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Women who wear the Muslim swimming garment, the burkini, have been banned from a German swimming pool MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/Getty

The mayor of a small town in Germany has defended the decision to ban women wearing the "burkini" from the local swimming pool. Some defenders of religious freedom have condemned the ban, but the mayor of Neutraubling near Regensburg insisted the ban was being imposed purely for reasons of hygiene.

The controversy began when a woman attending a women-only swimming day chose to wear the burkini - a tight wetsuit-like garment some Muslim women wear to preserve their modesty. Some other women took exception and complained. Town mayor Heinz Kiechle agreed and introduced a ban on all but "usual" swimming garments.

"A ban specifically for burkinis [doesn't] exist," said Kiechle. "It was more about hygiene. So far there was only one female guest who wanted to wear a burkini, which other female guests thought of as unhygienic. Why it is necessary to wear a burkini at a 'ladies only' evening, I don't understand. Wednesday evenings is ladies only, to allow more sensitive people to swim as well."

Now a sign has been placed on the changing rooms which reads: "Dear swimming pool users, the use of the pool is only allowed in usual swimming costumes (swimsuit, bikini, bathing trunks)." According to local English news website "The Local" life guards at the pool denied refugees had also been trying to swim in their underwear, as claimed by the mayor.

The decision was criticised by the Green Youth party which wrote: "We see this case not only as a clear violation of fundamental rights, but also as a blow to humanity and tolerance."

However the mayor refused to back down, saying: "I wonder what a burkini, a recent invention, has to do with the right to free practice of religion?" The woman whose decision to wear a burkini began the furore has not returned to the pool since the ban was imposed.

It is unclear if she is a recent migrant, but this isn't the first time cultural differences have been laid bare at German public baths. In January 2016 male migrants were banned from some pools after women complained of harassment. The incident took place just weeks after mass sex attacks in Cologne which were mostly blamed on migrants.