Last nudist standing

Sep 292008

In August, the nudists were shoulder to shoulder at a riverside park three miles down the Danube from central Vienna. But then came three weeks of cold drizzle, and just a dozen of them turned out for the Indian summer afternoon that followed.

On the first Saturday morning in September, I rode my bike down the Danube 45 miles to Bratislava. It was my first time in Slovakia, probably my first time hearing Slovak, and certainly the first time I ever saw 20 bottles of Becherovka herb liquor lined up in a row on a supermarket shelf. The biggest surprise of the trip, though, was riding through the FKK on the north bank of the river just outside of Vienna.

"FKK" stands for "Freikörperkultur," literally "free-body culture." In practice, it means any number of naked people sunbathing together.

By "together," I don't mean that they're sprawled out on top of one another, but they do sit, stand and lay a lot closer to one another than I've seen in a small handful of news photos in the U.S.

They're also a lot closer to the pedestrian/bike path. A couple of times now, I've had to slow down and steer around a naked guy just sauntering along.

It doesn't bother me at all, mind you. I've ridden through this particular FKK four times now. Nobody has made me disrobe for that two-kilometer stretch, or jeered at me because I was wearing clothes, or caused my bicycle to burst into flames.

I just can't believe that a major bike route goes right through. This is the 2,000-km route that goes from Germany to the Black Sea. Grizzled cyclists atop cycles bulging with panniers, retirees plodding by with loaves of bread in the front baskets, young parents and children whose bikes still have training wheels: All are rolling through. And alongside them, two kilometers of naked people are virtually hip to hip during the summer, from what I've been told.

It thinned out in September, though. Three weeks of overcast and drizzly weather gave way to sunshine on Saturday afternoon, but by 4 p.m. on Sunday, there were only a dozen at this particular FKK, and by the time I finished talking with two of them, all of the others had left -- or at least re-robed. Good thing I caught that 11:08 a.m. train in Salzburg.

A public hearing on the status of a clothing-optional stretch of San Onofre State Beach in Southern California is still pending. Perspective is a good thing, and this was to be my last chance to catch some of the Austrian FKKers practicing their art.

Having caught what may well have been the last two nudists of the season, I probably should have expected that they'd also be the most enthusiastic. These guys had been to nude beaches in Croatia, Italy, Spain, the Caribbean ... and the U.S.

They told me about some of those beaches. This one, just a few miles east of their home, appeared to be one of their favorites. One said he likes that friends who aren't comfortable completely disrobing can come along. Being in the middle of a bike path means that fully dressed people are coming and going all the time anyway. It's pretty comfortable for everyone, he said. Parents with two or three or four pre-teens came riding through without flinching.

The FKK is fairly easy to avoid altogether as long as you're not heading east out of the city, but one father with kids asked me what in the world would be the point of going around it. He doesn't actually take his kids nude sunbathing, he told me, but he regrets not being able to go as often as he did when he was in college.

The naked bodies are more difficult to avoid if you are heading east out of the city: You have to ride along the Donauinsel, the island in the middle of the river, which is 10 or 15 miles long and maybe 500 meters wide. Even then, I think you can still see plenty of skin across the 500-meter-wide channel.