May 22, 2008 6 Comments
I let them down gently.
“Well, there are five coffeeshops on my street…”
“…But I haven’t been inside any of them.”
“Oh … But isn’t it legal there?”
“Well, it’s not legal, it’s decriminalized… Anyway,” I take a deep breath and try to come back strong. “I went to a nude beach!”
As often as I write home about the daily delights of working in Europe, learning Dutch (een beetje), trying Indonesian food and re-learning to ride a bike, the tale of my accidental discovery of the Maasplassen seems to generate the most intrigue.
And more predictable questions.
The practice of being naked in nature, or naturism, always seems like big news to my American friends. But it’s not foreign to Dutchmen.
According to a study commissioned by the Dutch naturist federation, NFN (Naturisten Federatie Nederland), one in nine Dutchmen practice nude recreation at least three to five times per year.
The Maasplassen, one of the most prominent places to practice naturism in Maastricht, boasts around 290 members, said Rob, a Maastricht teacher and one of five volunteers working for the Maasplassen. On a warm day, he said, the Maasplaasen gets about 300 visitors per day.
The Maasplaasen, which is open whenever the temperature reaches 20 degrees, will hold a free open house from 11 am until 4 pm on 8 June. Anyone who is interested in naturism and the Maasplaasen is invited to visit and ask questions. A membership to the Maasplaasen costs EUR 60 per year, which includes a discount pass to other places for naturist recreation and a membership to the magazine of the NFN.
But anyone may have access to the pleasant river-side knolls of the Maasplassen for EUR 5 per day. The 500 meters of beach, part of the Pietersplas nature reserve, include a café with drinks and snacks, showers and storage for beach chairs. The strand is discreetly positioned, with trees, shrubs and grass protecting nude sunbathers from public view.
As long as spots for nude recreation – which may include beaches, camping plots, pools or even private residential gardens – are sheltered, nude recreation is permitted, said Bernd Huiser of the NFN.
And if you really want to make sure it’s OK to ditch your Skivvies, have a look at Article 239 of the Dutch penal code. This law allows for local authorities to designate grounds for public nude recreation.
“So, did you actually get naked?”
My Italian housemate and colleague Elisa Delaini and I discovered Maastricht’s nude beach on a late August afternoon, just two months after I arrived in Maastricht. We were pedaling south along the River Maas looking for a grassy strand of beach we’d been told existed about 20 minutes from the city center.
Our Dutch wasn’t good enough to realize if we wanted to show off our swimming suits instead of our birthday suits, we should have kept pedaling.
So we made our way through a parking lot and walked our bikes onto a scenic grassy trail, the Maas hidden behind some prairie-like foliage and trees. We glimpsed some seemingly wild horses and congratulated ourselves on finding such a pretty place to spend a warm Saturday afternoon.
Even as we headed down a small path leading the gate to the beach, we had no idea. The tanned Dutchmen passing us on the way back to their cars smiled at us. Life was good.
As we traversed the gate and spilled onto the grassy knoll fronting the Maas, the grooves came to a screeching halt.
Despite different native languages, our vocabularies were momentarily in sync.
And then, laughter.
I don’t remember who first suggested we go for it…. But I do recall feeling far less conspicuous once we’d found a spot to lay down our towels and donned the appropriate attire.
Which is to say, got naked.
No tan lines!
I found that as most naturists agree, it does indeed seem to be possible to feel more free and natural at nude beaches.
“You have to feel comfortable to enjoy it,” said Rob. “Sometimes it’s a problem. People don’t want to show their weak side. That’s for a lot of people.”
The Maasplassen actually provided my second brush with naturism. I first showed my “weaker side” (which is to say, backside!) in Valkenburg at the Thermae 2000, a delightful complex of thermal pools, various saunas and gorgeous hilly scenery.
Elisa and I rode the No. 53 bus from Wilhelminasingel one evening after work.
The indoor saunas, though, I wanted to save for winter. I visited the Maasplassen twice more before autumn came.
A nice ancillary benefit, one my American friends always mention: No tan lines!
“What it was like to be nude in public?”
“The idea of being naked in nature gives a sense of freedom,” said Huiser, 45.
Naturism is a rather historic pursuit. The Ancient Olympics featured men competing nude in a variety of athletic contests.
But nude foundations like the NFN or International Federation of Nudists didn’t form in Europe until around the turn of the last century. The World Wars stymied the movement, though. Naturism didn’t really catch on until after the Second World War.
“It was coming out of the philosophy that having a strong body was a good way of living and healthy way of living,” Huiser said. “It went along with walking in the nature or practicing sports naked in the nature. It was all part of a philosophy… Many of the people at that time didn’t drink alcohol and didn’t eat meat.”
During the 1960s and ’70s, many social taboos were cast aside, as was the clothing of an increasing number of Europeans.
“The whole mentality became more open and people were really not ashamed of it,” Huiser said.
I grew up on the plains of Illinois. The closest body of water was likely a cornfield mirage. But prior to moving to Maastricht, I lived for two years in South Carolina, about 20 kilometers from the Atlantic Ocean. When I arrived there in 2005, I felt self-conscious even in a bikini. But after many a weekend splashing around the sea, I was comfortable in whatever bathing suit happened to be in my beach bag.
When my friends ask what it was like to be nude in public, I shrug and tell them I don’t see it as a big deal. Yes, it was co-ed. No, I wasn’t busy checking out the guys… and No, I didn’t feel anyone was checking me out. No, it wasn’t just old ladies… In fact, naturism in the Netherlands appears to be somewhat of a family practice, at least when children are small. Couples, singles and families all frequent the Maasplassen.
“Going to a sauna to relax and get used to the fact that people are nude, but also having available your towel or your bathing gown, that’s a start,” Huiser said. “If someone is interested in finding out about naturism, that is probably the best way to do it.”
Saunas, beaches and camping sites are the most popular places for naturism, Huiser said. He has been with the NFN, which has 70,000 members and publishes a quarterly magazine for its members, for eight years.
He says Dutchmen are actually looking for more places to practice naturism. So he and the NFN are actively encouraging municipalities to work on adding more places for nude recreation.
“People are not satisfied any longer that they have to travel 40 or 50 kilometers for nude recreation when there are not possibilities nearby,” he said.
Dutch people were willing to travel, however, to the tiny village of Spaarnwoude, near Haarlem, to visit a new three-day nudist fair this year starting 1 April.
Information about the fair, organized by the publisher of a camping magazine, circulated for about two months. Anyone who attended the fair was supposed to undress and leave clothes and valuables in lockers. Then they could visit booths to learn about nudist camps, travel opportunities and recreation. Around 25,000 reservations were made online. The high level of interest sparked the organization of a second fair, a press release said.
It turned out to be the biggest April Fool’s joke to hit the Netherlands this year. A Dutch comedian called Johan Vlemmix organized the farce.
“The fact we were not involved or approached had surprised us because most of the time when such initiatives are taken, people find the NFN,” Huiser said. “And we wondered why people had to be nude to attend… That made us realize it was probably a kind of 1 April joke.”
A representative from the site of fair said at least 100 people who didn’t know about the joke showed up over the three days.
The joke was a letdown for my American friends. I could hear their eyebrows raise over the phone when I told them of my plans to attend a nude fair.
“But it’s for a story,” I added… At least when speaking with my granny, anyway.
When they later asked how it went, the disappointment at the joke was palpable.
“Oh well – I’ll just have to wait until you visit me and we go to the nude beach,” I told them, usually to squeamish replies.
So, while the chance to smoke some “legal” marijuana remains one of the Netherlands’ leading allures, there are many other activities you can do with friends to expose them the famous Dutch liberalism.
By Kathlyn Clore
EJC Associate Editor
Kathlyn Clore is an American journalist. Prior to joining the European Journalism Centre in July 2007, she worked as a sports writer. She graduated from the University of Missouri in 2005.
In April 2005 research bureau Motivaction conducted a survey for the Dutch Naturist Federation NFN amongt 3.319 people (representative of the Netherlands, age group: 18-65). The results showed that one in nine Dutchmen (12 percent) practice nude recreation. Most of them are ‘light users’ (see the chart below) which means that they practice nude recreation 3-5 times per year.
The Maasplassen naturist resort will hold an open door on 8 June 2008. Everyone interested in naturism and especially in the Maasplassen is invited to visit the resort.
Website: De Maasplassen
First year: administration fee: EUR 10,-
Season: EUR 50,-
Families: EUR 100,-
Children: free till 18 years old.
New members receive a naturistpass from NFN/INF which allows them to visit naturist resorts worldwide. They also receive the magazine UIT from the NFN four times a year.
Niederkrüchten naturist resort, near Roermond:
The naturist resort Niederkrüchten (15 km east of Roermond), which belongs to the German naturism federation FSG will on the weekend of 13-14 June celebrate “40 years Grenzland-West”. There will be activities for young and old.
Map of naturist resorts in the south of the Netherlands:
Naturist Federation Netherlands:
Video clip of the Nudist Fair hoax: (in Dutch)
NB: Due to the unexpected success of the nudist fair hoax, it appears that a genuine Nudist Fair is now being planned for 2009. (This time, visitors will not be asked to undress to attend the fair). More information at: http://www.naturismebeurs.nl/