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Sunday, April 30, 2006

Europe Trip Report – Day 3 – Historical Munich

Back when Ashley and I toured Europe in college, we often only spent 24 hours in a city – running from place to place, seeing as many of the sites as we could. We are pretty excited about spending some time in Munich, getting to know it better.

Today, we decided to see the historical Munich. Mainly, the historical events in Munich leading up to establishment of Hilter’s regime and the atrocities of World War II. In the morning, we met at underneath the main entrance of the New Gothic Rathaus in the Marienplatz to join the “Hitler’s Munich - Third Reich Tour” walking tour in the Altstadt area. The tour runs 10 euros ($14 US) and if you take the afternoon tour to Dachau it is discounted 2 euros and includes transportation.

The tour is quite an educational walk down memory lane and the events that led up to Hitler’s rise to power, and eventually World War II. Some of the sites include:

The famous Hofbrauhaus, where more than it’s famous Beer Garden includes the site where Hitler made several speeches.

The Platz der Opfer des Nationalsozialismus, this is basically a place to reflect on the victims from the Third Reich movement. However, there are no benches – and the flame that burns is often hidden by tree. Both of these items seem to conflict with it being a place of reflection.

The Nazi Party Headquarters.
The headquarters of the SS (Schutzstaffel) which now are used by the University although you can see where the Nazi flags flew and the Eagles were mounted on the building.

In all, we walked a few miles and the English walking tour was absolutely excellent. Our guide was an American, who has livend in Munich (Munchen) for the last 20 years.

What became apparent very quickly, and as we had learned in our stay in Heidelberg 10 years earlier – that the German people still struggle with their history. While in many cases, the people living in Germany today had nothing to with World War II or the Holocaust. However, they still are not comfortable in dealing with the historical nature of the events. This is especially apparent in the Platz mentioned above. Although it is supposed to be a place of reflection, the environment is not setup to be. This is pretty consistent in the culture.

After our tour ended, we grabbed a couple of sandwiches and a couple of great German beers before heading to the Dachau Concentration camp.

Visiting the Dachau Concentration Camp is a hallowing experience. Neither Ashley nor I had the opportunity to visit while we were students and it was something we were really looking forward to. The experience was even more than we expected.

This day we visited happened to be the day after the 61st anniversary of liberation of the camp by the United States Army. Heads of state from over 100 nations sent flowers and wreathes to commemorate the occasion. In some senses, we were relieved that we were one day behind as we were not sure exactly how we might react as several survivors of the camp may very well have been there.

Words cannot describe the feelings of fear and sadness you have as you tour the camp. As you walk to the front of the camp where the trains dropped off the encamped you enter through the gates the represented the lie “arbeit macht frei” or “work shall set you free” it becomes very surreal. Even as you tour the camp to see where people were brought in, stripped of everything they owned and often beaten – you do not fully understand what happened in this place.
Dachau has a special place in German history, being the first work camp that was setup in Germany and specifically Bavaria. Although it was a “work camp” rather than a “death camp” like Auschwitz – many, many people died there. Even though the gas chambers were never used or tested at Dachau, it was a difficult experience walking through them knowing what happened in other similar camps.

After experiencing the history of Munich, we picked the perfect way to wind down the day. We went over to the World Famous Augistiner Grossgaststatten (Restaurant) in Marienplatz and enjoyed a couple of Hefeweizen Brau’s and some traditional German sausages and potatoes!

Guard Towers

The concrete outlines of the barracks.

Memorial of the electric fence, flowers for the anniversary.