When the Sun Comes Out

Ron Karpinski  1993


Summer in Germany is an iffy prospect.  Here, you cannot plan a sun tan in advance.  It might warm up for two weeks in August, and, then again, it might not.  When the sun does come out for a few days, people take advantage of it.

Some folks do go a little over the edge, to be sure, but you can't really blame them.  Even on a good day, the sun only strikes a glancing blow here.  If you want good skin color, you've got to maximize your exposure.

Once in a great while, the gods send a heat wave.  Like a blast from a huge furnace, a warm front sweeps in from France or Spain and spills over the Alps.  Temperatures can reach ninety degrees Fahrenheit, and the natives soak it up.

This past August, the weather turned warm like that.  Irmi, my wife, took a day off from work, and we drove up to the city of Karlsruhe.  Karlsruhe lies in a fairly flat region near the border with France.  Small lakes and ponds abound there.

It is also a perfect place, if you're inclined toward the great outdoors.  The town has a number of public parks and tree-lined streets through which one can bicycle in relative safety.  Well-marked paths offer easy access to nearby woods.

We brought our bikes along and met with Irmi's sister, Elisabeth, for a day tour.  At noon, we pushed off, not knowing where we might be headed.  It didn't matter, the sun shone bright above, and the day turned warm, almost hot.

Two hours later, we entered a thick, dark forest.  The bare dirt path wound a narrow course through tall pines and dense shrubs.  Cool, damp air brought a welcome relief from the heat.  Beyond the trail ahead, we couldn't see a thing.

A lake had to be nearby.  Through the trees, small children laughed and splashed in a body of water.  Voices, perhaps parents, yelled at them to be careful.

Suddenly, the trail took a sharp turn and broke into the open.  I had to swerve in order to avoid going straight into the water.  We skidded to a stop, just short of a pair of long bronze legs stretched halfway across the path.

Before us lay a small lake, shimmering under the hot sun.  Woods crept up close on all sides.  Between the trees and the shoreline, a thin band of grass gave way to a flat pebble beach.

Spotting an open patch of grass, we spread our towels.  After laying in the sun for a while, the three of us slipped into the lake to cool off.  Standing chest-deep in the chill water, a pleasant sting attacked the skin, as heat escaped.

Irmi and Elisabeth spotted an old friend, Betina, on the opposite shore, waving at us.  They decided to swim over for a visit.  I wanted to go, too, since Betina stood on the nudist side of the lake, in the water only up to her ankles.

Not allowed.  One of us had to stay behind and guard the clothes and bikes, and I lost the vote by the narrow margin of two to one.  The girls smiled, slipped into a smooth side stroke, and soon became lost in a mass of swimmers.

I trudged back up to my towel on the grass.  Darn, where is a pair of binoculars when you need them?  With my gaze limited to this side of the lake, I surveyed the crowd.

In every respect, they represented a typical day at the beach.  People of all ages mingled, sharing Nature's precious resources.  Each took care not to destroy any plant life or disturb wild birds pecking in the sand, and most remained mindful of their neighbor's right to enjoy the peace and tranquility of the moment.

As more bathers arrived, people made room for them by shifting slightly to the right or left.  Europeans have a smaller sense of personal space than do Americans.  Everyone found a spot of their own on the beach that day.

German sun bathers, as a rule, employ a rather liberal dress code.  More than a few topless ladies graced the strand.  For that matter, one or two men showed up in G-strings, as well; and a few folks frolicked sans any costume at all.

Nudity on the beach has been here for decades, so it rarely raises an eyebrow anymore.  Few folks pay any attention to what their neighbors are, or are not, wearing; and, frankly, police have better things to do than to chase down a bunch of naked sun bathers.

Once in a while, though, something does catch your eye.  As I lay on my beach towel, a tall imposing gentleman in his seventies strolled by, proudly sporting a brand new pair of Michael Jordan air pump basketball shoes.  He wore nothing else, save for a shock of silver hair and a reddish-brown all over tan.

Not far away, a three-hundred-pound woman nonchalantly sunned herself in the altogether.  She sat on a large blanket off to one side, in front of a short hedge.  A pair of crochet needles and a half-finished shawl lay in her lap.

Such free spirits teach the rest of us that there is no limit to what we can achieve or enjoy in this world, once we cast our inhibitions to the wind; but the mood and the moment must wait, of course, . . . until the sun comes out.


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