has given rise to the idea that nudity is always sexual, always sinful and must therefore be repressed.
Next section, The dark side of naturism