Perhaps the most popular promoters of Nacktkultur , at least among men, were Adolf Koch (1894–1970) and Hans Surén (1885–1972), both of whom were Berliners. Nacktkultur was an invention of the big city, with Berlin providing by far the largest number of club members, and it is obvious that the phenomenon had little interest for people who lived in the countryside or were attached to volkisch cultural values. Surén's book Der Mensch und die Sonne (1924) was so popular it ran through sixty-eight editions (250,000 copies) in its first year of publication. Surén became a Nazi in May 1933 and made changes in subsequent editions to accommodate Nazi ideology; apparently the book remained in print until the end of World War II.
Though the numerous photographs of nude bodies no doubt enhanced the appeal of the book, the main attraction was the radiant mythic apparatus Surén constructed to justify a new culture based on "naked living." From Surén's perspective, it was necessary to detach nudity from the association with sickness it had acquired through its use in Luft und Licht Therapie and from its stigmatization by anxiety-ridden forces of "prudery" that were poisoning modern civilization. Open nudity, for Surén, was a sign of health, strength, and beauty; the text implied that people do not "open" their nudity to the world unless their bodies possess all three qualities. Of course, we now know that healthy bodies are not necessarily beautiful, and beautiful bodies are not necessarily healthy; healthy bodies are not necessarily strong, nor are strong bodies necessarily healthy; bodies are not necessarily beautiful because they are strong, and strong bodies are only occasionally beautiful. Such complexities, however, did not trouble Surén, who saw nudity as the key to achieving a convergence of health, strength, and beauty. As long as people remained remote from their own bodies, as long as they were unable to see their own bodies, they could not possibly enjoy health, strength, or beauty. The urge to be naked, he believed, lies dormant within us, yet it is as strong as the urge to feel the light of the sun.
Because nudity was a natural condition, the proper setting for its manifestation was the great outdoors. Almost all the photos in Der Mensch und die Sonne showed nude bodies in flower-speckled meadows, sun-drenched beaches, grassy flatlands, tranquil marshes, and snow-bright alpine slopes (Figure 8). Nudity was not only a daytime event for Surén but also primarily a summertime affair; despite the fact that Germany is for most of the year a cold and cloudy country, Surén did not find interesting any image of nude bodies set against clouds or even shadows. He perceived nudity above all as a matter of the body's relation to sunlight, of its power to see and be seen in a great, open space in which nothing hides the horizon. The "friendship" between sunlight and flesh motivated activities that strengthened and
beautified the body. The primary activity was gymnastics, with hiking, swimming, and noncompetitive sports (such as archery) assuming subordinate significance. Not surprisingly, Surén promoted his own gymnastic method, which stressed the use of medicine balls, weights, and throw-thrust exercises. Naked exercises achieved maximum effect when performed in groups rather than alone. Yet he separated nude gymnastics from competitive sports, which could have unhealthy consequences for the body. And though he accepted nude dancing as an agreeable component of Nacktkultur , he clearly regarded it as an activity for women. The profound freedom offered by the conjunction of nudity, sunlight, and open space depended on the perfection of self-discipline resulting from gymnastic training. Despite his emphasis on group performance, Surén saw nudity and gymnastics as modes of self-discovery and will formation. A former army officer and son of an officer, he displayed a lifelong disdain for the regimented, "command and drill" methods of discipline employed by the military, for these undermined the capacity of men to act on their own in relation to any problem of modern life.
That men were the target audience for the book was obvious from the use of male models to demonstrate all the gymnastic techniques. But the book left a deeper problem only partially resolved. Surén realized that Nacktkultur could become a sign of national strength only by involving large numbers of men. But he also realized that the involvement of men depended on the involvement of large numbers of women, so he included numerous photos of nude women and described the significance of Nacktkultur for women. This material, however, worked to assure men that Nacktkultur enhanced their attractiveness for women. Surén had to deal with the fact that erotic desires achieve fulfillment above all through some condition of nakedness, and that it is very difficult for images of group nudity to escape association with the fulfillment of an orgiastic or at least communal (rather than couple-contained) erotic desire. Therefore, he insisted that the sexes remain segregated in the performance of their nude activities, and nowhere did he include a photo of men and women naked together. But such segregation left Nacktkultur vulnerable to the insinuation that it was attractive to men with homoerotic desires. Surén reminded his readers that in earlier, Teutonic times, men and women bathed together and indeed explored opportunities to live naked together. He even introduced the possibility that labor of all sorts could become more efficient and productive by being performed naked. But this naked utopia would emerge only after the entire sphere of education itself collaborated with nudity to shape the will of every citizen from a very early age. Consequently, Surén advocated allowing children under twelve to play naked together in the streets of big cities.
However, the gender politics of Der Mensch und die Sonne apparently bothered Surén, for in his next book, Deutsche Gymnastik (1925), he presented a
much narrower vision of the ideal male body. Here he distanced himself emphatically from the "feminine" dance schools, the gymnastic schools, and the nudist movement. "My gymnastic views," he wrote, "find their origin in the terrible breakdown of our time," which lacked the self-discipline that gymnastics, far more than "mass compulsion and drill," could develop (54). Surén had been an instructor at the Army School of Physical Education, but when he introduced his gymnastic methods, the army became alarmed and dismissed him. Only when gymnastics operated "in the home," as an everyday activity accessible to anyone, he proposed, could it become a uniquely German mode of self-discipline and restoration of national strength. Surén integrated nude gymnastics with vegetarianism and a sensibly ascetic lifestyle, but most of the book consisted of numerous exercises a man could perform alone. All of the photographs showed Surén himself, lavishly bronzed and nearly nude (wearing only a tiny jock strap), before a totally uncontextualized white background, neither indoors nor out, neither in nature nor in a domestic interior. Though he devoted a chapter to praising the benefits of nudity, he did not treat nudism as an activity for signifying communal unity but rather as the ultimate image of individuality and self-discipline. The ideal male appeared alone and nude, not especially vulnerable in his nudity but not brought closer, through nudity, to other men or women.