September 24, 2009 -- Heinz Ludwig, who owns a campsite and restaurant in the small village of Dankerode in the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt, has another passion beside serving food and providing tents: naked hiking. He is the initiator of a new walking path meandering 18 kilometers (11 miles) through the Harz mountain range in central Germany, which he claims is Germany's first official naked hiking trail.
The official opening ceremony and inaugural walk will take place at the start of the hiking season next May, but hikers are already using the trail, which opened to the public this week. "The only problem I have is that nobody seems willing to take part in the inaugural walk," Ludwig told local media.
Although plenty of people are interested in taking to the hills in nothing but their birthday suits, he says, many are afraid that, if they take part in the high-profile event, images of their naked bodies will pop up on the Internet and in newspapers and magazines all over the world.
However those who shun the pursuit of nude walking are given ample warning if they happen to stumble across the new path. "If you don't want to see naked people, then you shouldn't go past this point," a sign at the beginning of the path reads. The track also leads past a small lake, which has for years been known amongst locals as a hotspot for the unclothed.
The general response to the opening of the new path has so far been positive, which is not surprising given the fact that nudism is more entrenched in the history of Germany than many might expect. The country has a tradition of naturalism -- known by its German acronym of FKK -- dating back to the late 19th century, and nude bathing is widely accepted, especially on designated beaches on the Baltic Sea coast.
'Give It a Go'
Naked hiking, which has become something of a trend in the alpine regions of Germany and Switzerland, is also attracting enthusiasts from abroad. Earlier this year a conservative Swiss canton banned the practice of nude hiking in a popular vote after locals complained about the sheer number of bare ramblers descending upon their idyllic forests and picturesque meadows and valleys.
But, in Germany, these problems are yet practically unheard of. "We have never really experienced any resistance," says Kurt Fischer, president of the German Society of Nudists, which has over 50,000 members and is an official member of the German Sports Association. He explained that Germans are fortunate enough to have the right to choose what they want to do and to do exactly that.
"Naked hiking in the fresh and healthy air, when the weather is good, is an experience that many people just don't want to miss out on," Fischer told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "Everyone should give it a go."