On the Baltic Sea island of Usedom, tradition has it that as soon as the sun comes out, the clothes come off. For over 50 years, nudist beaches have been the norm here – or at least they have on the German side. Straddling the border between Germany and Poland, Usedom is divided into German and Polish parts. The island has become the center of a conflict of values between open-minded Germans and the rather more modest Polish.
Usedom has six nudist beaches along its 40-kilometer stretch of coastline – one of which is just a few meters from the border. But although nude sunbathing on the German side is more common than ever, Polish holidaymakers do their utmost to avoid the display of naked flesh, as some locals explained. “I am Catholic so I have no interest in going to a nudist beach” one said. Other reactions: “I cannot go there because - my children, you know,” and “I can understand when people take off some of their clothes, but not everything surely!”
For German nudists, and those who earn their living on the beach, such attitudes are simply a sign of Polish prudishness. “If people don’t like nudism, they can just stay on the other side of the border and keep to themselves,” said sunbather Holger Ehlert. Other German holidaymakers were equally baffled by Polish objections. “I really can’t understand the reaction: For me it’s perfectly normal to get naked on the beach.” Another added: “It’s the most natural thing in the world. People are born without clothes, so what’s wrong with showing your natural self?”
In Poland, on the other hand, bathing nude can lead to a fine. And indeed, under pressure from the conservative political party Law and Justice, the issue of nudist beaches has become a major topic of discussion for the city council of Świnoujście, on the Polish side of the island.
But Janusz Zmurkiewicz, mayor of Świnoujście, is convinced that the region can benefit. “As a local government representative, of course I think it’s a real plus for the town. We have to see it positively: If our tourists want to do that sort of thing, we can now send them to the German nudist beach.”
Passport controls between Poland and Germany may have vanished. But the border dividing sunbathers in swimming suits and those wearing nothing at all is as rigid as ever.