As an anthropologist, I enjoy attempting to understand norms and the limits to them. As a Midwesterner at heart, I am a little more prudish than the German norm when it comes to nakedness. I am not opposed to nakedness, per se, but the German boundaries to nakedness are far beyond my own for sure. There is a really large FKK (nudist) section of the population here, so much so that several local swimming pools designate times for them to come. When I was working on Norderney, they even had a beach dedicated to FKK, and I went to it to experience it. (Though I could only go topless!) We always joke that in Berlin you could be in the middle of the Tiergarten (think gigantic park in the middle of the city) smoking a joint (decriminalized for personal consumption) and lounging naked, and no one will even bat an eye at you. I submit, for your laughter, 3 short tales of nakedness here. I forgot they were even funny until I started telling my mother in law, so perhaps I am becoming a little bit German after all.
1. At the Gym
I am a member of a gym here and I was at home too. When I walk down the stairs to get to the locker room, the door into the men’s locker room is directly in front of the staircase. Anytime someone opens the door, I can easily look directly into the locker room and see whoever is changing there. If I turn to the left and someone opens the door to the ladies’ locker room, the same thing, you can see directly into the room to a big bank of lockers where ladies are changing. Naturally, the area of the locker room that is visible from the door is the most spacious for changing, and all of the other sections are a bit crowded in comparison. Am I ever going to take a locker in that section? DEFINITELY NOT. Am I going to take a locker in the section that is visible to the hallway leading to the swimming pool? NO WAY! That leaves me only 2 crowded areas to utilize if I don’t want to be on display for any door gawkers to see. Additionally, I have laughed with one of our friends here about how when you go into the gym steam room there is always some Oma sitting in there with one leg hiked up and her business splayed for all who enter the room. Thankfully that is also not visible from the outside doors, but it IS enough to keep me from usually even looking into the steam room.
2. At the Doctor
Earlier in our trip I was having some neck problems and went to see a DO back specialist to help me. On my first visit, she had an assistant sitting at a computer in the room the entire time and she essentially dictated to her as she examined me. Her examination consisted mainly of having me strip to my underwear and prance about the room for 10 minutes. Had I known that, I would have at least worn pretty matching underwear. This was actually not even close to as embarrassing the second time I went. This time the assistant took me to the X-ray room and had me strip naked from the waist up. She did not give me a gown, and took the next 30 minutes to accomplish all of the X-rays the doctor ordered. She had to do each one multiple times, and naturally I had to stand in awkward positions mostly with my arms by my sides but also with my arms out in front of me and above my head...naked…from the waist up. This was of course topped off by the lovely receptionist who oh so kindly brought my insurance paperwork back to me in the midst of this process, put it on the chair on top of my clothes, and took the time to explain to me the entire billing process---while I was standing there NAKED. I’m still wondering if this was some sort of game of embarrass the American, and felt somewhat violated by the end of the whole process when the doctor then told me it was all probably just stress related. REALLY? STRESS? Who’s stressed? Trust me, this naked posing is not helping my stress level or my self-esteem right now!!!!
3. Bath Kultur
Recently Andy took me on an amazing day of relaxation at Liquidrom in Kreuzberg. It was rather indulgent with a massage and a whole day pass to this amazing place, but obviously, I needed it. Andy specifically looked to make sure that bathing suits were required, because he knows that I’m not feeling so great about my body right now and I most assuredly don’t want to be lounging around a bunch of strange people naked. Smartly, we got our massages directly after we arrived, which was awesome to help us get in the mood for extreme relaxation and pampering. I had my first massage ever by a man, and it was excruciatingly good, but a little more naked and less covered than I am used to, oh well. We were very excited to explore the 3 different saunas, the cold pool, infused steam room, the outdoor salt bath, and the indoor salt-water pool with soothing music, but soon figured out that the ONLY place swimsuits were required was in the large indoor salt-water pool. In fact, you were only allowed to wear a towel in all of the other places, except for the outdoor salt bath where suits were optional. Thankfully the great massage had me very relaxed and my amazing husband helped me stay in the right frame of mind to actually try out all the different spots. I’m glad I did go into the sauna, but it is still unclear to me why swimsuits are not allowed in there. We DID have to wear our key-wristbands inside and Andy’s burned him after he’d been inside for a few minutes.
I know I should really just get over myself. I know I should just get naked and it really isn’t such a big deal. I know all of this intellectually, but I still can’t help feeling like a 14 year old girl about to be judged in the locker room every time I have to get naked in front of strangers. Funny enough, I had no problem getting naked when I was 14 years old and in a locker room. Then again, everyone was speaking English and none of us dared ever stare at each other. I miss that cultural short-hand that comes when we all have some of the same basic ideas of what is normal naked behavior. I should note here that I do not think there is anything wrong at all with the German nakedness policies, even as they are outlined here through my prudish Midwesterner lens. I honestly think that these stories speak more about my own personal issues and boundaries than any perceived German ones. If you need me, I’ll just be over here all covered up.