From the origins of the modern-day naturist movement to naked airlines and naked hotels, a lot has been written about the Germans’ fondness for taking their clothes off in public. For much of the population of Munich, it’s almost part of their DNA.
There can’t be many cities in the world where you can go for a stroll in the park and see literally hundreds of people enjoying the good weather without a stitch on. And not in some form of designated area or nudist ‘ghetto’ but right there in the centre of things, unashamed, unabashed and totally comfortable - the way nudity should be.
The Englischer Garten is Munich’s ‘lung’ – a huge public park larger than New York's Central Park. And down by a gently meandering stream, between the Monopteros and the Japanisches Teehaus, lies the vast area called Schönfeldwiese (or ‘beautiful meadows’) where nude sunbathing was introduced in the 1960s.
It’s now a familiar part of the city’s daily life, and whenever the sun is out, you’ll find Münchner of all ages, shapes and sizes catching some rays as nature intended. It’s considered as much the perfect lunchtime escape from the stresses of a busy day for office workers as it a place for friends and families to gather at weekends, and the atmosphere is always convivial and laid-back. This being Germany, there’s no embarrassment whatsoever about the fact that everybody is naked - the park is named the English Garden because of the original style of the horticulture, not as an ironic way of poking fun at traditional British prudery.
The park is just one of many places where you can be happily naked in and around Munich.
The river Isar runs through the centre of the city, and nude sunbathing is the norm along many of its riverbanks. Popular spots for joining in with the FKK fraternity include the shingly beaches close to the Ludwigsbrücke bridge or Kiesbänke - the latter noted for its campfire parties on warm summer evenings.
Munich might be a long way from the sea, but Germans are good at improvising when it comes to finding places for a naked dip. Just outside the city, you can find numerous riverbanks, lakes and stretches of open water where almost everybody will have shed their lederhosen along with their inhibitions, including Wäldchen, Birkensee, Feldmochingersee, under the Grosshesseloherbrücke bridge, and at Feringasee, a lovely peninsula jutting out into a lake that - shock, horror for those used to visiting most naturist beaches in Europe - even has its own toilet and kiosk facilities. Perish the thought that naturist sunbathers might also enjoy the same amenities as their textile counterparts!
There’s no such discrimination in the city’s spas, saunas and public baths of course, where in line with the rest of Germany, public nudity is the norm in the communal wellness areas. Most large hotels have spas and/or sauna facilities. Recommended public saunas meanwhile include the aptly-named Panorama-Sauna on Westendstrasse, which offers superb views over the city’s rooftops, the Dantebad, which also has a nude outside sunbathing area, and Muller’sches Volksbad, an Art Nouveau gem dating back to 1901 which also runs nude swims on Saturday afternoons.
Munich itself is something of a gem - not for nothing is it sometimes referred to, a little tongue-in-cheek, as “Italy’s most northern city.” Whether you’re visiting on business or pleasure, there’s far more to see than the clichés of football, beer festivals and fairytale castles.
The state capital of Bavaria, Germany’s most prosperous region, Munich has been an economic and cultural hub of southern Europe for centuries, and is one of the cleanest, affluent and most attractive cities you will ever visit, full of designer shops, street theatre, and trendy bars and restaurants a million miles away from the stereotype.
With a spectacular skyline set against the backdrop of the Alps, it blends Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Art Nouveau, Art Deco and high-tech modernity together perfectly – and if you run out of cathedrals, churches, palaces and parks to visit, there’s over 200 museums, art galleries and collections, not to mention 50 theatres, seven concert halls, and three state orchestras.
And then there’s the surrounding region. Highlights, clothed and otherwise, include Bad Reichenhall, one of Germany’s oldest and prettiest spa towns nestling in the Bavarian Alps, and Berchtesgaden, home to Hitler’s mountain-top command post.
The former has the modern Rupertusterme spa, leisure and wellness complex where you can be naked all day, inside or outside, in an array of treatment rooms, saunas, whirlpools, steam rooms, swimming pools and sunbathing areas. Berchtesgaden meanwhile boasts the über-chic Intercontinental Hotel, offering similar spectacular views to those enjoyed by the Führer, and the Watzmann Therme, a spa and leisure complex with indoor and outdoor saunas as well as an outdoor nude swimming and sunbathing area.
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