Two Days in Munich- April 17th and 18th: Marienplatz and Dachau
Sunday, April 17th
On Sunday, we had a 9 am flight out of Heathrow to Munich. We woke up at 4 am to be sure we had enough time to get to the ariport. It’s a good thing we left early, because as it turns out, the Tube has limited hours on Sunday. I did research before I left, but there were still some unexpected wrinkles concerning the bus and train schedule that I missed. We took a bus from our flat to Paddington station, but the train we needed would not be running quite early enough to get to Heathrow in time. So, we had to take the very expensive Heathrow Express. Since we had 15 minutes before the train left, we bought our tickets, then walked next door to get breakfast. Nathan likes to experience the differences in McDonald’s menu choices in each country. So, we went to the McDonald’s that was next to the train station. Personally, I prefer not to eat at American restaurants when I travel abroad. But, it was right there, so it made sense to eat there.
The Heathrow Express leaves every 15 minutes and it takes only 15 minutes to get to the airport. However, if I ever have to leave London on a Sunday again, I will take the Heathrow Connect instead. It takes twice as long, but costs half as much.
After going through security at Heathrow we had plenty of time to get second breakfast, so we did! I found a little Au Bon Pain type café, and the guys found various other places to eat. I have had more than one person tell me that the service and personnel at Heathrow was terrible, but our experience was very positive. Everyone was polite and helpful throughout the airport, including security. Our flight was on Lufthansa to Munich; I always enjoy flying Lufthansa, because the seats are so roomy and the service is always professional and efficient.
We arrived in Munich at noon and headed to the rental car counter. Since we would be traveling throughout Southern Germany and to France, we had rented a car before we left the States. Being the more assertive driver–and Germans are very aggressive drivers–Ivan elected to have me start out driving. Christian did not care to drive, because he was exhausted from his Semester at Sea (SAS) adventures, and from staying out all night in London with his SAS friends. And, Nathan just wasn’t interested in driving, so I ended up doing all the driving on this trip. Which was fine, because that meant more autobahn drive time for me!
Since our check-in time for our lodging wasn’t until 2 pm, we decided to find somewhere to eat. We headed to Marienplatz, Munich’s most famous square. We ended up eating at Hans im Glück Burgergrill. It is named for a Grimm fairy tale, Hans in Luck. I really liked the ambiance– that of a peaceful wood. I thought it was odd that the waitress asked for a tip, because it’s not customary to tip in Germany. Usually you just round up. Waitstaff in Germany make a living wage and don’t expect to be tipped, and I didn’t think the service warranted 10% as she requested. However, my husband did tip her 10%, since he didn’t want to look cheap. I’m pretty sure she only asked us because we’re Americans.
Anyway, after lunch (I didn’t want a burger, so I didn’t actually eat) we walked around a bit, looking for Marienplatz. I got turned around (I hadn’t been to Munich since 2002), but we finally found it. Since it was drizzly and nothing was open on Sunday, we took a few pictures and headed back to the flat to check in.
The place I booked for our stay rents rooms and apartments, a hybrid between a hotel and apartment living. It offers rooms and apartments for short or long term stay. I chose this place because the rooms came with kitchenettes, and there was a complimentary breakfast. After we put our luggage away, we had planned on going to BMW Welt, but the boys both decided they were too tired, so we left them in their room to sleep. When we got to BMW Welt, there were signs indicating that it was closed for an event. As we were directed to turn back around by the Polizei, we could see beautifully coiffed people getting out of fabulous cars and going in the building for some special affair. What was frustrating was that I had checked the operating hours before we left the U.S., and the site indicated that it would be open on Sunday evening until midnight!
In the end, it was for the best that BMW Welt was closed. I was so tired I kept falling asleep while we were sitting in the car trying to pull up the directions to the place before we even left the apartment. So, we headed back to the flat in the drizzly rain. I was hungry, and decided I wanted a tasty treat from my high school days living in Germany– Wienerwald roasted chicken. We used our phones to find the nearest one and were thrilled to discover it was actually open on Sunday! After getting our chicken to go we stopped by a convenience store to buy drinks. We would have to wait until Monday to do some real grocery shopping.
Monday, April 18th
Next morning, we enjoyed a very extensive German breakfast buffet. I was expecting it to be more along the lines of a continental breakfast, but there were some warm offerings as well. On the itinerary for today was to go to Aldi, which was nearby to get some snacks and water, then drive to Dachau. Dachau, the infamous Nazi concentration camp is about a 30 minute drive from Munich. I had already been to Sachsenhausen, which is north of Berlin with my sister and daughter in 2011. So, I had mentally prepared myself for Dachau. However, for some reason, I did not find Dachau to be as unnerving an experience. But it may have been because Sachsenhausen had prepared me for this place. I have heard some say that Dachau is much more sterile, and so you do not have the same experience as at Sachsenhausen or some of the other camp memorials. I do not know what the difference was. However, at Sachsenhausen we took the audio tour, while at Dachau we had a personal guide.
After leaving the information center, we walked down a gravel path; we stopped briefly for the tour guide to give us an introduction (pictured below) and some stats on the camp and the surrounding town of Dachau. After the war, the US Army at one time had an elementary school here– Dachau American Elementary School as there was a military Kaserne for guards. As we walked down the gravel path towards the entry gate, I kept finding earthworms that had come up to the surface due to the previous day’s drizzle. I decided that in this place of pain and death, I could at least save these worms from being trodden on by the many visitors at the camp that day. I grew up fishing with my dad, so worms don’t bother me. As we walked toward the camp, I moved worms from the gravel to the grass.
Then we arrived at the gate house. Here, we saw the famous “Arbeit macht frei” sign on the front gate. This sign was first erected at the Oranienburg camp (later becoming Sachsenhausen) in 1933. It was also ordered to be erected here by SS General Eicke. On the wall of the gate house, there are two plaques (pictured below) that commemorate the US Army 20th Armored Division and the 7th Army, respectively, for liberating the camp on April 29th, 1945. Almost exactly 71 years before the day we were standing there. Because there were so many sub-camps, there were actually several units credited with liberation: the 4th Infantry Division, 36th Infantry Division, 42nd Infantry Division, 45th Infantry Division, 63rd Infantry Division, 99th Infantry Division, 103rd Infantry Division, 10th Armored Division, 12th Armored Division, 14th Armored Division, 20th Armored Division, and the 101st Airborne Division.
As we walked through the gate house, we were reminded that for tens of thousands of victims entering these gates, they would never leave this place. Over a 12 year period 200, 000 prisoners passed through Dachau and its subsidiary camps– 41,500 were murdered. You first come to the inscription written on a black wall: “May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1933 and 1945 because of their fight against National Socialism unite the living in their defense of peace and freedom and in reverence of human dignity.” And behind this wall you see the monument below, created by Yugoslavian artist and concentration camp survivor, Nandor Glid. It was dedicated in 1968.
Our tour guide took us to one of the remaining barracks (a replica). Whereas the majority of prisoners at Sachenshausen, north of the German capital of Berlin were primarily political prisoners [after the war, it was a Soviet work camp mainly for Nazis], Dachau’s population was comprised mostly of Polish prisoners, with Soviets being the second highest number of prisoners. This did not mean it was not used to murder Jews, it was. And like Sachsenhausen, its victims included political prisoners, homosexuals, Roma and Sinti, Jehovah’s Witnesses and priests. Pictured below is one of the remaining barracks exterior and interiors. A total of 34 barracks were located on either side of the camp road. This is a similar layout to the one we saw at Sachsenhausen, which the Nazis used in most of their death camps. Although the camp was built to house 6,000 inmates, when it was built in 1933. In 1940, it is recorded that 13,000 prisoners were sent here from Poland. However, from 1944 it became increasingly overcrowded, with 63,000 souls housed at Dachau and its subsidiary camps. Thus adding to the horror and suffering. The SS soldiers would cram people into the barracks, with inmates laying in the bunk beds (pictured below) similar to sardines in a can. In addition, to overcrowding, forced evacuation marches and malnutrition led to a typhus epidemic. On April 29, 1945, when the US Army liberated the camp, they discovered 30,000 enfeebled prisoners. Of this number 10,000 were ill with typhus.
As in all the Nazi run camps, the prisoners’ uniforms had badges sewn to them in the shape of inverted triangles of various colors (pictured below). This was part of the Nazi identification system: yellow for Jews, pink for homosexuals, green for criminals, red for political prisoners, purple for Jehovah’s Witnesses, black for all ‘asocials’ (Roma and Sinti, nonconformists, vagrants, mentally ill, prostitutes, draft dodgers and pacifists to name a few).
The wide open area between the International Memorial and the barracks, (where my sons are standing above) is the roll-call square. This area could accommodate forty to fifty thousand people. It was used for roll call every morning and every evening. This is where work assignments were given out. Roll call was also a part of the torture. Prisoners could be made to stand for hours and beaten for wavering. Next, our guide led us down the camp road, which dead ends near the religious remembrance sites to the right and the crematorium to the left.
It was through the efforts of former prisoner and catholic priest Johannes Newhäusler that the Mortal Agony of Christ Chapel was erected in 1960 (pictured below). It faces the camp–its open circular form was designed to symbolize liberation from captivity by Christ. The memorial bell tower on the left was donated by former Austrian inmates. It’s inscription reads: “In faithful memory of our dead comrades of all nations, dedicated by Dachau priests and laymen from Austria.” In the background of this picture, you can see the white gables of the Carmelite Convent. Some former prisoners, including Newhäusler are buried there. A bit further on is the Protestant Church of Reconciliation (not pictured). This church is set into the ground, which forces the visitor to go down below the surface to reach a courtyard through a narrow dark hallway. We did not get to go inside, as the tour continued on to the left on the path towards the crematorium.
The Jewish Memorial, which is to the right of the chapel (upper right picture), is made of basalt lava. It is shaped like a ramp and the railing is reminiscent of the barbed wire that surrounded the camp. It was dedicated May 7, 1967. The entrance has the following psalm engraved above it: “Put them in fear, O Lord: that the nations may know themselves to be but men. Selah.” (9, 21).
Finally, the Russian-Orthodox Chapel, which was dedicated on April 29, 1995, sits on the outside of the camp between the fence and the crematorium. It is octagonal and sits on a hill filled mainly with soil from the Soviet Union. The main icon depicts the resurrected Christ leading the inmates out of their barracks and through the gate held open by angels. Two other icons show Jesus’ final prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane and Pilate presenting him to the people with the words “Ecce homo.” The chapel is used for private prayer and regular religious services.
Pictured above is the description of how the perimeter fence system worked. As indicated on the sign, there were seven SS-manned watchtowers around the camp. If a prisoner entered the prohibited zone, he was shot. As was the case at Sachsenhausen, some prisoners would run into this area on purpose to end their suffering. At Dachau, unlike Sachsenhausen, there is a trench system in front and behind the electrified fence. The forward trench was a dry trench, while the posterior trench was a canal.
We walked over a bridge which took us over the trench, through the fence and over the canal to the crematorium area. To the left is the old crematorium and to the right is the memorial stone and the new crematorium, aka “Barrack X.” The new crematorium was built between May 1942 and April 1943 to provide for the murder of and disposal of bodies. The memorial marker below reads: “Think about how we died here.”
Whereas the old crematorium was for the burning of dead bodies, the new building provided a place to gas people as well as destroy their bodies.
The first room you enter in Barrack X is the disinfecting chambers. The chambers were used to disinfect clothing with the infamous Zylon B gas pellets (prussic acid poison gas). The next room is a waiting room, where prisoners were informed on how to use the ‘showers.’ They would then go through a door to the disrobing room. Their clothes would be taken to the disinfecting chambers to kill any typhus causing lice (and redistributed to future inmates). The victims would then walk into a huge brick room with fake shower heads in the ceiling and openings in the wall through which Zylon B pellets could be thrown into the room. There has actually been quite a bit of controversy over the years as to whether the room with the fake shower heads was used for mass murder. The last room in this horror-filled place is the room with the ovens. Here, prisoners were forced to feed dead bodies into the large furnaces for cremation.
On the day that the US Army liberated the camp, there were piles of bodies outside and inside the crematorium. The camp had run out of coal in the days before liberation, so the bodies had been accumulating. There were so many bodies, that the US Army was hard pressed to bury them all. In the end, they forced the townspeople to bury the thousands of dead. They required the townspeople, to wear their Sunday best while burying the bodies, out of respect for the dead.
We concluded our tour in the former Maintenance Building, where there are permanent exhibits and displays of Nazi propaganda posters, a timeline of the camp’s history, a map of atrocities, personal effects and biographical sketches of various prisoners and other ephemera pertaining to the camp’s victims. We finished our visit by watching a short movie about the camp and its history.
After the movie was over, we walked back through the Jourhouse and it’s black ugly “Arbeit macht frei” gates to our car. As we arrived that morning, we saw many bus loads of students coming and going. Now as we left, we saw bus loads of students leaving and arriving. One thing Germany does not plan to do is to ever allow their citizenry to forget the atrocities they committed during the war. Therefore, all school children in Germany must go to concentration camps to see and know that the Holocaust was real. It is illegal to deny that it happened. It is illegal to fly the Nazi flag, and to build monuments to the heroes of that failed government. What I admire about the Germans is that they know they did a great wrong, but they know that admitting it and working to change is the key. The U.S. should take a lesson from Germany about reconciliation, failed racist agendas and monuments to racist governments.
After Dachau, we drove back to Munich for lunch and to attend the Frülingsfest (Spring Oktoberfest).