Culture : Rain or Shine, Germans Are Determined to Tan : Forget warnings about sun-damaged skin. In the land of the pale, brown is beautiful. ‘Tanned people are better tempered,’ they insist.
On a wet and gray March afternoon, with summer still seemingly light-years away, Gabriele Hagend climbed onto a glowing, violet sun bed and rose 21 minutes later with a summer tan and tremendous “sense of well-being.”
Looking at her pink cheeks, one could hardly tell that she had spent the entire day in an office, the entire winter in Germany.
“I don’t want to look like I’m baked, but it’s quite nice to have a tan all the time,” the 31-year-old wholesale trader said. “Especially when spring comes, with short pants and skirts. It looks better when your legs are not like cheese sticks.”
In the land of the pale, brown is beautiful. And in a sunless land, sun-worshipers abound.
An estimated 10 million Germans regularly visit tanning studios, and millions travel south each year to places where the sun is always brighter.
Despite the worst recession since World War II, Germans are spending about $38 billion a year on foreign travel--more than any other country--and their No. 1 priority for a good vacation is good sun.
Spain, Italy, Cyprus, the Canary Islands. Most Germans get six weeks of vacation a year, during which they crowd Spanish and Italian beaches now called “the Teutonic Grill.”
In agricultural times, when most people labored outdoors, pale was pretty. Only poor farmers were tanned, while the bourgeoisie covered their heads and hands so that they would not be blemished by the sun, an unwanted symbol of the working class.
When industrialization took work indoors, however, suddenly it was the laborers who were pale-faced, and suntans were for the rich. A bronzed skin became a sign of leisure and wealth.
Now, Germans say that salon tanning not only makes them look better, it makes them feel better.
Tanning is an antidote to week after week of gloomy winter. It is also a way to prepare for later vacations in the sun--a kind of pre-cook. Christel Mampell, editor of Top Tan magazine, says there are about 5,500 tanning salons throughout Germany and many more sun beds at hotels and sport centers.
In the Sonnen Garten--one of at least 50 sun studios in the Bonn area--40 to 50 customers a day take off their clothes and lie down for about 15 minutes on a futuristic bed of ultra-violet bulbs that looks like a cross between a waffle iron and a plastic coffin. They pay about $5 to $9 for the privilege and for a seamless 360-degree tan. No truck driver tans. No unsightly bathing suit marks. No white butts.
This possibly matters more to Germans, who find nudity inoffensive and, consequently, spend a good bit more time naked in public than your average American. In summer, it is not uncommon to see men and women sunbathing in the buff in city parks. Most saunas are coed and clotheless, as are some swimming pools and beaches.
Tan-now, pay-later health warnings don’t get a big reception among the regulars.
Shopkeeper Beate Griesenbach waves a post-tanning cigarette at the Sonnen Garten and says, “When you smoke as much as I do, you don’t have to worry about sun benches.”
Office worker Ingrid Kraemer, emerging from a 20,000-watt turbo sun bed, adds, “With the hole in the ozone layer, the real sun is much worse.”
In fact, neither is too good. Tanned skin ages more quickly and is more prone to cancer, medical studies show. Sunburns are dangerous, especially in children. Doctors say the incidence of skin cancer is rapidly increasing in Germany.
The national Commission of Early Detection and Prevention of Skin Cancer, a group of private and governmental medical leaders in Germany, plans a nationwide media campaign against sun bathing and sun studios beginning in June.
Dr. Eckhard Wilhelm Breitbart, a member of the commission, says a similar campaign in 1989 reduced the use of sun studios, but patronage rose again when the commission launched subsequent campaigns against outdoor sun bathing.
Breitbart said about 10 million of the 80 million Germans use ultra-violet sun beds. Because their danger has not been scientifically proven, Breitbart says, many ignore what to doctors seems obvious.
“We have plenty of examples of people who use solar beds and have cancer. But there is no serious study that makes a clear correlation between sun beds and skin cancer because most people who use the sun beds also use the normal sun,” Breitbart says.
One fifteen-minute sunning session every two weeks probably is not harmful, he says, but many people overdo it.
Abusers are not hard to find. Trude Hoever, a 33-year-old housing broker, is thin, blonde and dark as leather. Despite her premature wrinkles and freckles, she says she tans three times a week.
“I was always very pale and unhappy,” Hoever says at the Ergoline Sonnencenter in St. Augustin. “I need the sun bank like other people need cigarettes. I don’t need food, but I need my sun bank.”
Likewise, Germans need their travel. Neighborhood travel agencies are to Germany what fast-food restaurants are to the United States: Everywhere and crowded. Customers stand in line at travel agencies for help and handfuls of brochures showing blue skies, white beaches and tanned travelers.
In a recession, “vacations are the last thing Germans would give up,” says travel agent Marc Herberz at Reisebuero St. Augustin. “Sun means relaxing and getting away from what we have at home.”
Away from the gray weather and pale skin. Or, as tanner Helmut Schramm says at the Ergoline Sonnencenter, away from gray moods.
“Tanned people are better tempered,” Herberz says.
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