I have begun to think that the amount of time you need in any new environment is a single afternoon. By the end of that time you start to get your bearings; those unfamiliar signs become easier to read and you start to feel if not home, at the very least vaguely settled.
A city will rise up to meet you, I think, not when you embrace only the things which you find familiar, but rather when you dive, with wondrous abandon into everything else that is rather wonderfully and unashamedly different.
As dawn broke over Munich, Germany on our second day, we slept. (Read about our first day here). Fortunately the time difference gave us an hour back and by all holiday standards we were still up early. The hotel we stayed in put on the most amazing breakfast, which frankly I had not expected. On offer were three different varieties of muesli which were out shone only by four different platters of charcuterie, three different boards of cheese and a large and overflowing basket boasting fresh breads, croissants and pretzels. We persevered right through to the end for the soft boiled eggs and hot buttered toast; a final slice of which could be topped with chunky fruit jam or the option of Nutella. We were in breakfast heaven. (We stole the Nutella.)
Dear Husband was so excited for the first part of this day – he runs his own bucket list and this one was up there alongside flying his own jet and visiting Alcatraz. We set off for the town of Dachau, a forty minute train ride outside of Munich, to undertake a tour of the KZ Gedenkstaette Dachau – Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site.
I was prepared for horror and harrowing images of concentration camp scenes; we have all seen them. What I was not expecting however was the deep feeling of despair, sadness and overwhelming loss that hangs thick and heavy in the air over the Dachau Concentration Camp site. We spent more than four hours walking the grounds of the memorial and listening intently to the audio guides; the voices of soldiers, survivors and redeemers bringing the rooms, the dormitories and the execution chambers at the top end of Camp Road to an eery kind of life.
I left well educated. There was so much about the camps I did not know. Dachau was the first and thus the prototype for all the other camps to come. In the 12 years of its existence, over 41,500 Jews, Germans, Austrians, Soviet Union Nationals, Frenchmen, Italians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Homesexuals and Emigrants lost their lives to its terror. It is unfathomable. A visit to Dachau is a history lesson that makes you weak to your knees, because to turn your face to its truth will break your heart and challenge any hope you hold in the goodness of mankind, and the intelligence of its majority.
Yet the Dachau Memorial has a unique beauty. The observance of quiet and silence; a tribute of respect to every single life lost, both known and unknown is significant. It is a place of great sorrow and somber remembrance. It is in the remembering that each life that endured the depths of fear and hopelessness at the hands of a merciless persecutor is validated and counted.
Writing now about such significance in a memorial stirs me to add a quick aside. I am so deeply saddened by the vandalism and tearing down of statues that belong to the unique (warts and all) history of South Africa. We have to remember for there to be a Never Again. My hope is for a leadership that will inspire a mindset that seeks to remember and preserve all the edges of an unflattering past. Fallen statues erase naught, drive up discontent and steer money away from those who need it. There must be a path which honours all that was lost by those who went before, reflecting hard earned beauty in the ashes.
It is a powerful place, Dachau. A symbol to light the way of those yet to come; a silent plea from an overflowing grave in two simple words “Never Again.”
From Dachau we returned to Munich with heavy spirits which needing lifting. Like an intuitive hostess Munich welcomed us back through her bicycle lined streets and waiting open air cafes. We strolled along streets we had not yet seen and window shopped in stores we had no budget to buy from. While Dear Husband caught up on some emails, I sneaked in a return visit to the market. Not since I was 5 have I ever so badly wanted to be the girl on a bicycle with a basket filled with market bought bread and flowers in front.
Sometimes, regardless of everything seasoned travelers tell you not to do, you just need to embrace the tourist thing and go to the Hofbrauhaus for dinner anyway, because Oompa Band and Lederhosen. It was a riot and exactly the way I wanted to spend my last night in Munich.
Dear Husband ordered a beer and received one as big as his head. That beer outlived his slow cooked pork and potato dumplings. I stuck to my attempt to try every sausage in Bavaria, but added sauerkraut for true authenticity. I did have a taste of that enormous beer but rather enjoyed my decision to drink a glass of wine in the world’s most famous beer hall. Am very posh.
We were joined at our table by a group of very non English speaking German men and we all nodded excitedly at one another and clinked glasses and said “Prost!” a little too often. We left before them and they stole our leftover bread before we were even out the door.
My top tips for Munich.
- If you travel with a friend (up to 5 of them) always buy a partner pass ticket for the trains. You save on every ticket.
- Validate your tickets before you get on any train. If you buy from the self –service machines they will definitely not be validated. If you buy from the help desk, they may or may not validate for you so best to check. The validation machines are blue and often at the top of the escalator or stairs before you head down to the trains.
- It is possible to use the trains and / or buses to avoid the 10 km walk we did on most days. But walk if you are able. So many of the lovely things, gorgeous buildings and interesting places that we saw we would have missed entirely if not on foot.
- Re: 3 above. Wear comfortable shoes. It was a daily fight against vanity but my trainers were my best friends.
- When visiting Dachau from Munich buy the Munich XX1 Dachau Day pass which covers your return train and bus ride to and from the memorial.
- Water can be expensive. Many places charged €3 for a 500 ml bottle but street vendors and supermarkets sell the same bottle for about €1 – €1.50, so rather buy there. Beer is cheaper than cool drink.
- Stay close to Marienplatz. Our hotel was in the perfect location, so close to everything. It was clean and comfortable with an amazing breakfast. We never needed a taxi. There is the Viktualian Market and plenty of restaurants close by to choose from.
- Marienplatz is just two stops away from Hauptbahnhof Central Station from which you can buy all regional and international train tickets.
- Try to understand the train system and all the different tickets before you go. Knowing exactly where we were going, in what zones and which tickets we would need beforehand really helped.
- We missed the summer crowds which meant we were able to buy tickets on every train we wanted. This will undoubtedly not be the same experience for you if you travel in high season.
- We travelled in early spring (mid-March). The weather was mild I guess for Germany, but we really felt the cold, unaccustomed as we are to European winter. We had good jackets and scarves and hats and found it bearable and even pleasant enough to enjoy being outside even at night.
I was definitely not ready to say goodbye, but Venice awaited.