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Published: June 19th 2012
Thursday, 14 June
Yesterday we made our way to Munich via Regensburg, with torrential rain for most of the way except at Regensburg and Munich, which not surprisingly, had a pocket for blue sky for us. The forecast was for three days of rain whilst in Munich but that seems to have changed to five days of sun and high 20’s to mid 30’s. Hello summer.
We slept in for the first time since Amsterdam. Got up at 9am and made our way into the main square, Marienplatz. Munich was heavily damaged in WWII and was then part of West Germany afterwards. Most things have been restored although there is still construction to be seen. The downtown area is more compact than some of the larger cities we’ve visited and the city feels a touch like Vienna in its small town feel. Marienplatz is a large open square with the Gothic Town Hall and famous Glockenspiel (clock). It has two levels of figurines that move at 11am and 12pm every day so you can imagine the crowds that gather to watch the clock come alive.
Munich has some large markets and biergardens called Viktualienmarkt where you can buy
cheese, meats, wine, breads, fruit, vegetables and crafts. This was our chosen place for a quick bite. The part I found interesting was that the market vendors could never afford the rent on such a prime piece of real estate, so the council charge them a flat % of their income in order to keep the tradition going. Australia would never do that. They would sell to the highest bidder, usually Westfield or one of the grocery chains. There is such a different mindset over here – one of preservation rather than the almighty $. The other thing I love is that they have a rule that prohibits any buildings in the city higher than a church steeple. No high rises. Brilliant.
From there we walked to the Residenz, the biggest palace in Germany. Bavaria had the longest continuous reigning royal family in Germany, and whilst the family is still around, they don’t reign any more (they have day jobs like the rest of us). We didn’t go in to the palace but did relax in their gardens (Hofgarten), which were lovely. Continuing behind the Hofgarten is the English Gardens, 922 acres of public park with horse tracks and
bike/walking paths. Lots of people were playing petanque and young people were enjoying the next craze - a tight rope between two trees, strung like a trampoline – which they were doing acrobatics on. The river was flowing swiftly and we had the pleasure of watching a group of ducks sail down at autobahn speed and then fly back up near us and do it all again. It was a rollercoaster for ducks!
I couldn’t live here though because there are two things I really dislike; the traffic and the crowds. Where Berlin had a distinct lack of traffic, Munich is overrun with traffic lights every 100m and traffic that doesn’t go anywhere. And the crowds! It’s worse than Prague, if you can believe that. Friday, 15 June
Dachau. Germany’s first concentration camp and the model on which all other camps were based. Being only 30 minutes from Munich, we had to knit ourselves into its history. The actual camp size is quite large but visitors can only see the prisoner camp – about 250m wide by 500m long. It originally had 32 barracks, an infirmary, brothel, a crematorium, gas chamber, punishment cells and maintenance building. It
was built for 6000 inmates but at times held up to 60,000. By the time it was liberated in 1945 there were 32,000 prisoners and over 200,000 had lost their lives during the 12 year operation.
The memorial site is free to enter, so we gladly paid for the €3 audio guide.
Only 2 barracks have been reconstructed to show what it was like, with the other 28 barracks having an outline with a number, but no building. When you stand at the beginning of the first two barracks looking down camp road to the back, all you can see are rectangular slabs in perfect order both on the left and right. There are guard towers and barbed wire on all perimeter fences.
Built for the purpose of holding political prisoners – Jews, dissidents and academics – it was primarily a labour camp for the armaments. This is signified on the entry gate as “Arbeit macht frei
”, which means “work makes you free”. There is a crematorium to burn the bodies of those who had died through disease, punishment or torture. It is in this camp where they did medical experiments on prisoners, such as injecting pus for antibiotic research and other experiments like hypothermia and altitude exercises. You read about these experiments but the photos they have are of the prisoner before the experiment has begun, so the gruesome photos I had steeled myself for did not materialise.
A gas chamber was also built and whilst it was used for individuals or small groups, it was thankfully never used for mass genocide, not even at the end of the war. No one knows why. Walking through the stages of dropping the belongings into a room, stripping down, walking into the waiting room, then the “showers” and finally into the crematorium with the ovens, was a surreal experience. Outside, the building is secluded from the prisoner camp by trees and gardens, looking like a residential house rather than a death chamber. To sit amongst this peace and imagine what went on here in a different age – well, it was just unimaginable. I couldn’t marry the tranquillity in today’s surroundings with the horror of a time long ago.
It was a half day definitely well spent and a highlight for anyone coming to Munich.
What I don’t understand is why Hitler invaded all of Europe (while his fascist buddies controlled Italy, Spain & Portugal) but didn’t invade England. Instead, he gets to the English Channel, makes plans for an invasion of England and yet, inexplicably decides to attack the Soviets instead, who are a) in the opposite direction many thousands of kilometres away, b) minding their own business and have a non-aggression pact with the Germans, c) have a massive population and d) the Russian winter – which has defeated more than one megalomaniac invader. England was alone and vulnerable and he had the chance to be completely unopposed and in effective control of the whole of Europe. We could have been touring the continent of Germany if he’d attacked England instead of Russia. What stopped him?
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