Arrived in Munich by train from Berlin about 4 pm on Monday September 9th. We get our bearings and we walk about 10 minutes from the main train station to our apartment. Pays off to have carry on!
Areas around train stations are usually not the best places to rent, but we decided to rent here as we need to catch the train to Innsbruck on Thursday morning and we are taking a tour out to Dachau on Tuesday morning. The tour is also leaving from the main train station. The area we are in is full of hotels, ranging anywhere from 2 to 4 stars. A very Arab neighbourhood and seems that a lot of unemployed men standing around every shop entrance and every corner. We also see lot of Arab women begging in the area.
Having said this, our apartment once again is very modern and very comfortable. We are met by the owners son and he tells us everything we need to know about the apartment and surrounding areas. We do a grocery run and have some down time at the apartment.
In early evening, we make our way to the Marienplatz, the epicentre of Munich. They say that this is the busiest site in Munich with lots of tourists from sun up to sun down. It is quite late already, so we decide to find a place to have dinner. Happenstance finds us at the famous Ratskeller restaurant which is in the basement of the Neues Rathaus, the Town Hall. The Ratskeller was built from 1867 to 1874. My research tells me that many German towns in earlier times had a traditional Ratskeller restaurant or inn, housed in the cellar of the their town hall. The restaurant seats 1,100 people indoors and another 200 in an outside courtyard. From a website “When entering the Ratskeller you will find the Bavarian hand painted murals, lighting, furniture design and dishware fascinating. Numerous rooms in the Ratskeller, provide everything from traditional elegant Bavarian to cozy and down-to-earth interiors that are artistic and inviting.”
Debbie and I had looked into going to the famous Hofbrauhaus. This beer hall/restaurant serves up to 6,000 people. The reviews we read were all horrible, so we decided to give that a pass.
On Tuesday morning we decide to head back to the Marienplatz and take in the local market, the Viktualienmarkt. This is just off the main square. The market is open every day and is made up of food stalls, coffee shops, beer vendors and various other kiosks. It is described as a “feast of flavours and one of Europe’s finest gourmet markets”. We decide to stop for a coffee and pastry and sit in one of the open garden areas. There are several locals enjoying their first beer of the day…..it is 10:30 in the morning!
We take the underground to the Main train station (Hauptbahnhof) where we are meeting for the tour to Dachau. We are amazed at the transportation system in Munich. This city has a population of 1.4 million, so just a little larger than Calgary, and they have a suburban train system, a substantial underground and a tram and bus system and very reasonably priced. We also noted that their system is much greater than that of Berlin. Kind of makes sense considering East Berlin would not have seen any infrastructure building during the Communist era.
We take the train and then a local bus to get to the site of the Dachau concentration camp. Our guide Jeff is English and has lived in Germany for over 30 years. He told us that he came to the area as a youngster, ran out of money and just stayed on. There are twenty seven people on the tour. We found Jeff to be very knowledgeable and factual, not emotional. Our tour lasted about 3 hours; once again very powerful.
Dachau – In 1933 just after a few weeks after Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor, a concentration camp for political prisoners was set up in Dachau; a site of a disused ammunitions factory. It was built by orders of Heinrich Himler. It served as a prototype for all subsequent concentration camps and as a “school of violence” for the S.S under whose commanded this camp. The one fact that we were all surprised to learn were the multiple “satellite camps” that existed throughout Europe. There were some 100 sub camps attached to Dachau alone; mainly work camps supporting the Nazi machine. The camp is said to have “processed” more that 200,000 inmates, killing at least 43,000.
On the road leading to the camp, we notice some beautiful old apartments. We are told that these homes were for the S.S. Senior Officers. Low barracks behind these were for the young Hitler youth who had been chosen to be taught the SS means of torture and interrogation. Basically a school of violence meant to teach those the dehumanization of man
One crosses into the camp through the iron gates. A chilling slogan at the top of the gate says “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Sets You Free). A very powerful symbol. We are told that the original gates were stolen years ago and subsequently found in a field in Norway. The original gates now sit in one of the buildings under security.
It was the longest operating concentration camp. There were a total of 34 barracks. Eventually the camp also housed Jews, Romas, Homosexuals, religious men and repeat criminals. Each specific group had its own symbol. A red triangle indicated a political prisoner, green – criminals, blue – immigrants, black – social outcasts, purple – Jehovah Witnesses (conscientious objectors), etc.
One of the displays shows pictures and stories of some of the various prisoners as they entered the camp. All their clothing and any private belongings they had would be confiscated. They were then de-liced, fumigated and heads shaven…..once again….the dehumanization. We see a story of the Mayor of Vienna. When the Nazi’s arrived in Vienna, he refused to hand over the keys to the City. He was imprisoned in Dachau as a political prisoner. He survived the camp and eventually made his way back to Vienna and once again became Mayor. Love that story!
There was a roll call done twice a day to ensure no one had escaped from the camp. If one of the prisoners was to weak to attend the roll call, other prisoners would carry them so the numbers of prisoners counted was correct. If someone was missing, it is said that roll call would last till that person showed up. The prisoners had to stand upright with their hands at their sides and looking downward. Again, the dehumanization. We were told that one roll call lasted 1 1/2 days. In each barrack, a Kapo was in charge of the barracks. Jeff tells us that this person was chosen amongst the prisoners, usually one with a criminal background, and were often even more cruel than the guards. They maltreated the prisoners for the slightest thing and by keeping order in the barracks, they were often given more food and/or privileges.
Our guide tells us that one prisoner did indeed escape. We are also told the story of a political prisoner, Georg Elser. He had been imprisoned as he had tried to assassinate Hitler in Munich. He had a bomb which was to detonate at a certain time during a speech being made by Hitler. Unfortunately, Hitler left the meeting abruptly; and survived this assassination attempt. Georg Elser was executed days before the liberation.
One of the buildings was used to interrogate and torture the prisoners. They used to hang the prisoners by their wrists and eventually the prisoners arms would dislocate. If they survived, other prisoners would help put their arms back into the sockets.
Prisoners suffered from malnutrition and many diseases, including typhoid.
This building was also used for medical experiments on some of the prisoners. Some were injected with “malaria” to see how long they would survive. BIo chemicals experiments also conducted. We are also told of an aeronautical experiment where a prisoner is subjected to high pressure. This was to help the Nazi’s understand what could happen to some of their pilots. Another experiment was to plunge a prisoner in ice cold water to see how long one could survive. Many prisoners died during these experiments.
We walk outside down a ramp which serves as a memorial for the camp. The ramp goes down to reflect the “hell” that the prisoners are entering. At the bottom there is a glass sculpture which depicts the cloth coloured triangles that identified the various prisoner groups. We look above the walkway to an iron sculpture which is erected above the barracks. The statue depicts emaciated figures (being reconditioned) throwing themselves into the barb wire electrified fences. Jeff tells us that some prisoners did indeed do this to liberate themselves from the torture and horrible living conditions.
There was crematorium (Krematorium) here which was used to dispose of dead bodies. A new crematorium “gas chamber” was built and we visited it. We are told that it was never used, and no one is sure why not. There was a disrobing chamber a “shower room”. This is where the gas would have come through the shower heads. The next room was where the furnaces would have been used to cremate the bodies after they died in the “shower room”. The final room would have been used to remove gold teeth and anything else of value that would have been taken from the prisoners. Anything of value taken from the prisoners when they arrived or upon their death would have been shared amongst the SS elite.
When the camp was liberated, the US army also found several train cars loaded with dead and decaying corpses. In the museum, we see a short film of the liberation of the camp; and must say that the images were disturbing. Our guide tells us that even with the liberation, the prisoners could not eat very much as their stomachs had shrunk so much during the previous years. Large numbers of prisoners also died after liberation due to disease and malnutrition.
The camp was liberated by the US Army in April of 1945. We viewed a film that showed the liberation. It is said that one army officer said that the first seven barracks were basically morgues.
Eventually all the barracks were torn down. Today a replica of one of the barracks has been built as a memorial. Rooms in this barrack proceed to show wooden bunks where 52 prisoners would sleep with 4 bunks in each room for a total of 208. When the camp was liberated, it is said that some 2,000 men habited these rooms.
Another very emotionally disturbing day, but I would encourage anyone to visit a concentration camp….we must not forget!
We go out to an Italian restaurant for dinner in the Marienplatz area. Need a change from the heavy “Geman” food.
On Wednesday, we take the SBahn to the Englischer Garten. A short walk after we leave the train, passing the Residenz on our way to the garden. A beautiful building and grounds, once home to Bavaria’s rulers. Today, it is a museum, but we do not have the time to visit.
We walk through the north part of the garden. It is said to be one of the biggest city parks in Europe. There is a little lake and some people are using paddle boats. We continue on our walk and find the main area where there is a food area and a beer garden. Denis had said that one thing he wanted while we were in Munich was to have bratwurst and sauerkraut. We all opt for the bratwurst. Denis and I have sauerkraut and are not disappointed. Debbie and Robin have theirs with friend potatoes. All very good with a cold beer and cold wine. In 1790 the Chinese Tower (Chinesischer Turm) was built; kind of odd looking, considering we are in a beer garden.
Debbie and I make our way back to Marienplatz and Denis and Robin head off to the BMW museum. Debbie and I did some browsing through some of the shops. Beautiful shoe and clothing stores. We stop at a small cafe for coffee and do some people watching. A nice “chill out” afternoon.
We stop into one of the churches, believe it is the cathedral. Beautiful interior. A striking sculpture, which I have since found out is the cenotaph of Louis 1V the Holy Roman Emperor who ruled from 1249 – 1347.
We stop in a large Munich department store and eventually make our way back to the apartment. We arrive about 4:15 pm and the guys shortly after us.
They were quite impressed by the vintage BMW’s they saw at the museum. Across the road from the museum was a BMW dealership….no they did not order any vehicles.
Octoberfest – This is happening about one week after we leave. Two separate cab drivers told us that the locals “hate” Octoberfest. The main reason is that is has become just one big “drunk” not only by tourists but some locals as well. They tell us that when they grew up in Munich, Octoberfest was a family festival to celebrate the harvest. They do not like what it has become with drunks urinating and throwing up everywhere. Good time for us to leave!
Tomorrow morning, Thursday the 12th, we will be catching the “slow scenic” train from Munich to Innsbruck. We will pick up a car in Innsbruck for the next 8 days while we visit the Innsbruck and Salzburg areas.
Apologies for any typos/errors!