Ah, it’s good to be back in Germany. During my travels earlier in the year, one of my highlight stops was the city of Berlin, a cosmopolitan metropolis risen from the ashes of a dark history to become one of the liveliest, forward thinking and generally most fun stops on my trip. With Berlin leaving such a positive mark on me and the promise of the worlds largest beer festival, I was rather keen on seeing Germany’s other tourist draw: Munich.
Due to the difficulties of finding a room in Munich during the Oktoberfest, the budget backpacker mentality got the better of us and we decided we could only justify one night of extortionate festival prices at the hostel. With only one night to experience the festivities, we quickly dropped our bags in our room, trotted through the cool, grey back streets until we could see and hear the carnival like ambience. If I was to describe the mood of Oktoberfest I’d say it’s a bit like the royal show, only for adults, and way happier. The fair grounds are lit up like a Christmas tree, stalls disguised as mountain chalets try to tempt you with the smell of half metre bratwurst, pretzels, chocolate covered strawberries and of course the amber fluid. The drunk, both young and old link arms, stand on their chairs and belt out Bavarian drinking songs with great smiles and glazed eyes.
After knocking down a few pints, few steins and whatever greasy or sugary impulse food we bought, getting out of bed the next day proved quite a challenge. Finally however, about mid-dayish, we dragged ourselves from bed and decided to take a look at this City. Munich, like Berlin was pretty much levelled, during World War II, however where Berlin saw this an opportunity to re-cast itself as a modern city of the future, the people of Munich opted to keep this Ancient city traditional. Where Berlin makes bold statements about this countries grim past in the form of giant memorials, Munich keeps it’s memorials, subtle, stressing that 12 years of Nazism will not outshine 800 years of glorious history and tradition. It is slightly bewildering walking down these apparently medieval, cobblestone streets when considering this place was re-built in maybe the 50s?
While seeing this beautiful city was a treat by itself I was really keen to come to Munich to learn about it’s history and culture, so each of our days spent in the city was highlighted by taking a fascinating educational tour, if this is how I spend my holidays does this make me a nerd? Tour number one was the Munich walking tour, lead by, you guessed it another Australian chap, who walked though the streets teaching us about the history of this city specifically the Bavarian History. Bavaria is Germany’s largest state and pretty much the home of all traditional German stereotypes; lederhosen, sauerkraut, Bratwurst, Beer halls, German Brass Bands.
Tour Number two took us to Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp. This was not our first visit to a concentration camp, earlier in the year we had visited the infamous Auschwitz/Birkenau and while I wasn’t sure before hand how keen I would be to see another human abattoir, I’m quite glad I did now as both provided very different experiences. Where Auschwitz shocked you with the severity and brutality of the Nazi regime, Dachau was set up more like a museum that helped teach you about politics and society at the time and how such a place could come to be. Being my second time in a concentration camp, a part of me believed that I would feel somewhat desensitized to it this time around, apparently not, during my trip around Europe I’ve visited many so-called haunted towers, dungeons and castles, but nowhere has felt even nearly as heavy and as tortured as these death camps.
Dachau acted as a somewhat perfect introduction to our final tour in Munich; The Third Reich tour, which sought to explain how Hitler and such a brutal regime could rise to power and commit the simply inhumane atrocities that it did. We once again traversed Munich’s cobbled streets this time stopping by all the sites relevant to Hitler, the rise of the Nazi party and the various resistance movements who tried to stop him. Personally I find World War II to be a fascinating case study in the worst of humanity, I think there is so much we can learn from it.
Well, my time in Munich proved both wild and educational, what a city! Now I’m off to Italy, last country before I go back to the UK for flights home! Counting down the days!