Nude paintings blocked in German school spark debate

BERLIN (AFP) - An adult education centre in Berlin has hung a collection of nude paintings days after censoring them out of deference to Muslim immigrants in what critics Wednesday called an overzealous bid at cultural sensitivity.

The paintings' exclusion from an exhibition on Friday met with public outcry in a neighbourhood where tensions were already running high after demonstrations against a new refugee centre earlier this year.

"Human nakedness is something natural. Muslims need to get used to it if they want to live here. It's part of the culture here," said Mr Andreas F, 62, a pensioner taking an English class at the adult education centre who declined to give his last name.

"They look good," he told AFP.

The six nude portraits now hang near the public toilets in a second-floor hallway at the Volkshochschule Marzahn-Hellersdorf, on the eastern edge of the German capital.

A local politician received more than 300 comments after the paintings were originally excluded from the collection.

Facebook and text messages and emails ranged from insults to allegations that the neighbourhood was "buckling" before Islam and needed to be "freed" from the religion, according to the daily Berliner Zeitung.

A few, however, praised the attempt to take reservations into account.

District council member Juliane Witt, who received the messages, overrode the school leadership to hang the paintings Monday, saying the attempt at religious sensitivity was well-intentioned but infringed on artistic freedom.

"For me it wasn't even a question," Ms Witt told AFP.

The school's deputy head, Mr Gotthard Haenisch, originally barred the paintings "with consideration" for Muslim students in German language and integration courses who might "feel uncomfortable" with the nudity and be discouraged from coming to class, according to the Berliner Zeitung.

But Ms Witt countered that the move, because it was not requested by students, in itself could be seen as discriminatory.

"If you do something to protect someone, then you are defining them," Ms Witt said, "and that can be stigmatising."