Munich 

In Munich we weren’t couch surfing, instead we were staying with my friend Carolin’s sister. Well I say staying with, actually they graciously left their keys with a neighbour whilst on holiday to Belgium, giving us the house to ourselves.

On our first day in Munich we woke up to more rain. While Jake used this as an opportunity to rest his knee I wrapped up and took a walk into the countryside. It felt great to get some fresh air; I passed through woodlands, farmland and lakes. Although I didn’t walk too far it felt a world away from Munich.

On my walk the previous day I’d come across the beautiful Schloss Schelißheim. I wanted Jake to see this so on our way out into Munich we stopped off for a short visit.

Around the palaces are acres of parkland – some is beautiully cultivated with fountains, decorative hedges and flowers while the another part is simply woodland.

Our second stop that day was the BMW Welt, a kind of show room set up for the public to look at the current models of the BMW range. Housed here were both motorcycles and cars, obviously for us the 2 wheeled vehicles were much more interesting.

The building itself is also a pretty impressive structure, with its space age looking design. The outside is made only from stainless steel and glass, grabbing your full attention as you arrive. 

That afternoon we headed into Munich itself. I was going to do a walking tour and Jake had some stuff to do too. First though we made our way to Marianplatz and had lunch in front of the neo-gothic town hall. This ornate building (I later found) was completed in 1908 so isn’t half as old it looks.

My tour took me through the old part of the city however my guide quickly told us that most of what we see is reconstructed as 80% of the centre was destroyed during WWII.

This city was also where Hitler’s national socialist party began so a lot of the information the guide gave related to this dark past. The old town hall for example was Hitler’s offices during a period of the 1930’s and it was from here that he gave the order to begin the persecution of the Jews.

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Later we passed into the Rindermarkt and saw the cities Maypole. Apparently if you can steal this pole the city must throw a party for you. This one has been stolen only once – by the police! The images on the pole depict scenes relating to the city – this one shows Oktoberfest and the marks of the main brewers in the city.

One of the most famous brewers in the world (apparently) is the Hofbrauhaus. After my tour I took Jake back to this place – not just because it’s a brewer but because of how interesting the building is. The designs on the ceiling are in the shape of swastikas. During the 1930’s the national socialist party had meetings here and wanted the designs on the ceiling changed to represent them. This was done but in such a way that, without squinting, it’s hard to recognize this infamous emblem.

Close to Munich is the town of Dachau and it was in this place that, during the 1930’s, was built the prototype of the Nazi concentration camp. We knew only a little about this place so wanted very much to visit and learn some more about what happened here.

We chose to take a guided tour of the memorial site as this would give us the most in-depth insight to the place. This area was originally used as a munitions factory during WWI but as Germany was forbidden to manufacture arms as a result of the Treaty of Versailles, it became derelict. We were taken through the infamous gates and passed beneath the lie: “Work Sets You Free” and into the yard. Thanks partly to the overcast sky, it was a very emotional experience entering this place.

Dachau was opened as a work camp by the SS during 1933 but at this time was used only for political prisoners. By 1939 the site began to expand as the Nazi regime began to persecute other ethnic and social minorities in their attempt to create the so called master race. Due to the vast increase of internees to the camp, the living conditions were cramped and beyond inhumane. Barracks buildings originally designed to house a few dozen men became cramped with hundreds.

Unlike other camps, such as Auschwitz-Birkenau, Dachau was never used as an extermination camp but rather as a ‘work camp’. When inmates were initially brought to the camp they were graded, fit to work or not fit to work.

Those graded not fit to work were sent to extermination camps, those fit to work were then divided again. In the early days prisoners were given pointless tasks, such as carrying sand from one place to another, only to carry out the same task in reverse the following day. Later, as the demand for workers increased the inmates were sent to other camps and factories as slave labour to support the war effort. 

Due to the horrendous living conditions and treatment by the SS, 100’s of thousands of people died at Dachau, and so they needed a crematorium. 

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The site also had a gas chamber but there is no evidence that this was used for mass murder. Instead, our guide suggested that it may have been used only for single executions. At this point we ended our tour. Everyone thanked our guide and walked away in near silence: we were left feeling very harrowed by what we heard. Although the history of the Nazi party is common knowledge to the vast majority of the western world, it still hits one hard visiting the place where these atrocities happened. 

Visiting this place with a guide taught us a lot and I do believe that it is important to remember – in as our world is moving more towards right wing politics – what an extreme political ideology can create. What happened here was disgusting and should never be seen in the world again. When we visited, the site was full of groups and individuals visiting this place and at first I thought it belittled and downgraded the emotional impact of this place but after reflecting: maybe some people come here to tick something off their Munich tourist list while others are genuinely interested but really it doesn’t matter why people come. The important thing is that they leave a little more educated and informed about this important issue.

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Munich is known worldwide for its Oktoberfest and this week just happened to be the first week of the party. As we all know, I’m not a fan of beer at all so I wasn’t so interested in the drinking part but I was still keen to see just what it’s all about. We’d arranged to meet Nina, a friend of Carolin and Andrea, for a drink at the Oktoberfest. As we weren’t couch surfing, visiting with a local was great. As always we were able to get a bit of an insight into the event that we’d never have had otherwise.

Neither of us had researched the festival, before arriving so we we expected a few large marquees selling traditional beer with massive crowds vying for entry. Oh how wrong we were; instead there was the largest temporary fair ground I think either of us have seen. There were at least 3 massive roller coasters to start with, plus a variety of haunted houses and other such rides and amusements.

We were later told we entered the ‘children’s’ area, and that’s why we initially didn’t see the ‘tents’. As I said we were expecting marquees, wrong again; the structures here are astounding, massive 2 or 3 story wooden tent shaped buildings capable of housing thousand of people at a time. As you can imagine inside is just crazy but luckily we were able to find a seat outside one of the tents. Apparently the whole site takes about a month to construct and I’m really no surprised. It is far bigger than anything we could of imagined. As Louise said she’s not into her beer so we just stopped for the one  before we made our way back to the apartment.

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