Naked hikers turn the other cheek

Bum deal: hikers in Appenzell will have to wear more than a woolly hat and boots from now on C. Bangert/laif

The decision by citizens of canton Appenzell Inner Rhodes to ban naked hikers has provided rich pickings for stand-up comedians and satirists.

This content was published on May 1, 2009 minutes

Simon Enzler, a clothed cabaret artist from eastern Switzerland who uses the topic in his act, talks to swissinfo about what the average Appenzeller makes of it all and wonders where the nudist police are going to stick the SFr200 ($175) fines.

In a world first, on April 26 the traditional open-air assembly in Appenzell, a scenic region in eastern Switzerland, decided overwhelmingly to clamp down on a sudden influx of naked tourists, particularly from nearby Germany.

The government of Appenzell Inner Rhodes recommended the ban, saying the local population was opposed to the "indecent practice".

At least one naked hiker was detained in the mountain region of Alpstein last summer but could not be fined as naked rambling was not outlawed.

swissinfo: Why has Switzerland's smallest canton just banned naked hiking?

Simon Enzler: The fact is that some people like skulking through forests in the buff. I couldn't care less – I know what humans look like – but others are more uptight and it disturbs them. And you have to think about the general public.

swissinfo: What's so disturbing about the odd flash of flesh among the marmots?

S.E.: First of all I doubt anyone asked the marmots or chamois whether it bothered them – I bet they'd also be wide-eyed at what they saw.

I'm not sure what to think. I do a lot of hiking in summer and have never spotted a naked rambler, but if I did, I'd certainly be surprised. I know a few people who have seen one – but only at a distance, with binoculars.

However, I can understand people who are bothered by it. It's no coincidence that saunas are enclosed and not designed like goldfish bowls. Normal people do their ablutions in private behind closed doors. For most people nudity means intimacy.

swissinfo: Is the average Appenzeller really getting worked up about a handful of people wandering around as nature intended?

S.E.: No. The average Appenzeller thinks it's funny – like the average Swiss. Having said that, all those who are mocking us should ask themselves how they'd like it if they went for a walk near their house only to cop an eyeful. How would people in Bern for example react if naked people were scuttling up and down the Gurten [the local hill]?

swissinfo: You've never felt the urge to "travel light"?

S.E.: No, I'm not a sun worshipper. I suppose I could imagine doing it at dusk or at a full moon given a certain degree of privacy. But wandering naked in broad daylight on a beautiful day? I'm happy putting on a T-shirt and hiking trousers and not having to baste myself in sun cream.

swissinfo: Maybe this is all a clever Appenzell tourism campaign?

S.E.: I don't think it was done deliberately. After all it's not Appenzellers who are strutting around starkers but a load of Germans.

Appenzell simply reacted – and the media reacted to that reaction. Appenzell can't help that the issue, which is obviously amusing, is being reported on.

swissinfo: Clothed tourists might stay away because they are afraid of the nude ones.

S.E.: Hardly. If anything the opposite – people might flock to the Alpstein region in order to spot a marmot and, if lucky, a bit of skin. I think it's an amusing coincidence that Appenzell Inner Rhodes, a very traditional and Catholic canton, has been chosen by these people. They could also go and freeze their assets in less-populated Graubünden.

Tourism is very strong in Appenzell – a bit too strong for my tastes. The hikers' desire to get their kit off is no less keen than that of Appenzellers to sell their culture.

swissinfo: This subject has made it as far as The New York Times – does that make an Appenzeller proud?

S.E.: That makes an Appenzeller surprised. As I said, it's not a marketing stunt and no businesses profit from nude trade. It's all about the revision of the penal law for misdemeanours, which covers littering, nocturnal noise – and, yes, naked hiking.

Previously someone had to file a complaint for prosecution to be initiated – now it's the same type of offence as parking in the wrong place. For that the ticket gets shoved under the windscreen wiper – the question is where to stick it with naked hikers.

swissinfo: Naked hiking features in your show – it must be perfect material for satirists...

S.E.: You can't really avoid it. And it's a sad state of affairs if an Appenzeller satirist has nothing to say about naked hiking. When I bring this subject up on stage, I need only two sentences for the audience to know exactly what I'm talking about.

I started using this material about six months ago, but then we had a long winter and the attraction of naked hiking shrivelled. Then on the opening night of my show this topic was back in the news – it was like fate.

Now I'm on tour and the topic is getting international coverage – it couldn't get any better.

Gaby Ochsenbein, (adapted from German by Thomas Stephens)

Simon Enzler

Simon Enzler was born in Appenzell Inner Rhodes in 1976.

His performing career began at school and in 1996 Enzler and his current stage partner, the musician Daniel Ziegler, gave their first shows under the name "Intellenten".

He co-founded with Martin Walker the cabaret agency "Bretterwelt" and in 2000 the Appenzell cabaret festival.

In 2003 he made his national breakthrough at Winterthur theatre.

Enzler's act, spoken in local dialect, is based on the Appenzell region. He performs around 100 shows a year.

In 2007 he won the Salzburger Bull, the most prestigious award for cabaret in German-speaking countries. In 2008 he was awarded the Prix-Walo – the "Swiss Oscar" – for cabaret/comedy.

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