Germany's divide exposed in Underpants War

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The Independent Online
SELLIN - Warning signs, fences and dog patrols are back again in former East Germany in what the tabloids are calling the 'underpants war'. They are there to shield west German tourists from exposed east German flesh.

'They dumped tons of pornography on us after the Wall fell. Now they're forcing their prudishness on us,' said Gerd-Jurgen von Below, tourism director of the eastern German nudist resort of Sellin. Walled up by Communism for 28 years, East Germans missed out on the West's Sixties sexual revolution. They were, however, allowed to wander around naked on any beach.

The towns on the Baltic coast are now putting up signs and fencing off beaches to keep nudists and non-nudists apart. Some are using dog patrols to enforce segregation. Beaches where nudity is banned - called 'textile beaches' - result from complaints by west German tourists.

Jurgen Grote, chairman of Saxony state's Naturists Club, said: 'They come to our beaches and say they feel 'molested' by someone sitting next to them without trunks.' Locals cite this prudishness as an example of hypocrisy by their western brethren, who have had liberal laws on pornography since the early 1970s.

German tourists are renowned the world over for stripping off at the first sign of a hot day. But the tourists who bare their flesh on Spanish beaches are not the same Germans who are upset by nudity in the resorts of eastern Germany. These faded towns now depend on conservative pensioners from western Germany's Catholic south and the Rhineland.

After receiving more than 200 complaints, the resort of Goehren divided its shore into textile and nude beaches. Dog owners from both camps can meet on mixed beaches.

The row has created a wider debate. The Tagesspiegel newspaper said: 'The right to nudity has become a symbol in many places of the post-Communist identity defending itself against Western Christian hypocrisy.'

Mr von Below thinks the whole issue ignores the basic problem with nudity: 'It's always the wrong people who take their clothes off.'

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