Thursday, November 22, 2012

"I see naked people". "How often do you see them?" *cue tortured-looking-Sixth-Sense-style expression* "All the time!"

If you have a fear of genitals then Germany isn't the place for you. They pop out of nowhere when you are least suspecting it. Here, there, everywhere. You can be bending down to pick up a pen you dropped, turn around and then suddenly meat and two veg are practically grazing your right cheek (the cheek belonging to your face, that is). You really could do a twisted naked version of Sixth Sense quite easily in Germany's nudist-filled environs.

Seriously though, Germany is definitely the land of the 'free' in the clothes wearing sense. Whenever and wherever there is an opportunity to strip off and strut their naked stuff, the Germans will take it. When I first arrived in Munich I was an innocent, fairly prude British soul. Naked? In public? Me? I was afraid of even my doctor seeing anything from the neck down, let alone Joe down the road in a public place. The main place where you can't avoid naked bodies is the sauna. Yes, the sauna. I know British people will be reading this thinking "huh?” Here's the huge difference between Germany and England though (which pretty much acts as an indicator to their attitude to nakedness in general), in English saunas and spas there are huge signs that read: "Swimwear must be worn in the sauna and spa area at ALL times". Here's the German: "Swimwear must NEVER be worn in the sauna at ANY time. Those who do will be politely asked to leave". Leave?! LEAVE?! Yes...I was as shocked as you were in the beginning. It only gets worse though. Once I was at a large water park / spa and then there was an announcement over the tannoy: "Please be advised that it is now 6pm and the whole of the area is now "Textilfrei" Those who do not wish to participate must now leave". Textile-free? I didn't have much time to process the information before all of the German's were stripping off and swimming in the pool around me – the stuff of nightmares. Never until that point have I been more concerned about accidentally kicking someone with my foot whilst swimming...who knows what my toes may touch...?!

Over time I gradually started to adopt the German approach and go starkers in the sauna (I know, too much information, right?). Still, at least you have a towel to wrap around you. It's all about the technique too though...the technique I like to think of as ASS: Avoidance. Shielding. Sweating. Here's how it works:

1. Avoidance. I try to make sure I am in the sauna on my own if possible, carefully timing it so that I always start my session when someone has just left (this also avoids the awkwardness of being in sync with another sauna-goer...which essentially means that you sit naked together, shower next to each other, sleep next to each other, and then do the whole thing all over again two more times *squirm*). If this isn't possible, I at least try to be first in the sauna, lie down, in the darkest corner and close my eyes – that way, I will never know who was in there with me and will never have the difficult moment of seeing them in clothes and not really knowing quite what to say.

2. Shielding. You definitely have to have technique as a woman. Guys have it easy – they just whack the towel around their wil.... know. Women have so much extra to shield! It's taken me several times over the years to perfect, but now I've got it down to a fine art so that any potential perverts don't really get much of a show.

3. Sweating. The more you sweat and the hotter you look – the less likely you are to be the centre of male attention. So work those sweat beads ladies!

All this though, is unfortunately not enough to deter the Germans. They LOVE to talk whilst in the sauna, even to complete embarrassed strangers like me. One opening line was: "you seem sporty, were you in the gym with me earlier?" (a bit stalker-ish...), another was from an old, fat, Bavarian man: "Was that you swimming earlier? You are really fast!" (My thoughts: yes...I am fast...because I'm not fact I'm young enough to be your granddaughter and you are talking at me and my fully exposed boobs right now - STOP IT!).

As well as the saunas though, there are also whole naked Sauna Worlds! Yes...worlds! There are over 40 saunas of different kinds...including ones with planetariums inside or thrones and beer on really is a whole new world of naked fun. The thing I can't get over though is swimming naked in a pool with other people (yes I did to try everything once right?). It's like taking a bath with everyone who you are on the U Bahn with – what a disgusting and shudder-worthy thought.

Unfortunately the nakedness isn't confined to the spas though. Oh no. In Germany "Where's Willy?" rather than "Where's Wally?" is probably their favourite book. You could definitely make a good game out of it in Munich's English Gardens in the summer. Nakedness reigns in certain sections, so you need to be careful where you lay down your mat to sunbathe! The riverbanks are swarming with the nudists too (although that term probably doesn't apply in Germany, as everyone is a little bit of a nudist inside). There is one character that I call "Jesus", who has long hair...a long beard...wears white kaftans and strips off to bathe in the crystal clear running waters of the Isar (no doubt he's a crazy Catholic thinking he can cleanse his sins!)

Personally I just think the Germans are all extreme exhibitionists. The female changing rooms at the gym in Germany are a good example of that. I'm very British when it comes to the changing rooms: I choose a locker in the corner and get changed facing it, as quickly as possible. The Deutsch women? No way, this is the chance for them to strut their sexy stuff! They stroll around, even putting their socks on before their kickers – weird. What makes me laugh the most though is when they actually do their moisturising regime for all to see. Slapping on the cream extra loudly to make heads turn, then putting one leg up dramatically on the bench while they rub it in. (I'm sure for any men reading this...this is nearly their "Fifty Shades of Grey" erotic novel moment and I'm just reinforcing the stereotype in their minds that all women do when they are alone together is run around semi naked. Maybe it’s not a stereotype after all and the men are totally on-point...) It all boils down to competition though, like everything with the Germans. They just want to show off the body they spent 2 hours perfecting that evening, that's all. I can't help thinking: "Whatever love, you slap on that cream onto your toned abs, I really don't care and there's no guys to faun all over you in the female locker room so I don't get your game plan – I'm going home to eat cake and watch trash TV...and I'm going to enjoy every second of it!"

Strange things have started happening to me though. I'm always adding a sauna session onto my gym stint. I look at friends in shock when they say they wear swimwear into the sauna in England: "It ruins your swimwear! Don't you get hot? It’s so unhygienic!". In I starting to become accustomed to stripping off without a care in the world? Am I *gulp*, becoming a naked-loving German?

I think I'm a few naked steps away from nudist – but that's not to say that being naked in a small sauna doesn't have its benefits, particularly when the German football team walks in like they did into mine. And I'll leave you with that little nugget to ponder on.

Friday, November 9, 2012

I just wanna make you sweat

I'm sure that when Snoop Dog sang (rapped?) these immortal words, he wasn't aiming them towards the Germans. Perhaps the glowing skin of the LA Americans needs to be told to sweat a little more so that people actually believe that they are a) human and b) are actually working out. The Germans definitely don't need Snoop Dog to persuade them – perspiration seems to be a way of life for so many of the population in the Fatherland.

An insulting generalisation? Maybe. However, the amount of body odour I have experienced this week has been overwhelming. On the U Bahn, in the shops, and...of the gym.

In England we do take towels to the gym, but generally I find that you take one that is only slightly larger than flannel size in order to discreetly mop away the little beads of sweat on your forehead, and also to put in between your hands and the machine. In my mind, it's really all that's necessary really, provided that you use the antibacterial spray properly. The Germans definitely don't think so. The majority of fitness fanatics in the 'fitness studio' give me and my towel disapproving looks and I'm sure I've already got a reputation as "dirty girl" – and not in the "oh she's so hot and dirty" capacity either.

 In Germany I have noticed that the Germans bring four massive towels to the gym. I find that a fairly astounding amount of drying material to bring to one place. I find it particularly shocking because I never have that many towels all clean at one moment in time – how do they do it? Seriously though, I probably had my mouth open in surprise when I, for the first time, saw so many people with gym bags the size of houses because of their overflowing towels inside. Now I know why though: they need at least four in order to effectively mop up the buckets of sweat that they perspire during the thirty minutes that they are on the treadmill. Actually, if we want to be accurate here, it is one towel for the 'fitness studio', one for the swimming pool, and two for the sauna session – one to pop their sweaty behind onto and the other to rub themselves down during said sauna session. It really is a technical towel technique that must take years and German heritage to master – I assume this anyway, as I am lucky if I even remember mine!

Towels aside, body odour is definitely an issue everywhere. Do they not know about the miracle power of deodorant? If so many people smelled that bad in Britain there would be a riot. Ok, so maybe not a riot, but at least someone would say something. Like, for example, "Hey best friend / girlfriend / boyfriend, I love you with all my heart, but you smell like rotting cheese and I don't think I can take it anymore. Here's some Rexona (Sure) – use it, and enjoy". Maybe this non-deodorant-wearing phenomenon is an extension of the Bio-buying obsession (Germans LOVE organic food to the point where it's a status symbol. Don't get me wrong, I love organic food too, but in Germany buying 'Bio' is the equivalent of being robbed in daylight). "How on earth is buying organic in any way linked to deodorant?” I hear you cry. Well, it's probably because the Germans are afraid of the chemicals contained inside. I don't blame them for their fears, but if they are willing to drink copious amounts of Diet Coke and Spezi  (Coke and Fanta mixed together...weird...and disgusting!) that is filled with aspartame, then why can't they just bite the bullet and spray under their arms too? What's more, this isn't even really excuse – have they not seen Garnier's chemical free, au naturel range? If not, then I will gladly direct them to it.

The worst part is that they don't even seem to notice. When getting on he U bahn the other morning, the doors opened and I was hit with a wall of heat and odour (a mixture of body stench and the pungent smell of a 2 day old meatloaf (Leberk√§se) sandwich that someone was consuming at 8am...yum). Naturally, I opened the window when I went inside. The businessman opposite me watched me do it, giving me an evil stare as I did so. He then sneakily waited for me to put my earphones in and close my eyes for my morning commuting nap and then he slammed it shut again. Crafty little bugger.

Back in the environs of the gym, there is a whole new trend kicking off. Not washing your gym clothes in between sessions. Now, this is going beyond the Bio-buying principal, this is a hygiene basic. I don't need to describe the smell, I'm sure you can guess. I think the gym team noticed it too, as now there are signs that say that you have to wear clean clothes and shoes when training. Signs! Now do you understand the extent of the problem? Here's the added horror too – you aren't allowed to open the windows in the gym except for five minutes every hour and that is usually only done by a trained window-opening gym professional. In fact, even when you or the gym instructor does do that, the Germans look at you like you are crazy, weird, or like they want to come over and put the weight they are holding in your face. Yes, the air issue is that serious. So serious in fact, that the instructions regarding only being allowed to open the window once every hour is written on another lovely little sign next to the window. This sign also says that these rules are now set in place to create fairness after the "disputes" and "situation which ensued last year".

I can only assume that the situation was this: an expat was close to dying of body odour poisoning in the gym and went to open a window. The Germans, in fear of catching a cold from the fresh air (n.b. see earlier blog for innate German fear of being cold and fresh air making you catch a cold) ran to shut it and then in their haste, accidentally pushed the expat out of the window – resulting in a messy manslaughter case (which was the aforementioned "situation").

Or something like that anyway.

I fear I am going to be the next "situation" when I just can't take it anymore and have to wrench open the window. Fingers crossed they have implemented a safety measure and there is a crash mat waiting for me at the bottom. If not, farewell friends.