Naked People Watching at the German Spa: “Finding your place in the naturist Eco-System.”

I’m writing this post from 38,000 feet on a flight home from Berlin. My wife and I spent the weekend in this Renaissance city with the intent of doing a bit of sight-seeing, enjoying a couple nice meals, but most specifically, checking out a few German spas (“Saunas” or “Thermes”) that are particularly renowned for their traditions in nude bathing – on in the case of the saunas – nude sweating!

I’ve already written this post from a somewhat different perspective in a piece called The Demographics of Nakedness, where I sought out to dispel the myth that nudity is the great equalizer. “We are all the same when we’re naked,” have said so many people in advocacy for nude recreation. “You can’t tell a doctor, from a business tycoon, from a pipe-fitter when everyone is nude, as clothing provides the social cues that allow us to form our preconceived notions about other humans.”

I love the genuine sentiment and conviction of such statements, but the longer we’ve participated in social nudity, the less I have been able to lend any personal credibility to such a mantra. And never has that been so evident as during this brief qualitative study we just completed while visiting the most nudity-friendly spas in Berlin. What did the study prove? Well… naked humans are simply human, but naked! Profound…  I know! 😐

STUDY – PHASE ONE: Europa-Therme in Central Berlin.

SETTING: Just a couple blocks from the Berlin Aquarium and Zoo, each of which border the expansive Tiergarten, this is most definitely a center-city location that would probably be best described as “my neighborhood sauna.” The striking element of this particular venue is how it is situated amidst the commercial and residential high-rises of downtown Berlin, with a rooftop view of several historical landmarks. Of course, that means a reciprocal exposure of the sundecks to the inhabitants of those high-rises, which must be a source of amusement in the middle of summer when I suspect the rooftop nude sunbathers are plentiful and in clear view of the apartment dwellers across the street.

We arrived late on a Thursday morning and stayed into the early evening hours. Even on this near-freezing day, the “seasoned locals” showed little reticence about meandering out onto the veranda in the all-together. It immediately made me think of the insultingly redundant comments on sites like Trip Advisor where first time nude beach goers comment on “the perils of encountering the people you never want to see naked.”

But if I’m going to be completely truthful, there is a discomfort in visiting a naked place where the clientele is mainly in the “over-80-years-old” bracket, not unlike that of visiting my 93-year-old mother in a “sunset-living community” where everyone starts lining up with their walkers and wheelchairs at 4:00 pm for the first seating at dinner. This is always a reflective dance with one’s own mortality that has little to do with nakedness, but everything to do with how each of us grapple with the aging process. In that spirit, part of me wants to jump up and say “GOOD FOR YOU NAKED OLD PEOPLE!! I celebrate your confidence for putting so many decades of wrinkles and scars on display.” But in that very same breath, you find yourself catching a glimpse of yourself reflecting in the glass walls in an attempt to quickly assess where you are in that process. Sobering, at least.

As the day progressed at Europa-Therme, the crowd grew a bit more diverse, with a couple dads and their kids (Yup – naked children at the spa! That’s a thing in Berlin.), and some middle-agers that looked more or less like us. You could tell this was a place that was once on the cutting edge, but now on the backside of reality. Who knows, maybe the local hipsters show up on Saturday night to soak in the rooftop pool and gaze at the Berlin skyline, (Which sounds like fun!) but I sort of doubt it, because now they have other options, like…

STUDY – PHASE TWO: Vabali Spa in Berlin

SETTING: Located between a city park and a soccer field, you could easily walk past the front door of Vabali Spa Berlin amidst the local service industries and apartment blocks in the sprawling development at the foot of the track where the Berlin Wall once stood. But once inside the door, you are guided down the path of Asian influenced self-realization into a labyrinth of saunas, hot tubs, tepid swimming pools, and rest areas with luxurious waterbeds that invite napping even when you thought you were wide awake. Children are allowed, but we only saw one mom with her young daughter in tow. This is a mecca for young adults.

Interestingly enough, friends visited the Vabali Spa in Düsseldorf a few months ago, where their defining moment was a reprimand for being “too naked” – a result of walking from one attraction to the next without bothering to wrap themselves in a towel or a robe. That most certainly resonated with us as we observed this to be a place that is really well managed, or perhaps more appropriately – micro-managed!

As best I can tell, they opened in sometime in 2014 (with the Düsseldorf establishment opening in 2017, and a third location scheduled for Hamburg in 2021). As part of a consortium with Claudius Therme and Neptunbad in Cologne, they have similarly strict policies that forbid you to leave a towel or a robe on a lounger, at which point, said item will be confiscated and sold on Ebay before you can utter the word Aufguss! Along with that comes a sense that you are being watched all the time-in the pools, in the quiet rooms, walking around naked – whatever. The rules are in place for a reason, and they must be adhered to.

I get it. There’s a strong tradition of sex clubs in Berlin that have hijacked the “FKK” nomenclature that once belonged exclusively to hard-core naturists, but now denotes a nightlife where, truly, anything goes. Vabali is clearly seeking to set an industry standard, which could quickly be tarnished by people getting frisky in the hot tub.

But alas, I’ve drifted off topic. And that is, who goes to Vabali? Well, pretty much anyone that might identify themselves as a young professional hipster, along with a few strays like ourselves. We were in a smallish minority of those without tattoos ranging from subtle line-art to body sleeves. Lots of young couples apparently took Friday off, while several “girls’ day out” groups seemed completely at ease with the co-ed naked part, but uniformly uncomfortable with the “Crap! It’s cold out here” part. (Many of the most alluring parts of the property are outdoors, decidedly uncomfortable when making your way from the outdoor pool to the deep-heated resting areas.)

But again, to the point… The crowd at Verbali looked very much like what I would expect to encounter in the mainline nightclubs of Berlin. Successful, educated young people out to have a relaxing and sensual day at the spa. Naked was not the attraction for coming here – Chillaxing is what’s on tap, and what’s the big deal about naked? “We all get naked… every day… right? Why not spend the days that way with my friends?

STUDY – PHASE THREE: Kristalltherme Ludwigsfelda

SETTING: Kristalltherme is a chain of sauna and pool complexes scattered throughout Germany, though the venue at Ludwigsfelda, a 25-minute train ride outside of Berlin, is known to be “the most naked of the entire chain.” On Wednesdays and Sundays, bathing suits are allowed, but during the rest of the week, the expectation is total nudity in the saunas and in the pools. Covering with a robe or towel is the supposed expectation when walking about, but many – male and female – don’t bother to cover up at all unless making their way to the food concession, and even then, nobody seems to care. (A marked difference from Vabali where the immediate action upon exiting the pool was to wrap in a towel.) And on a Saturday? This is most definitely a family water park. Those under 18 are allowed to wear swimsuits, and I would say roughly half of those in that age bracket did so – but the rest were naked.

This was my third visit to this naked water wonderland, the most relaxing in some ways, and somewhat disorienting in others. If Europa-Therme has assumed the role of a senior day center, and Vabali has found its niche as an enclave for open-minded hipsters, then Kristalltherme falls in that middle ground of “a place for the rest of us.” To that end, it was interesting – given the lack of textile cues other than bathrobes and towels – to imagine the lives of these patrons fully clothed on a workday, and in that light, I would surmise this to be the most socio-economic diverse crowd I’ve encountered at any place where social nudity is practiced. Keep in mind that our ability to converse with the locals was essentially non-existent, leaving one to draw such conclusions on the basis of people-watching alone, the same way one does in an airport, a restaurant, or a grocery store. Sure enough, clothed or not, people send off innumerable non-verbal cues that define who they are and where they fit in.

We arrived early, having read that finding two loungers together after the opening bell on a weekend could be a challenge, and for a good while, we felt a good twenty-five years younger than the prevailing median age. But as the day progressed, families arrived in droves until our departure at dusk when the young couples surrounded the bar, creating an ever-evolving ambiance in the warm pool.

It occurred to me while I was sitting in one particularly unique sauna at the Kristalltherme – called Brutal Aufguss! that had this been my first experience at such a sauna, it might have also been my last. Whereas the typical demeanor for the sauna infusion ceremonies is one of meditation and mind-expansion, this particular theatrical presentation – all in German, of course – involved an aggressive dialogue between to two sauna-masters which apparently played a bit over the top even with the locals. (It was called the “Brutal Sauna” experience, after all.) But in that moment, it was something of an epiphany to me. Just like anyone in the hospitality industry, the most important element in a business plan is to know who your target audience is, and why wouldn’t that be true for businesses that cater to naked people as well, since as I stated earlier, naked people are just as different from one another as clothed people, except without the clothes!


In Germany, I believe there are nearly 300 saunas, some similar to one another, but none exactly the same as the next. In France, there are nearly as many naturist centers, some of which cater to people looking for “lots of friends with lots of benefits;” others which seek to create a family friendly environment something akin to Disney World. But at the end of the day, except for the very most adventurous, people want to hang out with people they feel inherently comfortable with, which is why there are so many different restaurant and hotel chains, boutique malls, and discount super-shopping centers. It’s difficult enough to find one’s niche when fully clothed, let alone putting yourself out there wearing nothing but your own skin. Perhaps the awkward truth is that even if you have no intention of actually socializing with other people at a particular place, most of us are hard-wired in our efforts not to stand out from the crowd.

I have written before that I think millennials may have a golden opportunity to sway attitudes regarding social nudity in America in a very positive way, but in the end, and in the same breath, one’s first experience with public nakedness will quite likely be their last if it doesn’t turn out to be at least a marginally positive experience. Especially in America, given so few opportunities to even “give it a try,” it seems a bit of a long shot for getting it right on the first try. That can only lead to the riveting cocktail party story that goes, “I got naked this one time, and you wouldn’t believe how it turned out. OMG… SO awkward!”

Thanks to the ever-growing database of reviews such as those on Google, Yelp, and Trip Advisor, and a few tireless bloggers who are adding more substantive information about experiencing social nudity, there’s more information out there than ever to help you find the right place. That said, I suspect if you go to a subpar restaurant and don’t like the food, you may never go back to that place, but I doubt you’ll give up eating. But if you’re contemplating your first experience of getting naked with others, you may want to do a bit of research. I suppose it’s like any number of experiences that stretch your horizons – Once you find your way there and have a mountain top experience, you’ll wonder why it took you so long to try it in the first place. The tricky part? You have to get it right the first time!

Nakation for Dummies

So I have made repeated mention in recent posts of my daughter and 20-something friends – mutual friends, I might add – who have become increasingly naturist-curious; a true bonanza for a long time naturist blogger who throws a small party every time he gets a new follower on his blog. This, in an age where nudism is frequently dismissed by Millennials as something my slightly deranged, post-modern hippie parents threaten to tell us about…

“Anyway, your father and I just booked on a nudist cruise to Aruba.”

“NOOOO!!!!! MOM, don’t tell me THAT stuff! Just STOP”

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Day-dreaming in Croatia

It’s strange to me, really. I was a late bloomer, who wasn’t even old enough to bloom during the Summer of Love. By the time I came of age, we were in the Reagan era, California was cracking down on nude beaches, free love was under fire from the emerging religious right, and the AIDS crisis was just about to erupt on the horizon. But the bizarre part of it all to me is the dichotomy of the strange relationship 20-somethings have with immodesty. I know quite a lot of people in this age bracket, most of whom are not especially religious, don’t think twice about a one-night stand (Do we still call this casual sex?), are as likely as not to make out with a new acquaintance at a party, frequently wear seductive clothing in casual settings, but would never consider going to a nude beach or resort. What’s up with that?

What’s up with that, says this humble blogger, is that we’ve made the whole thing seem damn weird and unmanageable! Try visiting a nudist resort in the United States and it costs a fortune (Like $50 for a day visit), and only that after you submit a full FBI check to prove you’re not a sex offender or puritanical ax murderer! Go to the wrong place in Europe, and you inadvertently end up at a naked geriatric center pondering your mortality in disbelief that skin could possibly have that kind of elasticity. Turn the other direction in France, and you might find yourself in Cap d’Agde, the most infamous of naked places in the world, where your inhibitions and misconceptions about naturism will turn into a nightmarish collage of men in studded collars and lesbian sex on the beach. (I know, Cap d’Agde fans – the place can be great for naturism, but send an unsuspecting newbie there? Yikes!)

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Family nakation at La Jenny

And thus, a few thoughts for the newbie naturist who finds the idea of no tan lines and swimming without wet nylon a least at bit alluring.

  • Leave the country! Assuming you’re reading this in the US of A, (or even in Great Britain,) you need to go someplace where people aren’t freaked out by nudity. The family naturist resorts on the southwest coast of France (La Jenny, Montalivet) are by far the most normal in terms of demographics, but they are difficult to get to, and the weather can be iffy. Croatia would be a good alternative, but the time and place means everything. If you go before school holidays, you’re back to the geriatric thing. Do your research before you go.
  • Go to a spa in Germany or Holland. Check out the website for information about FKK or Texteil Frei days, which for many of them is everyday. Elysium near Rotterdam or Therme Erding near Munich are particularly impressive, and draw huge numbers of young couples and singles who don’t consider themselves nudists, but don’t think twice about getting naked with others. It just feels normal.

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The view over Origan naturist camping in France

  • Search the blogosphere for things written by naturists. A lot of it is rubbish, and you’ll know right away this is not going to be helpful. But now and again, you’ll find a blogger who gets it, knows where to go, and when to go there. Send them a message and see if they answer. I’ve found many of our favorite places that way, on the basis of personal recommendations, greatly reducing the chances that you’ll waste your time and money, while irreversibly damaging your psyche!
  • Read Yelp and Trip Advisor reviews before you go – not just a few, but drill down. Many people adore Gunnison Beach in New Jersey, as it’s one of the only substantial and recognized nude beaches in the entire country, but if you read enough reviews, you’ll also learn about some of the oddities of the place as well. In fact, American nude beaches have big issues with gawkers, which is pretty much a sure-fire way to get your girlfriend to say, “Never again.”

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Therme Erding near Munich

  • Decide if you’re an “all in” or “ease in” person. “All in” means you’ll be more comfortable if everyone around you is naked, and you just need to follow suit. “Ease in” means you’re seeking a mixed crowd where nudity is permitted by not required, but also means you put it out there while others around you may not. You can usually figure that out from the aforementioned trip review sites, but it’s an important distinction.
  • Go high-end, or go low-end, but beware of the middle. Though a bit counter-intuitive, you either want to stay at a nice naturist hotel like Vritomartis in Greece or Heliotel in France, or find a place with lots of tent camping –  not miles of trailer camping – but tent camping. Why? The places in the middle tend to attract the folks who parked their travel trailer on a plot in 1967 and haven’t budged since. Lovely people, they may be, but if you’re looking for a youthful vibe, seek out the tent campers. Check out Camp Full Monte in Montenegro, or Belezy in France. Valalta in Croatia seems to have struck a nice balance, but not so much before schools let out in early July.

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Naturist camping on Corisca

  • Beware of naturist/nudist message boards if you want to feel normal about the whole thing. Like the blogosphere, there are some very cool people out there who have a lot of helpful information, but receiving a nude pic from a lonely guy in Atlanta is probably not the introduction to social nudity you’re looking for.
  • Seek out resources geared to people in your demographic. Perhaps the best one out there right now is The Young Naturists Association (YNA) run by Felicity and Jordan out of New York. They have done more to promote a positive image for social nudity than anything I’ve seen on the web for quite a long time. I have yet to attend one of their events (I’m told I’m welcome, despite the fact that I’m not quite a young naturist anymore) but from everything I’ve seen, they’ve got it right, including a blog that is thoughtful, intelligent, and informative. My guess is the people they have attracted to the cause have similar traits.

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Naked feeding time in South Africa

Dunno! Perhaps there’s no rocket science to be found in this post, accept to say that a bad first foray into naturism is more often than not the last foray into naturism. We started young – just months after we were married (remember, our kids are in their 20s now!) so we’ve been at this for a while. To a large degree, our naturist travels have defined our relationship; when our naked travels have taken us to places we would never thought to have visited, where we have met people we would have never had reason to talk to.

Start young. Before you have children. Before life bogs you down. Have more questions? Ask Naturist Dan! We naturists love to advocate for our cause.

 

 

 

 

Naked Oddessy II – Naturist Europe 2016

We are fortunate people! We discovered naturism at a young age, and now we are empty-nesters with enough discretionary income to explore the planet in the best possible way – naked.

In 2013, we were lucky enough to live in Europe for a year and took advantage of that to make a three-month journey across Europe with the intention of visiting as many naked places as we could manage. You can read a little about that here, but we’re at it again. I have business in France this summer, so I’ll need to wear clothes for a few weeks, but for the rest of the summer, we’re going to do all we can to live in the now and the naked. Our itinerary…

Therme Erding is always our preferred first port of call when traveling to Europe. It’s a short drive from the Munich airport, and by the time you’ve soaked, sweated, and slumbered in their comfy lounges, the jet-lag thing seems like a non-issue. We’ll stop here twice on this trip – on our way into Europe, and again on our way out. I’ve referred to Therme Erding several times in my blog over the years, in several different contexts. Not a naturist place by definition, but if you want to spend the day with a bunch of naked people, well, I guess it is.

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Beach at Ile du Levant

 

 

We have visited Ile du Levant at least a half-dozen times now and stayed at several hotels on the island. By now, there’s no question – our lodging of choice is Heliotel near the plaza at the top of the hill. It takes at least a couple visits to the Golden Island to figure out what that’s all about, and in fact, having done some reading on the topic, the “about it all” has changed quite a lot over the decades. But today, it is mostly a tranquil little island virtually unnoticed by the rest of the world. Perfunctory rules tell you where you can and cannot be naked, but nobody seems to pay them much mind – in either direction. Naked and clothed people just going about their business in anticipation of another stunning sunset on the Cote d’Azur. This year, we’ll be there for a long weekend with novice naturist friends. Talk about throwing them in the deep end…

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Shopping nude, because you can!

Then I have to work for a few weeks before we make our way to Barcelona to catch the ferry to Mallorca. While we regard the place with a sense of circumspect, we will stay overnight at Hotel Eve in the renowned (infamous?) Cap d’Agde. I think this will be our third visit to this theme park of human deviant behavior (harsh… I know… but really, humans walking humans in studded collars? C’mon!) since we have a day to kill en route, and indeed, there is something alluring about having the freedom to go banking or grocery shopping in the nude. Our last experience (maybe ten years ago) at Hotel Eve was very pleasant. A quiet oasis in a metropolis of bizarre.

 

We are counting the days until our arrival at Skinny Dippers resort on Mallorca. Neither cheap, nor easy to book – we reserved last summer – this appears to be one of the premier naturist boutique hotels in the world. Pictures could very well be deceiving, but I doubt it. And apparently, Mallorca boasts some stunning naturist beaches as well. We are prepared to reveal our findings related to all things Naked Mallorca. Stay tuned.

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Mallorca naturist retreat

From Mallorca, we take a ferry to Sardinia (just a stopover) to Corsica. Again, this will be our third or fourth visit to Corsica, but our first visit to naturist resort Bagherra located on the East coast of Corsica, about 2 hours south of Bastia. Our previous stays were at Riva Bella, and another complex called Piana Verde which is no longer naturist. And we’ve made day visits to U-Furu (Lovely!) and La Chiappa, each of which are charming in their own right. But it seems Bagherra has the best accommodations on offer at this point, so we’ll give it a try. One thing for sure – they have a good webmaster.

 

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Corsica

With the desire of finding blindingly sunny days, we chose to end our sojourn in Greece, but as it turns out, getting from Corsica to Greece on a car ferry takes some doing – in this case, making our way across the rather naturist-unfriendly country of Italy to the Adriatic Sea. There are a few naturist places to be found, but the one not far from the port in Tuscany called Locanda di Terramare; a smallish inn that appears to blend simple Tuscan elegance with the freedom to be nude. Just two nights there, but it looks like a great stopover.

 

Locanda 2Given its perfect climate, there are amazingly few sanctioned naked places in Greece, though the one that has emerged as our personal favorite is Vritomartis on the southern coast of Crete. This will be our third visit to this stunning resort perched on the cliffs over the deep blue sea. A fabulous bonus is that they organize amazing day trips including naturist boat excursions and even a naturist trek through a remote gorge. This year, we hope to take the day trip to Gavdos – the most southerly point in Europe – a small island that has long been a safe haven for hippie types and other naked folk.

 

As we head back north, we plan to spend a few days at the Fig Leaf Villas back on the mainland west of Athens. This will be our final stop on our naturist explorations of summer 2016, positioning us for a boat trip back up to Venice which will position us for our return to Munich and a few more hours at… you guessed it – Therme Erding.

Hiking at Vritomartis

Nude hiking on Crete

In short, we have invested a lot of time and effort in seeking out the best naked places in the world. An endeavor not only intended to serve our own naturist desires, but to help people find places they would otherwise miss. Naturism is a niche market at best. If a few thoughtful blog posts can help keep these stunning places thriving, then it’s worth all the effort. Hard work, but somebody’s gotta do it.

 

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Vritomartis

 

 

 

 

 

A Half-Million Naked Germans Can’t be Wrong!

It’s a lazy Sunday morning and I was looking for something interesting to read when I came across this thread on the Young Naturists America (YNA) page about their ongoing efforts (and to date, some recent successes) in normalizing coed nudity in an urban spa setting, where people can hang out for a few hours of relaxed, social interaction… without clothes!

Meditating womanThe article spawned a lengthy and somewhat argumentative banter amidst readers who challenged the business model, the legalities, and even the likelihood that such a place could ever exist in the United States, suggesting that even if it did, it would fall to the immediate infestation of male voyeurs looking for a cheap thrill. The debate has meandered on while the young entrepreneurs at YNA have quietly gone about creating such a place at a New Jersey health club, if only during limited hours on a weekly basis. A brilliant move in the spirit of “I’m going to build it while you tell me why it can’t be done.”

What I simply don’t understand is how we, – and I’m trying to avoid nationalist-driven superlatives here – such a well educated, well traveled, and by comparison, well moneyed population, who live in the land of the free and the brave, can be so incredibly closed minded when it comes to anything that has to do with social nudity, while our European counterparts are floating happily about in a sea of inter-generational nakedness that feels about as deviant as a day at the minor-league ballpark!

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Therme Erding

Take Therme Erding near Munich, for example, which is about the most compelling reason I can think of to begin any European journey with a good long soak, given it’s convenient location near the Franz Joseph (MUC) International Airport. It is from this article in an international business magazine that I have derived the title of this blog post, noting that in 2007 they expanded operations in the clothing optional Sauna World to handle a daily capacity of over 1500 visitors per day, 364 days per year. One might say, “Well yeah, but how often do they hit capacity?” Having visited at least eight or ten times now, each time on a different day of the week, at various times during the year, it appears that it’s just about every day! Try and find two empty lounge chairs after 11:00 am on any morning is like looking for a parking space at the mall on December 23rd. (Click here for yet another perspective on this theme park for grownups; a particularly animated review from a British perspective.)

Under the banner of ‘what’s possible?’ you might want to take a look at one of their promotional videos, or even dig around on their website for a while. But it’s pretty easy to let an entire day slip by floating in the lazy river, sweating away your stress in a themed sauna, reading or taking a nap in one of the atmospheric quiet rooms, or simply socializing over a naked Erdinger Weissbeer at the swim-up bar, under the shade of real palm trees and a protective glass dome that brings Tahiti to Bavaria every day of the year.

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Sauna von Egmond

It would be impressive if this were the only place in Europe where one is afforded a day of clothing optional recreation, but in fact, these mega spas can be found throughout northern Europe, each one seeking out a distinctive marketing edge congruent with the region, and the people who are drawn there. (Some are only clothing optional on certain days of the week, while others only allow swimsuits during designated hours.) Consider the Ludwigsfelde Therme near Berlin, seemingly the flagship of the Kristall Therme chain, but with extended hours that cater mostly to those who wish to bathe textilfrei (or Naked!). Or Mediterana near Cologne, where the pools are a bit more on the tepid side, but the specialty here is a pervasive sense of Zen. My favorite ‘attraction’ is a large room where everyone sits on a tiled bench around the perimeter, feet immersed over the calves in warm water, while a mesmerizing fire draws your attention away from the other naked onlookers.

Sauna von Egmond

Sauna von Egmond

Perhaps it’s due to the fact that the Netherlands share Germany’s gloomy climate that the naked spa culture is alive and thriving there as well. To date, we have only managed to find our way to two Dutch spas, but Elysium near Rotterdam apparently set the bar years ago for what many of the newer places in Germany seek to emulate today, where my favorite space is something like an IMAX theater where cinematic images of nature and wildlife are cast in 360 degrees around the room, but the seating consists of tile recliners submerged in a warm pool. Or how about the quirky Sauna von Egmond on a side street in Haarlem – smallish by comparison, but reminiscent of Gene Wilder’s imagined private quarters at the Wonka Chocolate Factory, with a surrealist décor, a deliciously warm pool, several dry saunas to help one thaw from the winter chill, and a particularly intimate reading room with a fireplace equipped with huge leather couches, where regulars curl up to read the Sunday paper over a cup of tea.

Mediterana

Mediterana

Interestingly enough, I don’t believe any of these places consider themselves a part of the commercial naturist industry such as the huge resorts in Spain, France, or Croatia; nor is their marketing strategy aimed at people who identify themselves as naturists! In fact, for those who are accustomed to visiting naturist places, it takes a bit of effort and patience to fully grasp the culture of nudity at the spa, where in fact, each and every spa seems to have it’s own unique culture. It’s typically a delicately choreographed dance between one’s robe, a bath towel, and nakedness. Where each is acceptable and/or appropriate varies from place to place, sometimes day to day. And it makes sense when you think about it. These are not places that cater to people who insist on being naked. These are places that market to people who aren’t afraid to be naked.

YNAI have much admiration for the good people at YNA who are working so diligently to encourage a similar ideology in the New York metropolitan area, and having lived much of my life on the west coast, I know there are similar places where such environments have survived within a successful business model. We were once regulars at a little place called Frogs in Marin County, which apparently embraces a very similar ethos to the Common Ground Cooperative in Portland, Oregon. And, in fact, the interesting nuance of the aforementioned business article about Therme Erding is that they, the owners and investors, were responding to an evolving market as well. One that supersedes that more traditional spa culture in Germany with famous bathhouses in places like Baden-Baden or Wiesbaden; each of which still exist, but are seemingly spending most of their energy catering to American tourists who take a once-in-a-life time dare to get bare, while the new super-spas in Munich, Stuttgart, and Berlin are pulling in another half-million customers a year – few of them naturists – all of them naked.

Elysium near Rotterdam

I am well acquainted with the prevailing arguments about prudery and paranoia in America, but it occurs to me that not everyone in Europe is eager to drop their worries with their clothes as well. In fact, only a mere half-million per year in metropolitan Bavaria!  Maybe what America is really lacking is a bit of imagination and a new marketing plan!

Making waves in the naturist pool – sexuality and naturism!

Before launching off into this post, this would be a good time to reiterate a few basic tenants of the meandering naturist’s ideological and philosophical perspectives, which I might add, speaks to that of his wife as well – who has been an enthusiastic “co-conspirator” in the campaign for family naturism and everything we believe that stands for.

We have been naturists since our mid 20s, at which time we were just starting a family and came to embrace the underlying qualities of the honesty and vulnerability of being comfortable in our own skin. Neither of us had a particularly positive body image when we were adolescents, and naturism provided an opportunity to simply be real – with ourselves and with each other. This was a great source of energy in the early years of our marriage, and something we really wanted to instill in our own children. We have always been 100% monogamous and faithful to one another, and while we have a general awareness and understanding of those who are seeking sexual alternatives (Lifestylers, if you will) we typically feel uncomfortable in places where that kind of dynamic is at play. It seems to us that the general public is quite willing to jump to the conclusion that any place that sanctions social nudity implicitly (or explicitly) invites a sexual free-for-all, which makes it very difficult to broadcast a positive message about family naturism in an era when paranoia about all dimensions of child safety is at a feverish pitch. We like to think of ourselves as “live and let live” kind of people, but at the same time, we hope that the right to take a naturist vacation won’t be legislated out of existence, simply because people are just bewildered and confused about what’s going on when the clothes come off, behind the six foot walls of the “nudist colony” down the road.

Nudist magazine 3
Nudist magazine 3 Post-war naturism, at its best?

It is from this perspective that my eyebrows went up while reading this excellent trip report by Felicity Jones, who has taken an assertive and enthusiastic role in her leadership of the YNA – Young Naturists America – a group of 20/30-somethings who are eager to revitalize a holistic and body-positive resurgence for the naturist cause! If you don’t know the YNA website, you should click through and explore around a bit before reading the rest of my meanderings here. You will find the writing to be intelligent and reflective of great optimism for the many healthy aspects that could easily be traced back to the original naturist movements of the post WWII era. But at the same time, Felicity and her crew seem well connected to what’s hip within their own demographic. Yoga, meditation, the Arts scene, fitness… you get the drift.

She and her friend Jordan made a tour of several naturist venues in California a few months ago, and again, I think you will find her reviews to be thoughtful and incredibly helpful to anyone who is seriously considering taking the plunge into social nudity. It was her review of Harbin Hot Springs near the Napa Valley that caught my eye. Her review collaborated with many of the inferences (or in some cases, straight out allegations) on social media sites like Trip Advisor that “thar be SEX in them dar pools!”  She is quite ‘matter of fact’ about it all, noting that Harbin Hot Springs does not advertise as a naturist place (It is, in fact, a New Age Retreat with clothing optional pools) but they do, however, have a sign in the dressing room that expressly implores, “Don’t have sex in the pool!”

Nudist magazine 2
Nudist magazine 2 … and even better!

I know this to be true because I have seen this sign… on many, many occasions. In fact, Harbin Hot Springs was one of our first introductions to social nudity, as we lived about an hour away when our children were young, and we would escape to Harbin now and again on a Friday night to soak away the weariness of the work week and parental stress. Today, we live three thousand miles away from Harbin, but we do return every couple of years; as a sort of homage to the years that have passed since we “learned how to get naked.” And in fact, there may indeed be amorous people in the warm pool after dark, (as Felicity has observed) and in fact, they may well be pushing the envelope under the guise of meditative breathing, but quite frankly, it’s a difficult to tell… for sure… in the darkness… when people are being discreet.

Which brings to mind another one of our favorite naked places in the world, located in the heart of Bavaria. Therme Erding bills itself as the world’s largest spa, with three distinct areas to guarantee fun for the whole family: the waterslide area (swimsuits required), the therme world (swimsuits required), and the sauna world (swimsuits forbidden!) I will eventually get around to writing a more extensive post about the spa culture in Germany, but to be sure, this place is the mother of all spas, with a huge indoor/outdoor warm pool (36°C), that includes swim-up bars inside and outside, an impressive array of water features that soothe, tickle, and massage, and a lazy river that is magical at night – when steam is rising off the water as people are floating around in perpetual motion, often with fruity drinks in their hands. You have to be at least 16 years of age to be admitted to Sauna World, and as it happens, the crowd you will find there is similar to the people you would sit with at the screening of the latest rom-com movie; a perfect date-night outing with an even distribution of people ranging from 20 years of age to … older.

Here, also, the rules are articulated quite clearly. So clearly, in fact, that the literature actually says that kissing is good, but please do not have sex in the pools! But here again, when the sun goes down, as is the case at Harbin Hot Springs, everyone becomes a duck!   Floating calmly and peacefully enough, but below the surface…?

Therme 2
Therme 2 The swim-up bar at Therme-Erding

With that, I go back to Felicity’s main point in her review about Harbin Hot Springs, which was essentially, “tell people what is acceptable, and enforce your own rules so people know what to expect!” A timely and valid point that cuts to the core of the marketing mayhem that surrounds clothing-optional recreation. But what about that category one might label as “amorous, but discreet” – is that kind of behavior accepted here? And what about people with latent tendencies toward voyeurism and exhibitionism? Are they allowed too?

According to Phillip Carr-Gomm, who recently authored a book called A Brief History of Nakedness (Reaktion, 2010), it appears that pretty much every human would “FAIL” that last test related to voyeurism and exhibitionism. His research teases out the roots of naturism, or more accurately, how we have been conditioned to fear nakedness as influenced by religion, politics, and ancient pagan rituals. Turns out there are very few straight lines, even to a single or specific religion, that don’t become entangled with Greek gods, witch-hunts, and celebrations of the solstice.

But what really intrigued me was his observation that voyeurism and exhibitionism are essentially hardwired into every human being. It’s part of biology in the cause of perpetuating the human race! Most exhibitionism in today’s society actually takes place when we’re fully clothed, in an effort to say, “Hey! Look at me! Admire my human form and maybe we’ll be friends.” And, of course, an exhibitionist has nothing to show off, if there are no voyeurs looking on.

So there it is… Maybe that motto on every nudist club bulletin board that reads, “Nudity is NOT about SEX” is not – shall we say – in the true spirit of… full disclosure.  Humans are sexual.  Clothing can accentuate or diminish one’s sexual presence, and nudity can do very much the same.  Interestingly, in each case, (clothed or naked) it has much to do with one’s posture and attitude as to what he is or is not wearing.  But I think naturists are doing their own cause a disservice when denying the nakedness-sexuality correlation.  It seems people simply don’t believe that.  The advertising industry most definitely doesn’t believe that.  And I suspect many naturists don’t believe that either, but simply respect the unspoken rules for civil interaction and discretion – when they are naked, and when they are clothed.

KristallTherme
KristallTherme Floating in naturist nirvana…      at the Kristall Therme near Berlin.

So, as I tried to reconcile Felicity’s trip reviews with Mr. Carr-Gomm’s matter-of-fact explanation of why people have such varied and bizarre interpretations of the nakedness thing, I had an epiphany. There’s a big difference between being naked alone, and being naked with other people, even if you call yourself a naturist. Naturism (as best I can understand it) is a social phenomenon that involves seeing other naked people, and being seen by other naked people. And as in the case in any social environment, (clothed, or not) most of us spend a lot of energy trying to figure out the rules, the limits, and if you will, the prerequisites for social acceptance any time we enter a new group, naked or otherwise.

Imagine a summer BBQ on the back porch of your neighbor’s house – a party for a group of middle-aged friends who might earn the badge of frumpy when you see them at the grocery store and it’s pretty easy to say it’s not so much about the looking (voyeurism) part. (Though that spawns another rant about perceptions of beauty and aging!) But invite another dozen people from the 20/30-something age-group, and suddenly there’s a different energy about the place.

“Wow! That’s a good looking couple.”

If that couple sequesters themselves in the evening shadows for a few moments – even for quiet conversation – everyone senses the intimacy. If the party ramps up, and innuendo is crossing the threshold of typical social decorum, some may become aroused, while others are completely incensed.

“Honey, we should go home now!”

Turns out that given enough variables, naked people behave just like clothed people, except there are a finite number of places to go if you are truly comfortable socializing naked. Which also explains to me why naturism is so much more successful in Europe than in the United States.

Europe has SO many choices.

Are you a party person who likes it when things get a little edgy? Go to Cap d’Agde.

Are you going on holiday with the children, hoping your kids will take to naturist ways? Go to one of the big family resorts on the Atlantic coast.

Can you tolerate other people being a little amorous, as long as they’re being discreet, and you don’t have to worry about somebody getting amorous with you? Visit a spa in Germany.

Nakedness at the German spa
Nakedness at the German spa Nakedness at the German spa

When it comes down to the simple math of it all, there are more places to get naked in a single district (think county or small state in the US) in France than that in all of the United States combined.

Considering the sheer expanse and diversity of cities like New York and San Francisco, you’ll be hard pressed to find a sauna that allows coed participation like you’d find in any sizable town in Germany or Austria. When the options are so limited, we all try to make the local place into our own personal naked nirvana. Even if naked people are inherently more open-minded, I’m still pretty sure somebody at the party is going to be… uncomfortable…


If you find this topic as intriguing as I do, you might be interested in a few recent developments, like Naked Yoga in New York City or Archimedes Sauna in San Francisco which appears to be modeled after the sans-clothing saunas in Europe. You might also want to check out the aforementioned Young Naturists America and read about their efforts to have regularly scheduled naturist days at a New Jersey Health Club. Maybe there’s hope for naked America yet.

Maybe!