Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Somber Day

MUNICH -- One of the great things about this trip is Scott and I are kind of just making our itinerary up as we go along. While on the plane, we noticed that there is a town within range of the Munich subway called Dachau, and upon further review, we discovered it is the same, infamous Dachau-- where one finds the Dachau concentration camp (called "Gedenkstatte"). We went there on Saturday (I am writing this on Sunday morning, which has dawned sunny-- our second straight day of good weather).

The subway system here is fantastic. It's similar to what I saw in Berlin when I was there in 2000. S-Bahn trains cover a large area outside of Munich, including to the airport; whereas U-Bahn trains cover more ground within Munich itself. To get to Dachau, we took an S-Bahn train.

While the system is great, it's not exactly a simple task for an American to buy a train ticket. Each station has ticket machines, but everything is in German (there's a way to push a button on the machine that looks like a flag to change the language, but I haven't been able to get it to work). So basically picture us taking at least five extra minutes for each subway ride spent in front of this ticket machine, trying to figure out how to make it work. When it finally did, we would raise our hands in triumph. Which is all the more ironic since they don't even check the tickets when you get into the station or on the train-- not once has anyone even asked for our ticket.

As you could probably imagine, Dachau is a pretty terrible place. It's not where one would go to laugh. Hidden behind a relatively new housing complex, and accessible via a discreet path, the Bavarian state has preserved as much as it can from the World War II days. Two of the more than 30 original bunkers where prisoners lived have been reconstructed, and there is a very nice museum and gift shop (as soon as you can find the entrance). Scott and I took a two hour tour that was fantastic. It included a trip to the incinerator and gas chamber. In a bit of dark irony, the gas chamber at Dachau was never used, for once it was completed late in the war, the Nazi's found they no longer had enough coal to burn the bodies once they were dead -- the Allies had bombed the large German coal mines by that point.

We tried to figure out why our tour guide did what she did. She was a volunteer, has been doing tours for eight years, and has a full time job as a marketing researcher. Her English is very good. We decided she must have had a relative who was either an inmate at Dachau or a member for the SS (Secret Police) that inflicted the terror on Dachau's subjects. By the way, two random facts: Dachau is pronounced without the "c," and we actually saw "Dachau II," since it was the second camp built there-- the first was torn down in 1937.

The trip to Dachau sandwiched two excursions into Munich's city center, which is less than a mile from our hotel. In the morning, after breakfast, we went downtown to Marienplatz, the city square where there is currently a large Christmas Market, and we climbed the tower of the Glockenspiel, which is in the middle of the "New Town Hall" in Marienplatz, to take pictures of the view. We could not see the Alps, but at least it was sunny on Saturday and we could see the famous Munich view of the Olympic park (we're going there today, Sunday).

After Dachau, we went back to Marienplatz to have dinner at the Ratskeller restaurant. Then we took the U-bahn out to a neighborhood called Schwabing, north of the city center, to visit a couple of bars. Schwabing is a young and hip section of town. We could tell this because there are a lot of places to buy pizza and greasy food late at night, and there were a bunch of Starbucks and a chain of coffee shops called "San Francisco Coffee Company." (Wonder if San Francisco knows they're here?)

Which brings us to day two of our random observation section:

1) Munich is a very friendly town. Scott and I like it a lot. It's far friendlier that what I remember about Berlin, which is good since I was judging all of Germany based on that trip, which brings up a very important point:

2) We have yet to see a single German flag flying here. We're in the state of Bavaria (Munich is its capital city). Bavaria is known as a friendly, good natured area. Well, Munich sees itself more as Bavaria than as Germany. Pops, the elderly man we met at the beer hall the first night, says Berlin is not in Bavaria and so Berlin is not as nice. In any event, the Bavarian flag is a white and blue checkerboard. We've seen that a few places, however, it's not plastered everywhere. More importantly, not one German flag.

3) Everyone here speaks English. I mean everyone. We crashed a fortieth birthday party at a small Schwabing bar, and even though everyone was speaking in German, they had a "Happy Birthday" sign in English hanging in the main room.

By the way, the woman who turned forty was at the wall in 1989 when it came down. They showed a photo of her on top of it as part of this projected slide-show roast at the party. It was a very powerful picture, though few in the room reacted. We think that maybe going to the wall in 1989 was common for people in there 20s. Kind of like the protests in the U.S. during Vietnam.

By virtue of where we were sitting, we were in pretty much all of the key photos taken at the birthday party. Which means when they show them at this woman's fiftieth birthday party, everyone is going to wonder who the h*** we are.

Today, Sunday, we leave Munich to travel to Prague. I should be able to get online at the hotel there.

Editor's Note: The photos on these posts are taken from other websites (Scott showed me how to do it). They are not taken by me. I forgot the cable to connect my camera to the computer. Real photos I have taken will have to wait...

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