Published: March 1st 2010February 11th 2010
It is very snowy and cold here in Munich. I arrived yesterday around noon, armed with good advice from the very kind lady who sat in my compartment on the train ride from Innsbruck. My hotel was pretty easy to find from the train station, and thankfully very clean and warm. After checking in I headed out to find an internet cafe to see about accommodation for my next destination, but was not able to confirm anything. All was not lost however, since I found my way to the Marienplatz where I decided to secure my tour to Dachau for the following day, in advance. Dachau was the reason for my return to Munich.
This morning arrived, cold and very very snowy. I headed to the meeting place for my Dachau visit to discover that I was the only participant - normally they would cancel a trip with so few, but since I had pre-purchased a ticket they ran the tour. A stroke of luck that I had decided to buy in advance, as this would be my only opportunity for a visit. So I had a private tour and guide for the day - we hopped on the subway
A map showing other work sites that detainees were sent to.
and train and were off.
Dachau was one of the infamous concentration camps used by the Nazi regime during the 2nd World War. It is located about 12 miles outside of Munich. What I did not know, or expect, was that Dachau is also a lovely and well-kept little town. I had always thought that Dachau was the name of a stand alone camp, not a village and this raised all kinds of questions in my mind.
Actually, Dachau village was the home of a pretty comprehensive munitions factory during the First World War. After that war ended, the facility was abandoned until Hitler decided it would make a great prison for his political foes, allowing him free reign in government. The old factory site already had water, electricity, fencing and some buildings, and stood a little apart from the village while being on main transport routes and not far from Munich, so was ideal.
Over time, of course, the camp became home to more than political foes - it became a central work camp where dissidents, Jews, Roma, and others were processed and set to work or sent out to numerous secondary work sites throughout the
region. In the beginning, the townsfolk questioned what was going on there - in fact the local coroner objected and raised grave concerns over the numerous prisoner deaths and their obvious mistreatment (he was later imprisoned himself). One of the reasons for the crematoria was to avoid this kind of questioning, and hide the evidence of mistreatment. Eventually, the local folk were afraid to object or raise questions themselves given the heavy handed Nazi regime. Dachau went on to house 10 times the number of prisoners it was designed for, and although it was never designated as an extermination centre it killed many thousands through malnutrition and working them to death.
After the war the site was used as a refugee or settlement camp - until the mid 60's! There are now prayer sites/churches built there by the Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim faiths as well as a cloistered nunnery adjacent. I think this presence has helped to heal.
Such a camp is a difficult place to visit, but at the same time it is important to remember. I take my hat off for the work that has been done on memorials and these camps - it cannot
be easy to shine such a light on parts of your history that you would rather not remember and plans need to be sensitive to all sides.
When I was in Munich a few days ago to explore the rise of the Third Reich there, I heard about an initiative in Germany that involves memorializing individuals who lost their lives in such camps by installing gold cobble stones in front of their homes, engraved with their personal details. So for instance, in front of your residence in Germany today, a few of the street cobblestones may be replaced with gold ones carved with the name and ages of a family who had lived there but were arrested, transported to a concentration camp and lost their lives. Not all communities are doing this however. In Munich, for instance, this is not happening because the head of the Jewish League there (apologies if this organization name is not correct) objected, saying that the Jewish people had lived and died under the boots of the German folk and did not want to be walked on anymore.
A full day, and even though I had a 'private tour' - or maybe because
Look at the snow compared with a few days ago!
I had a private tour - it took longer than the usual agenda.
Where to Stay: Mirabell Hotel in Munich. It is located about a block and a half east of the main train station so it is easy to walk there or to the Marienplatz. The area is definitely not the tourist area, but I felt perfectly safe and the hotel was spotless. At the included breakfast (which had an extensive buffet) I saw mostly business men and a few travellers like myself. It was quiet, spotless, had a tub (!) and very friendly and helpful staff. There is some updating and construction going on but it was not intrusive. The rate was outstanding.
What to Do: Munich Walks runs a variety of tours (as do others) including the Third Reich and Dachau. Good value and excellent educated guides. You can find them online or simply go to the Marienplatz information centre when you arrive. In high season you should definitely book in advance.