As has become routine on our travels, we began our stay in Munich with a three-hour walking tour of the city’s historic centre. We started in Munich’s main square, Marianaplatz in front of the Old Town Hall, from there we weaved our way through the cobbled streets past medieval churches, portions of which were still authentic as they had survived WWII; renaissance rebuilds of medieval buildings, which were subsequently rebuilt after WWII; the Royal Beer Hall, which I think survived WWII; a local legend of a man who hangs about one of the fountains decked out in lederhosen, looking all classic Bavarian, with a pipe and takes photos with lady tourists for free, Valentina was not all too keen for that opportunity; one of the central beer gardens, which at 3PM on a Thursday was jam-packed full of happy, beer drinkers; the neo-classical, and massive, Munich Theatre; the famous street on which Adolf Hitler’s 1923 Beer Hall Putsch was brutally crushed by the Bavarian police; the location of the, since removed and expunged from history, Nazi memorial to those twenty-odd National Socialists who died on that street, which had been guarded around-the-clock by SS Soldiers to ensure that all who walked past hiel-fived the memorial; and the memorial of bronze cobbled stones in the alley that branched off from Residenzstrasse, to honour those who refused to walk past the Nazi monument, but at the peril of being detained by the Gestapo, which often patrolled the other end of the alley waiting for those dissidents; and that is where the tour ended. Apparently not much of note has happened in Munich since the rise and fall of National Socialism.
For our second day, we took a 30-minute train ride from Munich to Dachau to visit the infamous concentration camp of the same name. Dachau was the first Nazi Concentration Camp and the prototype from which all of the others, including the death camps such as Auschwitz, were based on. As it was one of the first Nazi Concentration Camps to be liberated, many of the horrible images we associate with the Holocaust are from Dachau’s liberation. While Dachau’s primary purpose was that of a “work camp”, and not that of a death camp, despite the fact that a gas chamber had been built, but fortunately never put into use, nearly 40,000 people were still murdered in Dachau. Again, this was a rather surreal experience for us, to be in a place where such horrors occurred, as we struggled to comprehend the true gravity of where we were; this was especially true as we walked the same route, through the same gate, with the words“Work Makes You Free”, into the camp that all of Dachau’s prisoners once had. Dachau is definitely one of those things that everyone should experience, if only to remember those who were its victims and to guarantee that no such travesty should befall humanity ever again. It is indescribable the sensation of seeing the crematorium, the same furnaces, that were used to incinerate all of Dachau’s victims, the cramped and inhuman living conditions prisoners found themselves in, or the personal stories of those were sent to Dachau and survived the horrors and those who did not. On our way back from Dachau we made a detour to the Munich Olympic Park, which was absolutely beautiful as a massive green space with a mix of hills, large ponds with the wonderfully designed, circus-tent like Olympic venues from 1976; and was a perfect place to lie down and soak up the last rays of the sinking sun.
The rest of our time in Munich was spent trying to do as many Munich-type things as possible, which mostly consisted of walking around the city, eating street food (giant pickles and pretzels), lounging about on the sun-soaked grass of the massive English Gardens, and, of course, the beer gardens. The beer gardens were quite the experience; there is nothing like sitting under a shady chestnut tree, with the smell of grilled sausage lingering in the air, surrounded by hundreds of happy people enjoying a litre of beer from a giant, almost novelty-sized glass. The beer culture in Munich is amazing and just plain fun. You would think with all that beer flowing, inside and outside of the beer gardens as being an adult and drinking a beer in a park is not seen as a heinous act against morality in most of Europe, and all those people drinking together, there would be some sloppy types, but there was not one. Everyone seemed to be in check and “enjoyed responsibly” – the true debauchery is likely saved for the tourists at Oktoberfest. And most importantly, the famed Augustiner beer, lived up to its hype. Oh my, was that brew ever tasty.
Munich is a great town, full of character, charm, friendly people and most importantly beer. Who is in for an Oktoberfest road trip?