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Munich!

Now I know that I had said I would be taking a slight sojourn from the “where I have been going on weekends” types of blogs, however last week a trip sort of just fell into my lap, and I could not pass it up.  Initially when I knew I was going to be studying abroad in the fall, one of the places and events I wanted to attend more than anything was Oktoberfest in Munich.  However, I came to find out that Oktoberfest doesn’t really take place in October, but rather the last weeks of September, and because I had waited so long to try and make sure I wasn’t going to be missing class, I unfortunately missed it.  Aside from just wanting to experience Oktoberfest, I had heard from many people that Munich itself was just an awesome and beautiful city to visit, so naturally it was still on my list of travel destinations.  But because of time and travel companion issues, I did not know if I would be able to make it there.

However, last Tuesday a group of us were going out for a girl, Melanie’s, birthday, and as we were talking I found out that she and another girl were going to Munich that weekend.  I immediately expressed my desire to go, and they offered that I join them.  I knew from experience that tickets and hostels would be already booked and/or very expensive, so I was skeptical but decided to look into it.  Luckily for me as well, the two girls had already booked and paid for a hotel room and offered to let me stay with them free of charge! Now that was a deal I just could not pass up.  So the next morning I checked out ticket prices and after much deliberation and discussion with my parents, I decided that it was worth the extra travel expense to go when I knew I would have some companions and when I wouldn’t have the added cost of accommidation.  So I booked the flight and began plans to leave in a matter of a couple days.

Friday came quickly, and the next thing I knew I was on a bus to Edinburgh and on my way to Munich.  After a and hour bus ride, a quick exchange at the Mayberry Junction to the Airlink bus, an hour long flight delay, and a two and a half hour flight, we were in Munich.  From the airport we caught the O-Ban train to the Munchen Hauptbanhof (Munich Central Station).  It was getting to be pretty late once we finally got there so all of the shops and tourist information booths were closed, so I had to use what German I know (Spreken zie English?) to help orient ourselves and find the hotel.  After a few backtracks we finally found the hotel and crashed for the night.

The next morning we woke up early and enjoyed a complementary breakfast, complete with classic German sausages and pretzals.  We then made our way to Marienplatz and the Glockenspiel.

Marienplatz (Mary’s Square) and the Old Town Hall

New Town Hall

Glockenspiel

From my friends who had visited previously, I knew that there were free tours of the city offered every day, and we received the necessary info about where and when to meet from our hotel.  We had some time to burn before the tours began so we wandered around a bit and stumbled upon a wonderful open market full of wonderful looking foods and handmade goods.

After a quick look around and a few samples we made our way back to Marienplatz to meet up with our tour group.  The tours are run by a company called New Europe and the tour guides are paid based on tips only, aside from some of the paid tours that are also offered.  Our tour guide was a wonderfully enthusiastic little Irishman who knew an immense amount about German history and it was a great way to get a first look at the city and learn something in the process.

Largest Catholic Church in Munich, I can’t remember the name. Munich is a very Catholic city, and Muchen translates to something like “City of the Monks”

Inside the church is this original footprint.  Legend is that it is the foot of Satan because people believed that the builder of the church was in league with the devil because it was built so quickly.

Inside the Church. Current Pope Benedict used to be the priest of this church.

Another Catholic church we visted.  Again I can’t remember the name…

I do however remember it is known as “The White Cathedral” for obvious reasons.

Dodger’s Alley Monument

On the ground you notice a small golden strip.  During the rein of the Third Reich, a large Nazi banner hung a little further on along the road to the right.  As people passed it, they were required to do the Nazi Salute or risk getting beat.  However, those opposed to the Nazi party would cut across to the other side of the square through this alley to avoid the banner and having to salute.  This gold strip is a monument to all of those people.

Munich was the center of the Nazi movement and the repercussions are still present and something that the people of Munich deal with on a nearly daily basis.  There are multiple little unsuspecting monuments such as this scattered throughout the city as silent tributes.

Me in front of arguably the most famous attraction in Munich, the Hofbrauhaus Beer Hall.

Munich Maypole

Maypoles are a Bavarian tradition and each town has it’s own pole.  In the month of May, if a neighboring town manages to steal your Maypole, YOU have to throw THEM a huge party in order to get it back.  The tradition still exists today.

Biergarten in Munich City Center

We decided not to eat here after the tour because this particular Biergarten rotates among the seven Munich brewed beers, and at the time it was serving Spaten, which according to our tour guide and the locals was the out and out worst.

Instead, we joined Kieth, our tour guide and guy on the right, at a different restaurant where we were offered a 2 for 1 deal on drinks.  I gave his favorite, the Paulaner Original, and Paulaner Dunkel (dark) a try with my sausage and fries. I was definitely more partial to the Dunkel, but that’s just me.

The tour was incredibly informative and we all learned alot, not just about the buildings themselves, but the history behind them and Munich in general as well.  We learned about the rise of the Third Reich, Crystile Nacht or Night of Broken Glass which was the first direct targeting of the Jewish population in Munich, and that many of the buildings in Munich have been built in the last 60 yrs because much of Munich was destroyed during bombing raids during WWII.

During the tour we also learned that the company also sponsored a “Beer Challenge”, which was an evening tour in which guides lead groups around the city to different beer halls to sample some of the most famous Munchen brews.  As part of the tour you also receive two free beers.  The challenge peaked our interest and we were set on participating later in the afternoon.  We had a few hours to kill before it started, so we wandered the city by ourselves and did some souvenir hunting.

Pedestrian street lined with shops.

At six, we made our way to the Hauptbanhof to buy our tickets and meet up with the group.  Lots of other college-aged kids showed up for the challenge and we quickly made friends and swapped travel stories.  At the station we were given our first beer to drink on the way to the first beer hall.  In Germany it is legal to drink in public anywhere, anytime, with the sole exception of in churches.

Unfortunately the reservations fell through at one of our stops, and because we lost track of Mel, one of the girls who invited me along on the trip, during the transition from the 2nd to 3rd stop, we only made it to 2.  Luckily we found Mel with a few other people from the tour back at the Hauptbanhof and then we went to a bar with them for the rest of the night.  So although we didn’t fully complete the Beer Challenge, it was a great time and I suppose my 8 euros was just a downpayment on some friends for the night.

Hofbrauhaus- Stop #1

Beer #2- Hofbrau Dunkel, quite possibly my all-time favorite beer.

As it turns out, this guy, Mike, was also a member of my fraternity, DKE.  He is in the Delta Phi Chapter at the University of Alberta in Canada.  What a small world!

After 2 hours at the Hofbrauhaus we headed to the Augustiner Beer Hall, home of one of the oldest beers in Munich.

Beer #3- Augustiner Original- the current Pope’s favorite beer.   This one was definitely my second favorite.

Now the challenge was not just about drinking, but learning about Bavarian beer and beer culture as well.  We learned that there are governing laws about the purity of German beer that they can only contain three ingredients, namely barley, hops, and water (yeast was added later after they learned more about the science of fermentation, but they still consider it just the three).  Beer that contains anything other than these three ingredients was originally not allowed to even be sold in Germany, but after pressure for foreign brewries, the nation changed the law to allow outside companies to sell in the majority of the country, however the law still holds true in Bavaria.  As a result of this purity of beer, locals claim that you can’t get a hangover from German beer.  I won’t say if they were right or not…   We also learned that when cheers-ing, you hit glasses at the bottom and look the person right in the eye.  If you fail to do so, you will be cursed with seven years bad sex.

The next morning, after a glorious extra hour of sleep thanks to daylight savings, we awoke and once again made our way to Marienplatz to meet up with New Europe, this time for a tour to the Dachau Concentration Camp.  We had read that it was close to Munich and had planned on going, and on arriving in Munich learned that there we tours offered, so we once again joined Kieth for the day.

Dachau was the first concentration camp set up by the Third Reich and all subsequent camps were modeled after it.  Next to Dachau was the “School of Terror”, a place where Nazi soldiers were trained and essentially brainwashed by the Nazi’s.  The concentration camp at Dachau was a men’s only camp and originally was just for political enemies to be “re-educated”.  However, as time went on and the Nazi’s began targeting the Jewish populations more heavily, both the overall number of prisoners and Jewish prisoner percentage skyrocketed.

The camp was originally designed for approximately 2,000 men, however when it was liberated by US forces, over 40,000 men were being held their.  During the course of it’s operation, over 60,000 men were murdered.  That may seem a staggering number, however, as a work camp, it was relatively small compared to other death camps in Germany at the time such as Auswitz, which were created with the sole purpose of exterminating the Jewish population.  At Dachau, aside from the obvious factors of overcrowding, poor hygiene, lack of food/adequate clothing etc, some of the main killers were the medical experiments conducted on the prisoners.  One of the more famous examples of these were studies on the bodily effects of hypothermia and how to treat it.  Prisoners were frozen until near death and then the researchers attempted to revive them.  Men were subjected to this over and over again, driving them to madness and subsequently to death.  Although it is hard to see any good come of this, the discoveries made at Dachau in respect to hypothermia are used in the training of US Marines and Navy cadets.

Our tour lasted for about 4-5 hours and we learned an immense amount about the period and of course Dachau specifically.

“The School of Terror” where members of the SS were trained

Entrance to Dachau

“Arbeit Macht Frei”- Work brings freedom.

Main work area in Dachau

Prisoners were required to line up and stand at attention every day for up to 3 or 4 hours to be counted and to teach them discipline.  They were also required to complete pointless tasks such as building a wall, tearing it down, moving the bricks to the other side of the square and rebuilding it, over and over again.

Bunks during the early phases of the camp.  The SS attempted to control ever aspect of the prisoners lives and torment them in any way possible. A perfect example of this is the shelves above the beds.  Their sole purpose was to just remind prisoners that they had nothing to put on them.

As overcrowding began to be an issue, the beds were redesigned to try and accomidate the extra bodies.  However, when the camp was liberated, this room, designed for 250 prisoners, had over 2,000 men living in it.

Building where prisoners who misbehaved were kept in solitary confinement and tortured.

Some men were kept in a completely dark room for up to months at a time, rendering them blind once they were finally released.  Another common form of torture was to tie a prisoners hands behind their back and hang them from the ceiling, essentially tearing all the shoulder muscles and tendons.

The screams that came from this building were so gruesome and constant, that the guards themselves began to develop psychological issues.

Guard tower, electric fence and remnants of a moat that used to surround the entire grounds.  If a prisoner so much a stepped on the grass leading to the moat they were to be shot immediately.  Many prisoners, in an effort to earn back some of their “freedom” in their final moments, would run, jump the canal and attempt to kill themselves on the fence so as have some amount of control over their death.

Gas/Extermination Chamber- here the proper ratio of chemical ingredients was tested for use at other camps.

As I said before, Dachau was never an extermination camp, however a significant number of people did loose their lives in this very chamber.

“Memorial to the Anonymous Prisoner”

Expanse of the Dachau Camp. Each of the rectangles represents where a barracks once stood.

Our trip to Dachau was an incredibly powerful and heavily emotional experience, and as I sit and write, I again feel the chills I did while I was there.  Although a very somber and at times slightly unnerving experience, it is one that I would highly recommend to anyone traveling in Germany if the opportunity is there.  It makes the magnitude and tragedy of the Holocaust a real thing, rather than just numbers on a page.

When returned to Munich, we were still in a slightly dreary mood from our trip to Dachau, and the girls were exhausted both physically and mentally.  They decided to return to the hotel for a nap, but I opted to go and explore some more of the city on my own.  It was a wonderful experience to be alone with my thoughts, visiting some of the, in my opinion, most beautiful parts of the city.

Englischer Gardens

Munich skyline at sunset

Chinese Tower and Biergarten

You can’t go to Munich without getting a giant pretzel!

After wandering till dark, I met Mel and Blythe back at the hotel and we headed back to the Hofbrauhaus for dinner and drinks.  At dinner we got to talking to the two gentlemen sitting next to us, and it turns out the one of them was actually a professor at Strathclyde University in Glasgow!  What a small world indeed.  We also happened to see some of the people we met on the beer tour the night before and hung out with them for the rest of the night.

Mel, Blythe and I at the Hofbrau

Glockenspiel  by night

The next morning we had just a few hours before we needed to make our way back to the airport, so after a failed attempt to find the massive Oktoberfest fields just to say we saw them, I took the girls to the Englischer Gardens where I was the day before to enjoy the sunny weather before heading back to rainy Glasgow.

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Munich and am so glad that I took advantage of the opportunity.  Germany is truly a beautiful and well developed country and this, along with my trip to northern Germany at the beginning of the summer to visit my girlfriend, has prompted me to say that it may in fact be one of my favorite countries in the world.  It is a place that, if I spoke any German, would actually consider living in.  It is a very welcoming country with a fascinating history and hardworking people and although a very modern country, it still has that old European feel that I love.  I will never forget my experience here, thanks to this mammoth of a blog (I do apologize), and I hope that I will be able to return to Germany sometime in the future.

Auf wiedersehen!

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