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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Day 10 Munich

When we woke up, Nick was still feeling awful.  I boiled some water for him put his head over the steam to loosen his sinuses and I massaged his head.   It was raining as we drove on to Munich.  There were several options of things to do in Munich, but we were getting tired of museums.  We had both noticed before we left that Dachau was so close to Munich.  I guess I thought concentration camps were far from anywhere else.  We thought we'd at least go drive to Dachau to see where it was and see how the weather was at that point.

Dachau was right there in the town.  The town has probably grown up around it in the last 60 years, but still it was right there in town.  The rain had slowed to a sprinkle, so we parked and walked to the visitor's center.  Dachau is very raw.  It is mostly open-air.  It is not glossed over or painted over or dressed up.  We walked along a gravel path.  Because of the rain, it was full of puddles of water.  There was no smoothing over this path.  We walked that path that prisoners and victims had walked after being dropped off by the trains.  The front gate had provided offices for Nazis overseeing the camps and had been the location of torture.

We went through the gate that said, "Arbeit Macht Frei."  I thought this was only on the Auschwitz Gate.  This is the gate that was stolen a few years ago.  They had to make a new one. 

We went to the right, to the prisoner area.  These were individual cells for those who had caused trouble and were later used after the war to hold Nazi war criminals.  There were pictures of some who had been held in these cells and accounts of those who had been imprisoned here.  At one end there were cells for pastors and priests who had refused to cooperate with the Nazis. 

Outside this complex was an open-air area for public humiliation and torture, as well as hanging and firing squad wall. 

The next building over held more of the museum part.  There were so many different stages of the war and holocaust.  Sometimes they were trying to kill more Jews.  Sometimes they needed them to live longer.  At one point there was an attempt on Hitler's life that nearly succeeded.  Then thousands of people were rounded up and sent to camps.  Dachau was more of an infirmary, where sick people were sent.  It wasn't until near the end of the war, when the other camps were evacuated to Dachau, that women and children came there, too.  Dachau was the first camp established and the first liberated.  Over 200,000 people died there--were murdered there.  Even after the camp was liberated some people had to continue to stay there because there had been an outbreak of typhus because of the camp being so overfull of people moved there from other camps.  These people needed to be nursed back to health.

Outside this building, there was a big yard.  People were forced to stand here for hours, if someone tried to escape, or for various other offenses.  Many died standing there.  In this yard are some works of art trying to depict the range of feelings one encounters at Dachau including the inscription "Never Again" in many different languages.

We walked across the yard to the rebuilt barracks, where people slept on bunks 3 high.  Toward the middle was an area with benches and in the center were the bathrooms.  There had been 34 of these barracks, but only the one stands today--as I said, rebuilt.

We walked to the back of the camp where there are several areas of prayer, one Jewish, one Roman Catholic and one Protestant.  Even further to the left, outside the perimeter is one Orthodox.  We walked along the perimeter where some threw themselves when they couldn't take it anymore and were shot.  Then we crossed to the crematorium.  People were not routinely gassed in large groups at this facility, but some smaller groups were.  It was hard to imagine that people could do this to one another. 

It was a very moving experience to be on those grounds.

Munich is less than a half hour away.  We found our hotel and checked in.  We were right next to the main train station, which was a pain to have a car there.  Every train in the city converges right there and traffic was terrible.  We left our car at the hotel and headed out on the train.  First we went to a record store.  Again I walked around the block and found an Oxfam store.  I bought a shirt for Sterling and a few scarves.

We took the train to go to the Hofbrauhaus, the oldest, largest beer hall in Germany or something like that.  JFK had visited there.  When we got off the bus, we found ourselves in a town square next to the rathaus, which was an amazing building.  Here is a picture of the fountain there:

Then we got lost walking to the Hofbrauhaus.  We found it about 45 minutes later.  It was full of people.  You just sit down any old place.  The band was playing.  We found a table and it turns out our table mates were from San Diego.  They were really the first Americans we had talked to since arriving in Germany.  Then when they left, the next couple was German, but they have put in their papers to move to Florida if they get the chance.  They don't like all the German rules and regulations.  They like the sun and the beach.  They explained to us that all the fields of yellow flowers in Germany are for making biofuel.  They complained about that--with all the hungry people in the world.  And they complained about the German government promising people huge subsidies to put solar panels on their homes and now going back on that promise.  It was an interesting inside view of German politics.  What we had seen as good (renewable energy everywhere) is not always seen that way.

We drank a lot of beer--standard size is about a pitcher here in the US.  Fortunately, the beer there has lower alcohol content so much more can be consumed before one gets drunk.  We found our train back to our hotel and went to sleep, ready to leave for the airport in the morning.

A couple of other reflections on Germany:  There are no billboards.  It is so refreshing to drive and be able to see the beautiful land and not always see advertising.  There is no litter.  Everything is so clean.  Also, we saw less than 10 homeless people the entire time we were there.  We especially liked Hannover and found it liveable with concentrated neighborhoods and trains connecting everywhere, little balcony gardens, and people walking and biking.  In the smaller towns, people were not very friendly, which I can understand, and maybe it was just about us being American or because of the nearby army base, I don't know. Anyway, I'm glad we came and I am glad we are going home!

This concludes my account of our trip.  I'll try to post occasionally about my sabbatical.

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