Once again the New York Times provides my story about nudists hiking in the Alps. Very common apparently.
APPENZELL, — The Swiss like their secrecy, particularly in banking. At other times, they are more open. Take hiking.
In recent years, it has become fashionable for a growing number of Swiss and some foreigners to wander in the Alps clad in little more than hiking shoes and sun screen. Last summer, the number of nude hikers increased to such an extent that the hills often seemed alive with the sound of everything but the swish of trousers.
In September, the police in this mountainous town detained a young hiker, whose friends will identify him only as Peter, wandering with nothing on but hiking boots and a knapsack. But they had to release him, because in Switzerland there is no law against hiking in the nude. The experience alarmed the city fathers of Appenzell, pop. 5,600, who worried that the town might become a Mecca for the unclad. Like most remote mountain regions, this is a conservative area.
For centuries the farmers here lived off their famed Appenzeller cheese and a bitter liqueur that most, except fervent admirers, say tastes like cough medicine gone bad. Not until 1990 did Appenzell grant women the right to vote, decades after other regions of Switzerland.
Suppose families with children were out hiking and encountered a group of nude hikers, officials asked. Moreover, the name of Appenzell was popping up with troublesome frequency in the blogs and chat rooms of nude hiking enthusiasts.
“We’re not in Canada, where you can hike for hours in vast forests,” said Markus Dörig, 49, spokesman for the local government, a look of exasperation on his face. “Here you meet other hikers every few minutes. It was bothersome.”
Konrad Hepenstrick says he almost never meets people who are bothered. “You greet them, and they greet you, though in winter, of course, many ask, ‘Aren’t you cold?’” he said, picking at a lunch of coarse, spicy Appenzeller sausage in a restaurant high on the slopes over the town. Unseasonable snow showers clouded the view of the surrounding peaks, thwarting plans for a nude hike with this reporter.
Mr. Hepenstrick, 54, is an architect who loves to hike in the altogether. In winter, he said, he has hiked for hours in temperatures well below freezing, though he does concede the need for a hat and gloves. He has hiked in the nude for about 30 years, he said, and has crisscrossed the hills and mountains around Appenzell, as well as in France, Germany, Italy and even the Appalachians.
His companion, a schoolteacher, also hikes, though she will not do so au naturel, he said. So why does he take off his clothes? “There’s not much to discuss,” he said. “It’s freedom. First, freedom in your head; then, freedom of the body.”
With some Swiss legal experts arguing that banning nudity in public would be unconstitutional, the government has been hamstrung in responding to the hikers. It has drafted legislation that, if enacted, would outlaw “abusive behavior that offends against custom and decency,” but it seems likely to be challenged. Daniel Kettiger, a legal expert, published a six-page paper last month titled, predictably enough, “The Bare Facts: On the Criminal Prosecution of Nude Hiking,” pointing out that in 1991 Switzerland struck a law from its books that banned nudity in public.
“Simply being naked without any sexual connotation is no longer illegal,” Mr. Kettiger said by telephone, adding, “at the time there was a wave of nudism.” Was he himself a hiker? “Yes, but never nude,” he replied. “First there is the danger of sunburn, and then there are ticks all over the place in the Alps, which carry Boreliosa,” or Lyme disease.
The Appenzeller justice minister, Melchior Looser, is sure he can frame a law that will force the naked to cover up. “I think the measure will work the way we have fashioned it,” said Mr. Looser, 63, noting that offenders would be fined the equivalent of $170.
He would like to have the law in place by springtime, when hikers again take to the hills. But he concedes that it must be approved by the grand assembly of the people, a gathering of all citizens of voting age once a year on the town’s main square, which is scheduled to convene April 26. Passage is by no means assured.
Hans Eggimann believes it will be enacted. “I hike around the house naked, but outside I put my pants on,” said Mr. Eggimann, 57, a large man who sells more than 60 types of cheese in his shop in the town center.
Others are not so sure. “Many Appenzellers I know say it doesn’t bother them,” said Alessandra Maselli, who works in a dry goods store not far from Mr. Eggimann’s cheese emporium. “I’d say it’s about half and half, with a slight majority for the law,” she said.
Over in the Bücherladen bookstore, Caroline Habazin, 46, said the controversy gave everyone a good laugh at the town Carnival parade last month. One float featured a male and a female hiker in flesh-colored tights, their arm and leg muscles and their rear ends stuffed up steroid-style with filling, though the man’s private parts were mostly covered by fake grape leaves. “I think it’s only a pretty small group,” she said.
Her colleague, Edith Sklorz, 48, said why anyone would want to hike nude was puzzling to her, though her husband felt differently. “I can understand swimming nude,” she said, “but not hiking.”
What offended her equally though, was the government’s choice of responding to the hikers with a law. Recently, the neighboring town of Gossau passed a measure banning spitting in public, she said, threatening offenders with a $50 fine; and now a law to ban nude hikers. “For every tiny thing, there’s a law,” she said.
Ursula Heller has been selling apparel for hikers and trekkers for five years in her shop just off the town’s main square. A threat to her business from nude hikers? She laughed deeply. She and her husband are avid hikers, she said, but she is against nudity.
“If you want to get undressed,” she said, “you can always wear shorts or a bikini.”