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Naked Swiss hikers must cover up

By Imogen Foulkes
BBC News, Geneva

A naked rambler
No more freezing hikes in Appenzell Innerrhoden

The tiny Swiss canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden has voted to prohibit the phenomenon of naked hiking.

Anyone found wandering the Alps wearing nothing but a sturdy pair of hiking boots will now be fined.

Appenzell is considered one of the most conservative regions of Switzerland; it gave women the vote only in 1990.

Locals have been outraged by an apparent upsurge in hikers who think the best way to appreciate the mountains is with their clothes off.

The vote was taken with a show of hands at Appenzell's annual Landsgemeinde, an open-air meeting of all registered voters held in the town square.

Appenzell is one of only two Swiss cantons that still decide local government policy in this way.

There was a big majority in favour of prohibiting naked hiking, and introducing fines of Sfr 200 ($175).

Inappropriate

Among local people, it is hard to find anyone who has a good word to say for the hikers.

I meet people from time to time, but they always say hello, sometimes they ask aren't you cold
Naked rambler

"I think it's disgraceful," said one elderly gentleman. "God may have created us naked, but he gave us clothes to walk around in."

"It's just not right," said a woman. "Not at all appropriate for our country."

Interestingly, however, no-one actually seems to have seen a naked hiker.

"No, I've never seen one," said a local farmer. "Thank goodness, because if I had they would certainly have got a piece of my mind."

Hiker disappointment

Among naked hikers themselves, there is disappointment at what they see as an over-reaction to an innocent hobby which disturbs no-one.

"I'm not out to annoy anyone," insists one of them, who goes by the colourful pseudonym of Puistola Grottenpösch.

appenzeller men in traditional dress
Not everone in Appenzeller wants to go nude in public

Puistola and many other naked hikers may be comfortable baring their all up in the mountains, but the controversy in Appenzell has made them very shy about revealing their real names.

"For me hiking naked is all about getting out into natural surroundings, peaceful surroundings, and challenging myself a little bit," says Puistola.

"Of course I meet people from time to time, but they always say hello, sometimes they ask aren't you cold. But they're just as friendly as if I was wearing clothes."

Nevertheless, as Puistola strides along a snowy hiking trail wearing nothing but a hat, gloves, and hiking boots, it's hard to see what the attraction of naked hiking really is.

"Of course the human body needs protection," he concedes.

"So right now I'm wearing hiking boots and gloves and a hat, because it's a little bit chilly. And if it's really cold, or windy, or wet, then of course going naked just doesn't work, and I wear clothes just like everyone else.

"But right now it's nice, there is a gentle breeze, and I can feel the Sun on my body; you can't because you're dressed."

Legal doubts

Meanwhile some Swiss lawyers are describing Appenzell's decision to prohibit naked hiking as akin to using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

"I estimate there are only around 20 to 25 naked hikers in the whole of Switzerland," says lawyer Daniel Kettiger. "So really arresting them and fining them is a bit silly. And our courts do have better things to do."

What's more, Mr Kettiger points out, Appenzell may have over-reached itself legally in deciding to introduce a prohibition.

"The Swiss parliament voted to remove public nudity from the penal code in 1991," he explains. "So at a federal level, naked hiking is not punishable, and Appenzell's laws are not higher than the federal ones."

Image damage

But Appenzell is determined to go ahead. The canton has some of the most stunning mountain scenery in Switzerland, and its tourist board has been running a high-profile international marketing campaign, highlighting the beauty of Appenzell's hiking trails.

Tourist officers were concerned to discover that Appenzell was regularly appearing in the internet chatrooms of German nudist groups, describing it as the best place for naked hiking.

Naked ramblers
The canton was keen to stamp out nude hiking before the summer

This was not the image they were hoping for, and, Daniel Kettiger suggests, it might be the real reason behind Appenzell's ban on naked hiking.

"They really did a great job building up the hiking tourism," he explains. "And I think they fear naked hikers could harm their image. They want to be a Mecca for hikers - but not a Mecca for nude hikers."

Appenzell Innerrhoden's decision is being watched closely by other alpine regions of Switzerland, and the political climate for naked hikers does seem to be turning decidedly chilly.

Neighbouring Appenzell Outerrhoden is also proposing a ban on what local politicians call "shameless behaviour".

And just over the mountains in canton Glarus, there is nervousness that if naked hikers are driven out of Appenzell, they may choose Glarus as their next favourite spot.

But Puistola Grottenpösch and his fellow hikers are defiant, believing they have Swiss federal law on their side.

"We naked hikers have never broken any law with our hobby," he insists.

"And we will fight up to the highest federal court for our right to be naked in public, even in Appenzell."



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