The Beautiful German Evolution: From Nazis To Nudists

Britons and Americans used to depict Germans as obsessed with Nazi uniforms, now our supposed obsession is nudism. A friendly patriotic ode to letting it all hang out.

A German nudist beach
A German nudist beach
Brenda Strohmaier

BERLIN — Anglo-Saxons have discovered something about Germans known as the “FKK thrill.” FKK stands for Freikörperkultur, or nudist culture.

But things are not always what they seem. For example, in a recent New York Times piece, an American who described himself as something of a prude wrote about having mustered the courage to go to a Berlin bathhouse. Eager to be culturally proper with the naked-loving Germans, he, his wife and a friend of hers draped towels around their nude selves, just for the trip from the changing rooms to the thermal pool. Just as the three of them, buck naked, slid into the warm salt water, they noticed that all the other people in the pool were wearing their bathing suits.

These days, English-language coverage of Germany often depicts German saunas and parks as naturist compounds of aesthetic oversharing. Until a relatively short time ago, there was a different stereotype applied to Germans: They tended to be in uniform. And not in a flattering way. But somehow all those Fritz and Blitz articles were more respectful than this current spate of writing.

Remember London Mayor Boris Johnson’s trip to Berlin last summer? In a column in The Telegraph, he reported afterwards with praise and fascination about “frenzied Teutonic relaxation” in Berlin. “The most serious public order problem at the moment is the tendency of Berliners to pursue the logic of their Freikörpeskultur sic by actually fornicating in their many magnificent parks,” he wrote. His grandfather had warned him about Germans and the nation’s insatiable thirst for supremacy, which reunification would only fuel. But in the younger Johnson’s mind, reunification has done Germany a world of good, and there is absolutely nothing to fear from us Germans.

Pssst, here’s the truth

But Boris Johnson wasn’t seeing things right. We German nudists communicate in more subtle ways than the exhibitionist protest group FEMEN’s ladies. Our agenda is written on our breasts in invisible ink. And if you knew how to read it you’d find out about things like the new dress standards for all EU holiday areas: mandatory FKK for one and all!

Photo: Pascal Willuhn

Do the Brits know what German Chancellor Angela Merkel was doing the day the Berlin Wall fell? Exactly! Relaxing in the sauna. Now is the time when Brits and other EU peoples should be overcome by fear. Yes, we Germans have stripped out of our uniforms. Because in times of asymmetrical war, uniforms are out.

The next EU conflict? Naked terror.

The kids are on the right path. Recently a friend of mine was driving through a deserted part of Brandenburg with her four children when they saw something so unlikely that the excited kids each described it piecemeal to their dad like this: Child 1: “We saw a man.” Child 2: “On a bicycle.” Child 3: “And he was.” Child 4: “Naked.” The children thought that biking through life naked was a pretty cool idea.

I recently trained for the nude toppling of the EU in a Hungarian hotel sauna. At reception, they told me to wear a bathing suit, but when I found myself alone in the sauna I got naked like any good German. No doubt about it: One look at my secret weapons and the term “sex bomb” will have to be redefined.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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