“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

Marcel Proust

In 2006, my wife and I—armed with a rudimentary German vocabulary and an insatiable appetite for pretzels—decided to grace Munich with our presence. As American tourists, we were prepared for the beer gardens, the lederhosen, and even the occasional yodel. But Munich had a surprise up its sleeve, or rather…under its clothes.

We found ourselves in a park, and I must say, it was quite the ‘revealing’ experience. Munich’s residents, in all their sun-kissed glory, were lounging about, as naked as the sausages we had for lunch. There was Mr. Gerhardt, or at least I named him that, casually flipping through a newspaper—and Frau Müller, again, a name of my choosing, discussing what I assumed was the latest Bavarian gossip.

I turned to my wife, trying to muster my best German accent, “Vell, that’s something you don’t see every day, ja?” She simply stared, her sunglasses sliding down her nose, giving her the appearance of a bewildered librarian.

As we ventured further, it became evident that this wasn’t a one-off. The park was a veritable smorgasbord of humanity—each person a thread, unspoiled and unashamed. There was a group playing chess, their strategic moves punctuated by the occasional need to swat away a pesky bee from a rather sensitive area. Nearby, a man, whom I christened ‘Lance Barestrong’, was gliding by on his bicycle, his pedaling as liberated and unfettered as his choice to forgo attire altogether.

It was a world where pretense had been shed, quite literally. The truth of who these people were—their scars, their laugh lines, their tan lines—was on full display. And it was beautiful. Not in a “let’s-put-this-on-a-postcard” way—but in a raw, genuine, “this-is-me-take-it-or-leave-it” way.

Later, as we sipped on “die Biere” in a quaint café, my wife mused, “It’s like they have nothing to hide, isn’t it?” And she was right. In a world where we often cloak ourselves in layers, both physical and metaphorical, here was a place where the truth was as plain as the nose (or other parts) on one’s face.

On a subsequent train ride to Kaiserslautern—still buzzing from our exposure to Munich’s culture—we found ourselves seated next to a lively group of locals. As the conversation flowed—lubricated by the shared beers and mutual curiosity—we recounted our park escapade.

One gentleman, with a twinkle in his eye, remarked, “Ah, the naked truth of Munich! But tell me, why are Americans so shocked by a bit of skin, yet unfazed by the violence on their TV screens?” Another chimed in, “It’s like you’re more comfortable with a gun than a bum!”

We all laughed…but the point was clear.

The conversation meandered from cultural quirks to deeper reflections on authenticity and vulnerability. One woman, with a playful smirk, said, “You know, in Munich, it’s not just about catching a tan everywhere. It’s more like… why hide when you’ve got nothing to hide? It’s just skin, after all!” She laughed, taking another sip of her beer. “We’re all the same underneath, right?” I pondered this, momentarily distracted by the mental image of Mr. Gerhardt in a cowboy shootout.

Germany, with its unabashed nudity and philosophical train passengers, was a revelation. It wasn’t just about the sausages or the beer, but about seeing the world (and its inhabitants) in a whole new light. As we made our way back home, the landscapes of Munich giving way to familiar horizons, I mused on the lessons the city had imparted.

In a world obsessed with facades, perhaps what we truly need is a dash of that Munich spirit—the courage to embrace our authentic selves, to laugh in the face of convention, and to find joy in the unexpected.

After all, life’s too short to keep our truths bundled up. Sometimes, it’s worth baring it all to find the truth that is just beneath the surface.

Stephen Boudreau serves as VP of Brand & Community at Virtuous Software. For over two decades, he has helped nonprofits leverage the digital space to grow their impact. To that end, Stephen co-founded RaiseDonors, a platform that provides nonprofits with technology and experiences that remove barriers to successful online fundraising. He is an avid (but aging) soccer player, audiobook enthusiast, and the heavily-disputed UNO champion of his household.

Copyright ©2024 Stephen Boudreau.