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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.

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Saturday, April 29, 2006

Europe Trip Report – Day 2 – Made it to Munich!

We had some funny experiences today. How quickly we forget the things we have done in the past. I will get to that a little later.

The flight to Heathrow was uneventful on United Airlines. We dozed off pretty quickly and the next thing we knew we were landing in the airport. The layover for the flight to Munich, Germany was around 3 hours, putting us into Germany around 6:00pm. I still do not get the Brits in the United Kingdom. While the majority of the European Union (EU) is now on the Euro, the British still insist on using the wacky pound system. That renders the Euros we brought with us useless here unless we want to exchange. At least we could use credit cards to grab a bite to eat and some bottled water.

Another oddity about the section of Heathrow we were in is that the gate areas are extremely claustrophobic. You walk through narrow walkways and enter into waiting areas that make you feel like you are in the “underground”.

When we finally get to Munich via our short hop on Lufthansa, it is quickly approaching evening time. Our goal is to make it to our hotel, the Munich City Hilton before dark. With that in mind, we hustle through passport control without issue and make our way towards baggage claim. Fortunately, everything goes smoothly and we exit the airport and head to the S-Bahn.

It has been quite awhile since we have taken public transportation. The reality is that we live in the Los Angeles area, where there is no effective public transportation. So, to say the least we are a little confused while also trying to recall some of the German we learned so long ago. People are coming in and dropping euros into the ticket machine for the S-Bahn. Our problem is that we are not sure which ticket we need, so we consult our friendly Frommer’s Germany guide to figure it out. We do not have the “Munich Welcome Card”, which is great because it does include free transportation to the city and we finally figure out that we need the Single-Tageskarte Gesamtnetz ticket for 9 euros from the Fahrkarten machine just before the train arrives.

We purchase two of these (later finding out we could have bought the double-rider ones for 16 euros), however this is where we really become forgetful. Rather than validating the ticket before boarding, we assumed there was a validation machine that put the time stamp on your ticket on the train. This was partially because we were rushed to get on the train in time, and partially because we completely forgot. So, within a minute or two we quickly realized that we were riding the train illegally without a validated ticket. While I was tempted to jump out at one of the stops to activate the ticket, I was more afraid to leave Ashley on the train with the luggage. Luckily, we made it to the Isator stop where our hotel was without incident and headed up to the street.

When you are not used to coming out of an underground or subway, you become disoriented. Luckily when we came up a nice German gentleman noticed we are fresh tourists and asked what we were looking for. When we mentioned the Hilton Munich City he pointed us right down the street – that made it easy!

On my previous trip to Munich, I stayed at the Hilton Munich Park hotel. It was a nice place, but a little farther from the Marienplatz area. So, for this trip I choose the Hilton Munich City and I was glad that I did. After our first few minutes in the hotel, I realized our stay was going to be highway robbery.

When we first booked our stay with Hilton HHonors points, this hotel was only rated a category 3 hotel by Hilton. That meant that each night was only going to cost 25,000 HHonors points. For those that have the Hilton HHonors Gold VIP status, you know what a treat that is. This was even more unique in the fact that Hilton was changing the status on this particular property to a category 5 (35,000 points per night) in just a couple of months.

Upon arriving, the hotel manager directed us up to the Executive Floor to check in rather than waiting in the main lobby line. The staff on the executive floor was extremely helpful and got us situated immediately. In addition, the executive floor at this hotel is far superior to most of what we have here in the United States. Full morning breakfast, afternoon snacks, all day drinks, and an open bar with a view out towards the city made for a great atmosphere.

After cleaning up, we headed down the lounge to relax for a little while before heading out. Having been trapped inside planes and trains for the past 24 hours, we decided to walk down through the Isator Gate to Marienplatz to enjoy a little bit of Munich before catching some sleep.

Then the most surprising moment of the evening came. I obtained a couple of sets of tickets to the Lakers playoff games. With the trip, I had to give them away to family members – of which I was somewhat disappointed. However, at about 3:00am my Blackberry 8700 (setup for international access) abruptly rang. In somewhat of a sleep induced coma I answered it with a “hello?” The voice on the other side yelled “you missed the BEST GAME EVER.” Hmm, just what I wanted to wake up to, although I did appreciate my father-in-law’s excitement about the Lakers victory over the Phoenix Suns. He was right; I did miss one of the best games ever.

However, I am sure glad to be in Munich!

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Friday, April 28, 2006

Europe Trip Report – Day 1 – Fly to Munich via Heathrow

Ashley and I have been waiting for this day for quite some time. Shortly, we hop on a plane to return to Germany and specifically Heidelberg for the first time in 10 years (me, and 9 years for her). Heidelberg, Germany has a very special place in our hearts – we both studied there for a summer with Pepperdine University’s International Programs. In both of our cases, these were 16 weeks of experiences and fun that we will remember forever.

The reason for this trip is two fold. We have been considering returning to Europe for some time as a vacation. I was in Munich a few years back on business, but that is never the same. Also, this represents the 100-year anniversary of the house we stayed in while we were there – the Moore Haus – where Pepperdine is having a huge celebration. Everyone who stayed there at some time is invited back, in addition to the 10-year, 20-year, and 30-year reunions.

So, we leave tonight where we will start out in Munich (Munchen) for several days before heading up via night train (nacht zug) to Berlin, over to Heidelberg for five days, and finally going to New York City for six days on our way home. Very exciting, we are ready to go!

On an interesting note, we ran into couple we had not seen in a number of years, Matt & Nadine Semarau. Oddly enough, they are on the same flight as us that first takes us to Heathrow, on the other side of plane from us in the same section. They are going to London first, and then on a Mediterranean cruise – for a belated honeymoon. You never know who you will run into when you are at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

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