Country 15: Germany – 1st visit, May 2006

27 May – Dachau, Munich
Accommodation: Haus International Hostel, Munich

Tash was quiet for most of the 5 or 6 hour trip across ino Germany today, and as we reached Munich I realised why. Just outside Munich, she said we were coming close to Dachau Concentration Camp and asked if any of us wanted to visit warning us it could be a very emotionally disturbing experience for some people. A fair few people were very interesting in going and no-one objected to it so we made a stop.
We’ve all heard the stories from World War II where Hitler secretly ordered the Nazis to round up as many Jews as possible and send them to concentration camps, but it’s not even day you get the opportunity to actually visit one and find out the living conditions and atrocities that these people had to endure while stuck there. We walked through the main archway and I looked out onto the large concrete field and was imagining how some 60 years ago this place would’ve been filled with neglected and tortured people who didn’t deserve to be there, and the reality of the situation hit me and it made me think just how lucky I was not to be caught up in a position like this but also I thought of how terrible it would’ve been in that situation where you knew there was no escape and you didn’t know how long you’d be there for and whether you’d ever be set free, and even when the war was over these people had more hardships to get through from trying to get back to state of healthy living to trying to restart a life that had so easily been destroyed for no good reason, and even if things did get back to normal you were scarred for life.
We walked towards a building and outside were a group of teenagers sitting there staring into space. I didn’t know if they were tired or bored or whether they were just reflecting over the things they’d just seen, but from the looks on their faces it seemed like the latter. I could tell this was pretty hard hitting stuff. I went inside the building and found a number of tiny prison cells built next to each other with only a toilet and a window inside each one, with plaques telling stories of prisoners and quotes from historians plastered over the walls. Located in another building was thousands of plaques and photos with information about the conditions and the people here and about the Nazis in command over these camps. We were only given 2 hours to see the whole area but I had to skim read them all or skip a few of them so I could see as much as I could in the time I had. Halfway through the building I found a small movie theatre where a movie was shown of the atrocities that the prisoners had to endure. I walked in there just missing the start of it and the place was so packed that I had to sit on the floor. It astounded me the number of people who went out of their way to come and visit this place. I knew when I left there that this wasn’t the last concentration camp I wanted to visit and I felt privileged that I’d seen one, and I could’ve stayed there for longer, I was just enthralled. I realised the next logical step would be a visit to Auschwitz, the most infamous of all the camps, the one we’d all heard was were prisoners were gassed. I can’t completely explain why but it’s just something I felt I had to see. (Spoiler alert: I did make it there 4 years later on a trip to Krakow.)

It was a rather quiet and sombre mood on the bus taking us from Dachau as people were still a bit affected by what they just saw, however we were only 15 minutes out of Munich and by the time we arrived and got out of the bus and were walking up towards Munich’s main square people started to talk again. On arriving at the square, much smaller than some others we’d seen, Tash told us about the Glockenspiel and the buildings around us and basically gave us only an hour to explore the city. It seemed like most people either went for a quick stroll around the place, went to the Birkenstock store that Tash had mentioned, or went to the Hofbrauhaus, a beer hall famous for being Hitler’s favourite one to spend time at talking about his influential ideas just before starting up the Nazi party. Naturally I went for beer, a nice tall litre stein, my first German beer in Germany, a defining moment. Hofbrauhaus was packed, and it was mid afternoon on a Tuesday, although Munich is known for its beer halls so it probably would be packed at any time of the day. I was very impressed by the drawings on the ceilings, however I was also quite content with the stein in front of me. The bunch of us guys only had time to down one stein before it was time to meet Tash again.

From there the bus took us to our accommodation, our first hostel for the whole tour, we got settled in and were told when to meet up for our optional dinner, which I believe everyone joined in for. Before leaving I had time to enjoy a Paulaner beer from the hostel shop. The taste wasn’t very impressive compared to the usual high standards of German beer, but still we had some much better beer coming to us later that evening.
The bus took us to something a lot of us had really been looking forward to, a traditional Munich beer hall, although when we got there we were in a temporary large tent as the actual beer hall was having renovations done to prepare for Oktoberfest later in the year. Still, it wasn’t about to detract from the atmosphere and it was a good setup inside.
They were obviously used to Contiki groups because we each had a full stein of beer laid out for us on the tables so all we had to do was sit in front of one. Most of the night consisted of chatting and filtering liquid through our bodies, with traditional German music in the background. There was another Contiki group there as well but we mostly just had fun within our own group. There was also a busload of Japanese tourists who were only given half a stein of beer to drink and by the end of the night most of them had barely drank half of that. I guess they were here for the experience. So they encouraged us to get up and dance and we made fools of ourselves, there were some reasonably cute German dancers up on the stage with an oompah band next to them, but the best part other than the beer was the meal, pork knuckle! When they came out to us they were absolutely huge, and it taste was unbelievable. I mean I’ve had lots of pork before but they did something special to this to make it so irresistable and I don’t know what it was but I was enjoyed it too much to care! Along with Prague and the Austrian roadhouse this was one of the three best meals I’d have for my whole 4 months away. After a while the night degraded into a heap of drunkenness and tiredness from several people, and when the bus took us back to the hostel a few of us went out on the town, although I don’t remember too much of it and we were a fair way out of Munich’s town centre so there weren’t many bars around to choose from. I even had trouble finding a working ATM, although my mind was working either so maybe that’s why I couldn’t find one. Eventually I gave up on the whole situation and went to bed.

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