It seems that we have been dogged by rain every day since leaving Italy. After nearly 20 hot days in Italy, I would be lying if I said I was not looking forward to a hopefully cooler Germany. Unfortunately, so far, we’ve experienced mostly cool temperatures (maybe I’m picky?) and a good amount of atmospheric lubrication to make it just that much colder.
All of this being said, our three and a half days in Munich were very enjoyable, and packed with many of the things that made Munich a city I very much wanted to visit. We had periods of wonderful weather, and even when it was cooler, I managed to remind myself that in one way, it was precisely what I’d been asking for while sweating at a standstill in Italy.
On our first day in Munich, or Muenchen in the original German (or Deutsch in the original… oh forget it), Cara and I made the joint decision to make a pilgrimage to Dachau (one of the worst concentration camps during the Nazi era) in the afternoon. The weather forecast was threatening rain, which we deemed appropriate given the solemn content of what was to be our afternoon, so we packed our rain jackets and hopped on the train.
On our arrival in Dachau, we found a sign that indicated the route from the train station to the concentration camp was marked by signs that narrated the way. It was a solemn 3km walk as Cara and I retraced the footsteps of those persecuted by the Nazis, walking along the same streets that thousands of Jews, political enemies, asocials, homosexuals, Roma, and many others were beaten and herded, many towards their deaths. We walked under an overcast and threatening sky and reflected on the evil humankind is capable of.
Almost, as if to welcome us for our visit in spite of the impending rain, the clouds opened up to reveal a blue sky and warm sun as we terminated the Path of Remembrance at the memorial’s entrance. We walked through the gates, which promised the famous “Work Brings Freedom,” and began to explore the site.
Much of what we saw, Cara and I knew about previously (thanks Canadian public school system), but we still learned knew things, and took a lot away from the visit. Dachau began operation in 1933 as the Nazis took power. Over the course of its operation into 1945, Dachau saw more than 200,000 prisoners cycle through the system. Some few, mostly in its early years, were released. Many tens of thousands died of abuse, malnutrition, disease, overwork, and execution.
We started in the bunker, which was the camp’s prison. There, we learned of abuses, torture, and terrible conditions. We explored the reproductions of the camp’s cramped living quarters (originally built to house 6000 prisoners, at its peak Dachau housed over 50000). We visited the Crematorium, where the bodies of the dead were disposed of. Hauntingly, we walked through the ‘shower’ room and observed the literal killing machine of the gas chambers, which led directly into the room where the furnaces operated. It was truly sickening to imagine the people who could take part in such a thing. Impossible to imagine those who could dream it up.
We left that place and visited the religious memorials at the far end of the site. Then walked slowly down the main camp road, where the foundations of the over 40 camp barracks buildings still stood.
With time running out, we walked through the permanent museum in the maintenance building and learned about the situation and environment that led to Hitler’s rise to power, what precipitated the use of the concentration camps, and how the Nazis were able to deceive the entire world about what was actually happening in them.
Unfortunately, we ran out of time before we could finish the museum, and so we, unlike so many others, were able to walk freely through the gates with a more whole—a more concrete understanding of what happened 70-80 years ago. We also emerged with the hope that such experiences, if had by enough people, will prevent such atrocities from ever happening again.
We walked back along the Path of Remembrance back to the train and sat quietly on our way back to the hostel.
Cara and I found dinner at a nearby restaurant where we shared two kinds of sausage (currywurst and white sausages) as well as fries and sauerkraut. I also had my first German beer (1L!) and Cara had the same kind (but only 0.5L). The food was delicious and it was a good way to get in a meal of real German food (actually… Bavarian food; anything that you think of as being typically German, like sausages and beer and schnitzel are actually a product of the Bavarian region, which only became a part of unified Germany in the 20th century).
The next day, Cara and I slept in a wee bit and then took the train from Munich to Fuessen. Why? To visit a really cool castle: Neuschwanstein (pronounced Ny-Sh-vawn-stine). Built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria in the late 1800’s, it was designed to be a sort of medieval fairy tale castle (in fact, it served as inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s castle). Though it was never finished (he was removed from power due to some level of supposed insanity, and died young shortly thereafter), the castle is complete in many areas, and open to the public for tours.
Cara and I started the visit with an hour and a half in line to buy tickets for the guided tour (the only way you can see the inside of the castle), then waited for our tour by doing some hikes around the area. There is another very nice castle called Hohenschwangau Castle which we visited but did not enter. We also did a significant hike up to the Marienbrucke, a bridge that was also constructed by Ludwig II, which crosses a gorge and gives great views of a waterfall and of Neuschwanstein castle. It is a great place for pictures, though I found myself doubting, at times, the integrity of the bridge, what with the hundreds of tourists on it jockeying for photos.
After finding the view, it was nearly time for our tour, so we walked down to the castle and appreciated it from the outside, as well as exploring its courtyard. Our turn finally came and we entered the castle, starting up a spiral staircase. We explored the throne room, Ludwig’s bedroom, his reading room, servant’s quarters, and the kitchen, among other things. The interior was grand, and truly fairytale like. I think it was a highlight of the trip for Cara, as she loves seeing palaces as they were intended to be lived in (ie: correctly furnished, as opposed to being converted into a regular museum).
After a confusing and convoluted train ride home that got us back late, I stopped for a doner (sort of like a gyro or donair) that is a very popular fast food in Germany, and then we went back to the hostel to plan for the next day.
Continuing in the grain of Cara’s desire to see palaces, we visited the Munich Residenz in the morning. The Residenz was the seat of government and palace of the Bavarian Imperial (and then Royal) family, the Wittlesbach’s. This place was largely destroyed during the allied bombings of WWII, but has been extensively reconstructed and restored. It is both a museum, and a properly furnished palace. We were able to visit rooms associated with governance, as well as the many rooms that were occupied by the rulers of Bavaria as they rose from the position of Dukes in the Holy Roman Empire, to Emperors, and then finally to the Kings of Bavaria (after allying with Napoleon Bonaparte, who basically put an end to the mighty Holy Roman Empire). We also got to explore the Residenz treasury, which contained many precious pieces of jewellry, crowns, gems, sculptures, religious relics, and the like.
After the Residenz, we enjoyed a walking tour of the Old Town with a guide. He gave us insights on many of the structures we visited, as well as many local legends, and history. We learned about the Beer Hall Putsch, Hitler’s first (and failed) attempt at revolution in the 1920s, we learned about devastation during WWII and rebuilding, and we learned about the other 800 years of history in Munich, which covered the founding (Muenchen is a reference to the Monk’s monastery by which the first settlers put down roots), through its association with the Holy Roman Empire (Munich is often considered the most northern Roman city), and then its rise to greatness as the seat of the Bavarian royalty prior to German unification. I’m won’t bother to tell you too much about the things we saw, but will list them briefly. We started at the Glockenspiel, which has the dubious honour of being Europe’s 2nd most overrated tourist attraction. We then visited the Frauenkirche, the emblem of Munich, and a church that was supposedly built with the help of the Devil. We visited the Odeonsplatz, the great square where Hitler delivered many of his speeches, and we visited the Residenz (again, where we were able to learn more about the kings of Bavaria). We visited the Hofbrauhaus (the Royal Beer Hall, the most famous beer hall in Munich, home to a storied history all begun because the Catholic king of Bavaria did not like drinking the Protestant-made beer of Northern Germany). We visited Sankt Jakob’s church, which was destroyed and rebuilt countless times over the course of its history, and is associated with the Miracle Stein (to make a long story short, the church’s cross blew down during a storm, and a slightly drunk Municher from a nearby beer garden volunteered to set it right, but in the process, dropped his family stein from the church’s roof; despite a fall of hundreds of feet, it did not break, and is now considered a relic… only in Germany!).
After the tour, Cara and I took a walk through the Royal Garden, and up to the English Garden.
We watched the famous Munich surfers, who ride the standing waves on one of the rivers. Very cool to watch, and it looks very fun. After this, we strolled through the garden, thankful that the rain for the day was holding off. We stuck our feet in the river (it was cold, but very welcome as we had been walking all day), did some reading in the park, and then went to the Chinese Tower Beer Garden. Cara and I shared a roasted pork knuckle, Bavarian meatloaf, country potatoes. I had a half litre of Hofbrau (royal beer) and Cara had a radler (a mix of lemonade and beer), which she enjoyed.
Then it started to rain. We took shelter under the traditional beer garden chestnut trees until the rain let up a bit, then walked back to the hostel. There, we met some of our hostel mates and went to another beer garden nearby the hostel for some more beer, from Augustiner Brauhaus, a mostly local brewery which is also the oldest brewery in Munich. I had a half litre Augustiner Weissbier (wheat beer) and Cara (accidentally) got a 1L radler. While she liked that one more, it was too much, and I ended up having to finish it for her. While our hostel mates moved onto another bar, we went back to the hostel and got to sleep, with an early morning the next day.
The next morning, Cara and I got a metro pass for the day and took the tram out to Schloss Nymphenburg. This was yet another palace that Cara’s research said we had to see. The Schloss Nymphenburg was initially constructed as the summer residence of the Bavarian royals, but was quickly expanded to form, basically, a small town that served the royal family and the court, during the summer months of May to September. Included with the enormous palace is an enormous garden which evolved over the years from a French style (more man made, more architecture, more manicured, etc.) to an English style (more wild and natural). As a result, there is an interesting mix of French architectural features with what seems to be a mostly natural park. Did I mention that it is ENORMOUS?
Anyway, we went into the palace and again, were able to appreciate the enormity and grandness of it. We visited the royal apartments, we saw the Hall of Beauties (a room bedecked with over 30 painted portraits commissioned by King Ludwig I (grandfather to King Ludwig II) to document female beauty. Interestingly, his daughter in-law is one of the women featured in the paintings (though we are unsure of whether she was married to his son yet, or not).
After the palace, we visited the Sleigh and Carriages museum where we saw many rich carriages and… er… sleighs. Neat to see. I was hoping to see some royal automobiles, but there were none, unfortunately. This was a short visit, and then we went into the park.
Our first stop in the park was Amalienberg, a hunting lodge which was designed by a key court designer, Philip Cuvilier (sp?), a master of the Rococo style. The place was pretty cool. I won’t say much beyond that. Next, we visited Badenberg, which was a hunting lodge for the King, and includes the oldest indoor pool of the modern era. This was pretty neat to see.
We walked through a bit more of the park, stopped to enjoy our packed lunch, and then made our way slowly out of the park.
Our next stop was BMW Welt (Deutsch for World), one of the highlights on my itinerary. This is an enormous modern complex that serves as tourist attraction and information centre for everything Bavarian Motor Works (and its subsidiaries, Mini and Rolls Royce). I’m a huge BMW fan, and Cara is a huge Mini fan (how I convinced her to go). We got to check out cars that are way too expensive for us, got to sit in them, imagine, dream, and then get out slowly and sadly.
Nearby is the BMW factory and museum. We didn’t know you could get a factory tour, so we missed out on that, but we went into the BMW Museum, which is another very modern building that takes you through the history of BMW, with its start as an airplane engine manufacturer during WWI all the way through to its modern works as a design and efficiency pioneer. We saw some of the very first vehicles produced by BMW, including its cars and motorcycles, saw race cars, some of its most famous lines (like the M, motorsport line), and some interesting concept cars. Altogether, it was a very cool experience. It also rained quite a bit, so we were glad to be indoors.
We sat around in BMW Welt (they have some nice sitting areas) to read, while the rain died down and we worked up an appetite for dinner. I’d heard of a good Mexican place near the English Garden called Condesa, so when we felt the pull for dinner, we hopped on the underground and headed that way. When we arrived, we saw that the menu was entirely in German, and the occupants of the tables were all locals. In my books, this is always a good sign. We managed to order quite easily because the cashier spoke good English. I enjoyed a pork burrito (Castor style, which includes pineapple), and Cara enjoyed a chicken burrito. I would call it one of the best burritos I’ve had (close second to Burrito Jax in Halifax), so if you’re ever in Munich and hankering for some Mexican, I’d recommend Condesa.
That was more than enough for us, so we confusedly navigated our way through the underground system, stopped in Marienplatz to do some souvenir shopping, and then got back to the hostel. We got invited out by our hostel mates again, but this time, we turned them down in favour of packing and getting an early night (we were both pretty exhausted, but yes, I suppose we’re a little lame).
And so, that was the end of our Munich experience. Now we’re on the train to Heidelberg, which is running uncharacteristically late. It’s Cara’s birthday tomorrow (the 1st of August), and the weather forecast says it will be a nice one, so we’ll have to make the best of it!
Check back for an update in a few days, after we’ve done Heidelberg. Auf wiedersehn!