Showing yourself naked in public sounds wilder than it actually is. In Germany, the beginnings of the so-called naturism culture date back to the end of the 19th century. Even then, nudity had an air of rebellion about it. The German Empire was an extremely prudish, reactionary time in which the body had to be virtuously protected. Dresses were high-necked and ankle-length. It was the time of the corsets, in which the women were laced to an ideal size.
The first to understand that this could not be healthy was the Swiss natural healer Arnold Rikli. In 1854 he founded a sun sanatorium where his patients could sunbathe naked. Today, we would probably attribute the health-promoting aspect – in addition to the fresh air – primarily to the build-up of vitamin D. This is because this vitamin D is formed through the skin under the influence of UV B sun rays. And a lack of vitamin D leads to various diseases – from hair loss to depression. At that time, however, none of this had been researched, and Rikli spoke rather empirically of the “purifying effect of the light air bath.”
The fact is that by 1912, 380 of these “light and air baths” had sprung up, often at bathing lakes or in secluded gardens. From there, nudist culture conquered the open countryside. It was a “propaganda of the deed,” as the Munich theologian Franz Walter already disfavoring described in 1910: “A movement is going through the modern large cities, which openly carries on a propaganda of great style for the introduction of uncovered nudity into social life with the help of an agitation, a literature and press, which glorifies nudity in word and picture.”
It is interesting to note the reasoning that, in addition to the health aspects, increasingly came to the fore: “Let us not deny it: a naked person is an insipidness for the people of our time and has the effect of a slap in the face – that is how unnatural we have become,” wrote the publicist Heinrich Pudor as early as 1893. And it was through the concept of naturalness that public nudity found one of its strongest arguments.
Of course, this was not least a moral debate. And while Catholic morality associations brought one lawsuit after another to oppose public nudity, proponents argued: “That one cannot imagine a naked body without a distinctly erotic purpose is the necessary expression of one’s own moral inferiority.” In other words, ultimately it is the church and conservative media that sexualize an inherently natural state by branding nudity as immoral.
Nudist culture shows that there is another way. The nudist beaches that still exist in many places are proof of this. Especially since on many beaches naked people now lie next to beachgoers in swimwear as a matter of course, without anyone being bothered by it – even beyond the specially designated zones.