DAY 11: Sunday, October 26
From sublime to horrific, that was our journey as we left the idyllic lakeside village of Meersburg and traveled towards Dachau, one of Germany’s first concentration camps sited NW of Munich. Hitler opened this camp to house political prisoners in 1933. Dachau soon evolved into a death camp for anyone who opposed the new chancellor or didn’t meet his and his cronies’ vision of the perfect Aryan.
Throughout our travels here both Max and I were impressed with Germany’s refusal to hide the Nazis atrocities. Instead, Germany has used these camps and other sites not only as memorials to those who lost their lives during Hitler’s rise and fall from power, but also as teaching institutions. Everywhere we went there were German students, on school trips or individual tours, learning about this despicable past. It would be as if someone turned a plantation into a physical course of U.S.’s treatment of African Americans or a reservation becoming a history lesson on how we systematically destroyed the indigenous American Indians’ lifestyle. Germany’s past became a stark reminder of what one should never forget: man’s inhumanity.
Walking from the visitor’s center towards the camp, we saw the SS Training Camp on our left, chilling in realizing it was a school for cruelty. Turning to our right an iron gate, with the same, sinister and duplicitous words displayed at Auschwitz-“work will set you free”, greets you.
A plaque at this entrance acknowledges the long, awaited liberation in 1945.
You want to dwell on these thankful words for, once inside, your mind is overtaken by the story of Dachau excellently captured and taught by the 13-room exhibit.
Once you’ve entered the compound you’re faced with rows of ghost barracks off to your left with the crematorium at the end, the special prison to your immediate right, and at 2pm, the building housing the fact-filled panels and documents about this concentration camp. Below, Max is standing on the former roll call grounds.
For over two hours we slowly walked through the rooms covering the torturous histories of those imprisoned here. As with almost every museum here, we were overwhelmed with details and facts. Several caused me to think ‘if only’…
…Georg Elser succeeded.
… or the outside world acted on Hans Beimer’s words.
However, similar to the infamous Red Cross report on Theresienstadt in Czech Republic, many people and organizations were fooled and/or closed their eyes:
Room after room, these panels described the horrors and ugliness experienced in this camp. No less chilling was walking into some of the cells for special prisoners and trying to imagine the fear and desperation when one heard keys turning in the lock. I couldn’t. My mind just can’t comprehend how anyone survived this experience.
A 1968 sculpture by a Holocaust survivor serves as another brutal reminder of where you are and what was done to too many innocent people.
After the morning’s somber atmosphere and travel through a dark era, the afternoon was going to be the exact opposite, beginning with a visit to Munich’s large and famous Hofbrauhaus Beer Hall.
We were staying right downtown, about a 20-minute walk from the center. Our route once we left the hotel was a straight shot, taking us to Marienplatz, the main square. Since it was close to 5:00 pm, we looked up at the New Town Hall (constructed starting 1867) along with everyone else.
The building hosted a glockenspiel dating from 1908, which performs at 11:00 am, noon and, in May-October, 5:00 pm.
On the last chime we began the hunt for the Hofbrauhaus. Fortunately, it didn’t take us long to locate this beer hall known for its oompah music, buxom waitresses and tourists. In spite of knowing we were at a place locals probably never set foot in, we enjoyed the spirit and enthusiasm everyone exhibited as they (and, we with them) sampled some of Munich’s beer. Alas, no buxom waitress served us, but the beer tasted just as grand. And, I couldn’t resist one of their pretzels that obviously don’t come in a dainty size.
On the walk home we noticed a line of folk crowded alongside a building. It was only when we looked at the signage did we realize we could have been in any large city around the world and seen the same image-people taking advantage of free wifi outside an Apple store.
DAY 12: Monday, October 27
Knowing we had some walking ahead of us, we hopped the subway, called U-Bahns and S-Bahns, the latter being commuter railways.
We felt our first nips of cold air when touring Munich giving us the first true feel of fall since we left England early October. The sun, too, was hiding but we still managed to walk around Munich checking out some of its lovely green space, such as the manicured park, the Hofgarten,
and the largest city park on the Continent, the English Garden (designed by an American in 1789). If it had been a different time of year, we might have joined any skinny-dipping locals who do enjoy a summer swim and sun-bath along the river’s banks.
In addition to German’s investment in green energy via solar panels and wind, they also put their money where their legs are. I can’t tell you how many bikes we dodged, or they dodged us, as we strolled around Munich and later, Berlin. They and their riders came in all shapes and sizes, and I must admit I would have loved to jump on one myself to tour this city.
Let me say, too, the bicyclists weren’t shy about ensuring their side of the sidewalk designated for bikes were just that, just for bikes. In addition to looking out for car traffic, we now had bike wheels to avoid as well. Made for some interesting walks on crowded routes.
One of the main sites in central Munich is the Residenz, the royal family’s residence from the 14th to 19th century. Munich came about in the 12th century thanks to Henry the Lion and the town’s siting (there it is again-location, location, location) at the crossroads of the salt trade, between Augsburg and Salzburg. Henry built his own bridge over the River Isar after destroying a rival’s. The bridge happened to be by a monastery full of monks, hence the name Munchen. Another 100 years go by and an ambitious merchant family, the Wittelsbachs, take over the town.
Another 100 years and this same family indulge their architectural fantasies by slowly constructing a 90-room home. Building began in the 1300s and continued into the 1800s only to be bombed and later rebuilt after Word War II.
And, boy, did they like fancy stuff. I haven’t seen a lot of palaces but the amount of frou-frou, rococo trimmings made my head spin.
After awhile the rooms all started to blend into one kaleidoscope of richness, and we fast-forwarded the audio guide, especially when the voice began explaining the glories of a table leg.
However, some displays were definitely worth gawking at:
The Antiquarium (mid-1500s): the banquet hall with busts of Roman rulers (nothing like displaying a statue of Caesar to legitimize one’s own rule…) and paintings, including 120 of Bavarian villages used by historians today for landscape authenticity.
The Red Room (1740): contains miniature copies of most famous paintings of the day, created with one-hair brushes (FYI, coral red was the most royal of colors in Germany).
Ancestral Gallery of the Wittelsbach Family (1740s): a hall of faces beginning with portraits of Charlemagne and Ludwig IV, both HREs (Holy Roman Emperors) culminating in a huge family tree.
Once through these rooms, we came to a fork where we could take the longer tour, i.e., even MORE rooms. Both Max and I quickly joined those making a beeline for the exit. The ‘short’ tour was quite enough, thank you very much.
And, as if we didn’t get our fill, we still stopped by the adjacent rooms showcasing the Treasury. Whoo-whee, talk about jewels.
For me, the best Treasury I’ve ever toured was one where it was chronologically displayed, starting with Charlemagne’s crown, globe, and scepter and ending with Napoleon I’s son’s crib. Not only was it easy to follow a linear timeline but also more compelling when items were attached to an individual. Imagining the person who owned or wore the treasure makes the piece more vibrant.
Here, they didn’t do that, so it was a bit confusing. Yet, I can’t say it wasn’t still fascinating. I still like to look at sparkles and exquisite designs… just ask Max :)
Kings and queens love those Saints’ bones, and they have the reliquaries to prove it. Munich, evidently, has more relics than any other city outside of Rome. With Bavaria being the Catholic bastion against the rebellious Protestants, the Munchens (locals) managed to attract tons of these religious icons; and, one of the most beautiful reliquaries I’ve ever seen, not that I go fossil hunting for bits and pieces of dead religious folk, is the jeweled case of St. George slaying that darn dragon (below). It supposedly contained fragments of this said saint.
Fashioned with over 2,000 precious gems, the helmet even lifts up to show, guess who? the ivory face of a Wittelsbach duke. The best tidbit is Pope John Paul II declared dear, dead George a legend, so whose bones dost lie in said jeweled box?…
I think if I were living back then I’d build a house next to a cemetery and start a reliquary business.
Some other noteworthy treasures (to me) were…
the crown Napoleon gave to the Wittelsbachs in appreciation for surrendering in the early 1800s (the little guy then ‘thanked’ the HRE by demoting him to King and giving him this flashy crown; it was never worn because soon after Bavaria went anti-Napoleon with the rest of Europe. So much for thank-yous).
Madame Pompadour’s ink set, which is fascinating due to its historical trail of famous owners.
Enough already, out we go to fresh air and the common plebes such as ourselves. Time to eat.
But, before we did, we managed to poke our noses into St. Peter’s, Munich’s oldest church. We’re glad we did as the church ceiling was filled with floating white doves. Stomachs grumbled, so that was the extent of our touring this site.
A few blocks away is the open-air market, Viktualienmarkt. Although I can’t read German, some of the names are recognizable once you start assigning meanings to part of the words, and this one, similar to the English word for ‘victual’, made sense. Better yet, it lived up to its reputation for there were tons of eating options.
Because there were so many tasty lunch treats, we ended up going for a simple hotdog and stood munching with locals, all of us bundled up against the cold.
After chomping down and an unfortunate pigeon visit, we began our walk home.
DAY 13: Tuesday, October 28
The hills were alive with the sound of music, or so we hummed to ourselves as we drove south towards the Austrian-German border. We didn’t expect to see too many alps considering the day became foggier and foggier the closer we came to the border, but it was nice to escape the city and buildings. (I don’t know about you, but we get museumed-out; so, a respite from feeling an obligation to see famous art and architecture is always an R&R day for us.)
Within an hour or so we arrived at Tegernsea, a village hugging the shoreline of a small lake only to snap photos of ‘Alps in Fog’.
However, undeterred we continued a circular route (remember, this is a Max and Lynnie drive) now gearing up for some other Bavarian sites.
And, we’re glad we did for the sun started peeking out,
enabling us to stop for more photo ops along a river.
Then, in spite of a GSP, we crossed into Austria (where you aren’t suppose to drive without a special permit, one we didn’t have).
Quickly exiting, we got back to the ‘right’ side and drove west towards Disneyland’s castle, Neuschwanstein, stopping for a coffee in a small village that looked charming but where locals glanced at us suspiciously. The coffees took for-EVER to get in spite of being one of the two small tables occupied. As we finally raised ours to sip, Max noticed a poor cyclist sitting at an outside table who probably is still waiting for his beverage…
Back in the car we followed the GPS and paper map to Mad King Ludwig II’s castles. This king got a bad rap. Yes, he was a weak king, opting to indulge in pleasures versus politics-both his northern neighbor (Prussia) and southern (Austria) were domineering; but, he wasn’t necessary mad as in loco-mad. If it wasn’t for him, Disneyland’s iconic castle could have been less spectacular. What Ludwig II (1845-86) did was build romantic castles, using the latest technology: Neuschwanstein, in which he only lived 177 days after 17 years of construction; and, Hohenschwangau, his boyhood home and family hunting lodge. In 1886 he was declared mentally unfit (primarily due to his lack of interest in politics and his ability to spend lavishly on art and architecture), and two days later was found floating in a lake. A bit odd…
[Something I read later concerning Ludwig’s sexuality was extremely interesting: For a brief period in Bavaria (1813 until the unification of Germany 1871) homosexuality wasn’t punishable. Compared to other industrialized countries, this was remarkable. Way to go, Bavaria!]
One would think it’d be easy to find these two, rather large landmarks, but no. No signs specifically said “Neuschwanstein”. We asked twice where it was only to find out we had driven by the sign, twice. That’s because the signs say “Konigsschlasser” for king’s castles.
We did find them as well as the first indication ‘we were there’ once we drove into a parking lot
but only hiked a bit to take a photo or two of Hohenschwangau (we had read other castle tours, like in Eltz and Meersburg, presented better ideas of castle-living).
On the way back to the main road we did spot an unusual site: a para-glider out for an afternoon float.
Sun was shining, alps seen, castles viewed… time to head home for our last night in Munich.
DAY 14: Wednesday, October 29
Continuing north along The Romantic Road from Munich, there was another site to see-Hitler’s Nurnberg. (Seems a bit odd to be on a route evoking love and happiness when one of the places is synonymous with Hitler.)
An excellent museum, the Nazi Documentation Center, was our destination. Sitting a bit on the outskirts, this center was located in part of Hitler’s unfinished Congress Hall and next to the Rally Grounds and Zeppelin Field.
(Just to remind us of how things change, right outside the center they were either putting up or taking down carnival tents.)
The Center attempts to explain how Nazism came to be through people’s fascination with and terror of this evil doctrine. The exhibit is set up as a walk through history beginning with World War I and ending with the allied victory of World War II. We saw footage of Leni Riefenstahl’s 1934 classic Triumph of the Will and listened to Germans describing life under Hitler, some as young girls enthralled with the Nazism pageantry and others as survivors of concentration camps.
Photographs, newspaper clippings and propaganda materials filled the brick walls encasing us in the rise and fall of Nazism. Some we recognized, such as Sophie Scholl, who was guillotined for her involvement in the non-violent resistance group, the White Rose. You can’t escape the feeling of terror so many felt at the hands of this regime.
Once outside we ended up at Zeppelin Field, the site of mass rallies and raised-arm salutes. It was a cool, dreary day, one well-suited for viewing some of Hitler’s monstrosities.
The Americans blew up the oversized Nazi rooster (eagle) sitting atop the columned backdrop after the 1945, April 21st ceremony celebrating the US victory.
Just this year engineers have been analyzing the construction. Potentially, there’s a ten-year plan to preserve the Zeppelin Grandstand and Field, symbols of Hitler’s rule. As Max stated, compared to the Coliseum built over 2,000 years earlier, Nurnberg’s buildings designed by Albert Speer to glorify Hitler’s National Socialism certainly didn’t last long. Thank god.
A sigh of relief escaped our lips when we were back in the car. We were leaving this ugly reminder behind, replacing it with another step back in history, actually quite a few steps. Better yet, our next stop was like frolicking in a festive snow globe filled with sparkles.