On the joy of skinny dipping
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that Germans are pretty flexible on the public nudity front. The first country to have its very own nudist movement, Germany is the land of the bodily free. True, it’s frowned upon on public transport, but at the busiest beach or most popular inner city spa you’re more likely than not in eye shot of a genital or other at all times. Changing from city clothes to a swimsuit isn’t the firmly-keeping-eye-contact-with-friend-lest-a-gaze-fall-upon-a-previously-unexposed-portion-of-flesh towel wrestle I’m used to from the English shores I lived on until 10 months ago. Here, it’s lightly chatting, taking one’s top off, boobs akimbo, to THEN locate a bikini top in one’s bag and putting this on before (sometimes yes, sometimes no) covering one’s bum with a flailing towel and changing into ones bottoms. And it’s wonderful. Incredible but true: to all faces there is indeed a body attached! And it does not, contrary to what magazines and billboards may tell you, go to the gym 6 times a week or arrange itself conveniently for #fitfam poses. Or, as you may also be led to believe, be the sole source of frustration to its owner who is just 3 kg away from the “correct” jeans size. Nope. Here, bodies are who you are, and they’re a vehicle with which you enjoy your surroundings. Hence why spas, lakes and nude swimming are so popular here: having a body can actually be quite enjoyable. That is all. The polar opposite of the bikini body, swimming naked is utterly non-sexual: it’s a natural state.
I had my first experience of the joys of swimming in my birthday suit this summer. I’d arranged a lake hike one hot summer’s Sunday with a friend from uni who grew up in Berlin. The walk led us through a mosquito-laden forest path and included three lakes, all of which can be swum in. When we arrived at the first lake it was an absolute beauty. About the size of half a football field, completely secluded and shared with only two people on the other side, visible as a floating head on the surface of the water and a person reading a newspaper on the banks.
“I think I’ll go in nakey,” my friend declared, looking around. The thought had genuinely never occurred to me before. But of course! How simple, how totally not a big deal, and how funny and actually slightly rebellious. An awkward naked tiptoe to the water’s edge on painful footing later (no Bond babe water entries here, alas) I was blissfully swimming in the buff. Exposed but hidden, I felt vulnerable and empowered, wild and uncatchable. We swam in silence apart from the occasional “this is SO LOVELY”, looking around at the little lake, floating on the surface with our ears under the water. No bathing suit to pull up or be squeezed into, just feeling the total luxurious freedom of being underwater. A quick run out and towel off later we were off again, waving to the also naked swimmers on the other side of the water. So perfectly innocent and totally, giddily fun.
Since this enlightening experience it’s been somewhat hard to stop me from swimming in lakes when the opportunity presents itself during a walk. During an overnight camping trip to the truly beautiful Grosser Stechlin See in July my friend and I nakey swam in crystal clear waters mid-hike, during the lavender sunset after dinner and in early morning solitude with the sun rising over the distant shores of the lake. Watching trees moving in the wind from the water’s cool surface, diving underwater and peeking a murky green beams of light, walking out of the water with goosebumped skin are some of my favourite memories from this endless-seeming summer.
Of course there are times when I prefer to be wearing bathers than not, one of which is when I’m on my own, or indeed when the crowd isn’t right. It goes without saying to choose your skinny dipping friends wisely, and not force your naked bum upon colleagues, EVEN IF they are in fact German and would probably be fine with it. But even so, finding a secluded spot by a lake, leaving your clothes at the shore and jumping in has a magic to it. You should try.