Day 4: On day four I woke up around 6 am, after only falling asleep a few hours earlier. I did not feel well (sick to my stomach, exhausted and super clammy). I was running on less sleep than normal (many people have told me “you hate sleep” as I only need about 3-4 hours and I get irritated when I’m with other people and they sleep for hours on end, when we could be doing fun things instead) and had to be dressed and ready at Hauptbahnhof at 8:45 for a tour of Dachau. To say I was miserable doesn’t do justice to how I felt. I was sleepy. I was jet-lagged. I was hung-over. I was NOT hungry. It was bad. I took two Excedrin (with caffeine), drank half a bottle of Evian and got ready for the adventure I was most interested in learning about on this trip.
I arrived at the train station 20 minutes early for my tour, and they recommended I grab food and a drink, as it is a long day outside and full of walking. GREAT. I did my best Texas mosey over to Yorma, which from what I gathered is sort of like a convenience store, but with better food and made to order sandwiches (for Houstonians it was like a non-organic and highly efficient version of Nature’s Market). I ordered a large cappuccino, a croissant and some sort of schnitzel. I chugged the coffee, took one bite of the wiener and croissant, and shoved the rest into a pocket of my backpack. I couldn’t stomach any food (some of this was stress related, as my appetite has been next to nothing the past two weeks [I lost exactly 9.4 lbs over the course of the trip]), which was unfortunate, as I really love the heavy and meaty Bavarian food culture.
James (my tour guide from the first day in Munich) had told me the best tour guide in the city for Dachau was with Radius (who I had already booked through), and that if I had an option, go with a man named Steve. As I walked up to the introduction of the tour at the train station, the man said in his British accent, “I’m Steve, and I’ll be your guide today.” SCORE. We boarded the train, and because it was mostly full I ended up having to sit backwards. This was bad for two reasons- the first is as I previously stated, I felt like I had been punched in the gut, and secondly sitting backwards makes me motion sick. I asked the lady across from me to switch, but she didn’t speak English and the train was packed like sardines. Steve said it was only a 30-minute ride, so I figured I’d sleep and be fine. This was not the case. By the time we arrived at the concentration camp, I felt like I did going through customs in Amsterdam the day before- sweat, shaky and feeble. I have always loved WWII history, and have read numerous books on the Nazi regime and concentration camps, so I was fascinated to finally see one in person, I just hadn’t anticipated doing so while not being on my best game.
The wonderful thing about our guide Steve was that he was very factual. I overheard many guides sensationalizing what happened at this memorial site, which I found to be disturbing and wrong. He gave us facts. He told us what happened and how people survived. If you go to Dachau, make sure you go through Radius Tours and that Steve is your guide- he has given more English language tours of Dachau than any other person on earth (he also does 3rd Reich tours, but he was booked, so I couldn’t go).
If you aren’t familiar with Dachau, it’s the only work camp in Germany that has gas chambers (because this camp and most other work camps were used primarily for economic purposes- to fund the 1000 Year Reich). It is also the ONLY concentration camp that was open for the entire 12 years until liberation day (many shut down early and many started later in the regime). ONLY ONE PRISONER SURVIVED ALL 12 YEARS. I couldn’t help but crying when he told us that. The temperature this morning was about 30 degrees. I wasn’t cold (in 2 layers and a fur coat), but it definitely was not warm. When you think of the people being forced to stand in the great expanse of a yard, with little clothing on, you truly wonder how anyone survived at all. The first thing you notice when you walk through the gate of the camp (where the info center/café/bookstore is located was the former site of the SS’s gym and training facility and was just built 2 years ago- the architecture was beautiful, but I personally found it emotionally difficult to take photographs of anything) is the giant yard. It was exactly what you think a concentration camp yard would look like. It was snowing and bleak. Immediately as I walked through the gate, my heart broke for the people who lost their lives at this horrible place, but also for those young people that were manipulated at a very young age to think that people different from themselves should be put to work as salves and then killed when no longer useful. It was a great reminder to be kind to everyone, as you don’t know what station they are at in their life.
We made our way through the camp just as a prisoner would have, and I learned something interesting- most would assume that the SS would be checking people in, giving them their numbers, shaving their heads, etc., but it was actually the prisoners that did almost all of this. The SS wanted to be as far away from the people that they hated and saw as imperfect. The people forcing others to work and giving punishment? Other prisoners. The way Steve described it was perfect- it was sort of like a game, and if you knew how to beat the game you won the ultimate prize, your life. For example if you worked in the marshes (on the far side of the camp), you were a dead man/woman. One month max. If you had a skill, for example, if you worked checking parts in the factory that made guns, and an SS found out you knew how to carve a toy train, they would give you an extra bread ration to carve them a toy for their child. If you did a good job, other SS would do the same. Bread rations meant life. Steve also pointed out that the “bread” was about half sawdust and half bread, and was small enough to fit in your pocket. The photographs of bodies (and even some of the living) they found on liberation day were without a doubt the most disturbing things I have ever seen. Again it was truly amazing that anyone survived at all being completely malnourished.
I had many questions about liberation, because I honestly haven’t done much reading about that portion of history. Something that broke my heart to pieces was when the Americans came to liberate those at Dachau, there were men and women so happy to have someone save them, that they knowingly ran straight into the electric fence and killed themselves. Many of the troops that came became violently ill from the piles of emaciated bodies piled up because they eventually ran out of coal to cremate the corpses, without a doubt it was the most upsetting photography I have ever seen. There were also accounts of people that for the rest of their life would carry around a piece of bread in their pocket so they would never go hungry, or would wear two pair of underwear just in case they were taken from their homes again. It was tragic that the camp not only took peoples lives, but it also took the humanity and happiness of so many that survived its horrific walls.
Next we saw where their bunkhouses were located. All have been taken down and two have been replicated- you’ll be able to see that in my photo below. These bunkhouses were made to hold between 200-300 people. By the end of the camp over 2,000 people were living in each bunkhouse, many being forced to sleep standing for months on end. There were certain bunkhouses that were better to be in, if you were on the near side of the gate, it was said you had a better chance of survival. On the far side was where the infirmary was, which eventually turned into 4 bunkhouses, as people were contracting diseases at disturbingly rapid rates. The entire situation was and is gut wrenching.
One thing that I loved about Dachau was the memorials that different religious organizations and countries have donated through the years. There was one from the Polish, Russians, Christians, Catholics, and of course the Jewish community. Each was beautiful in a unique way and showed a different side to the life that was lost.
We ended the tour with the most difficult part of the camp- the crematorium and gas chambers. Steve explained that they never “forced” people to go into the gas chambers. They wanted the prisoners to be calm, so they would ask questions like, “Who is a carpenter?” or “Who knows how to read?” asking for people who had those skills to come forward because they had a job for them (at this point the camp was filling up and they started to randomly kill people). Then they would make them strip down to go take a shower for their new job- the sign above the gas chamber actually said “showers” (in German of course). And then they were killed. They calmly walked people to their death. Atrocious. I quickly walked through the gas chamber and crematorium because many of the people there had absolutely no respect for the memorial site. There were grown adults taking pictures in the gas chambers pretending to be getting gassed. There were families taking smiling photos together. I found it rude, ill mannered and distracting. One college student in our group was with his parents and said (as his overly expensive Nikon he kept clicking was set on automatic [my SD card kept malfunctioning the entire trip-ughhh serves me right for being such a snob]), “I feel so weird taking all these funny photos where all these people died, but it’s just to good not to.” I almost socked him in the face (instead I walked out and spent some time in the church praying).
After I had some quiet time with the Lord reflecting everything I had just had the opportunity to see, I headed over to the information center. The bookstore there is incredible, it had every kind of book you could ever imagine, in every language about concentration camps, Hitler, the Holocaust, and the liberation. In all honesty, the only thing I purchased on the entire trip for myself besides a Mas and a bag Haribo gummy bears, were 4 books from the bookstore.
The next tidbit I’m going to share is going to sound strange, but it’s 100% true. I was physically sick at Dachau. I had to sit down on the tour at one point and put my head between my legs because I thought I was going to barf. I was spent, and was concentrating and trying to learn more here than any other place I had been or was going. After the almost half day tour, I had to get something to eat. I went into the café (and here’s the weird part), where I had the best sandwich of my entire life. IT WAS SO GOOD I ALMOST CRIED. It was a tomat-mozzerella with some sort of green mayo pesto saucy goodness, on ciabatta bread. I wasn’t even hungry, but I ate the entire thing (it was truly as big as my face). It was so enjoyable, that before I left I bought another to eat later on my trip. My favorite vegetarian sandwich was at the concentration camp. GREAT.
We left Dachau (it was snowing the entire time we were there) on the train around 3, and I had made plans the night before to meet James and Susan to go to the last open Christmas market. They met me at Hauptbahnhof and we walked over to a place called Tollwood (not sure of the spelling- but that’s how it sounded) where there were people everywhere with gleuvine, which is a hot wine and really warms you up when you’re cold and food carts and selling all sorts of crafts and Christmas-y things. I’m not one who likes knick-knacks, so I didn’t purchase anything but a large mug of gleuvine, but enjoyed watching everyone on the last day of the market (they have these all over the city in December, but most shut down after Christmas). By this time it was 4 pm and I was dog-tired so I cut across the Oktoberfest grounds, which were a 1-2 minute walk from my hotel, and went home to take a nap before going out to have dinner with the group from the night before.
Feeling slightly more refreshed after a 30-minute nap, I freshened up quickly (thanks Sweet Spot) and headed to a restaurant called Marmaris. There is a HUGE Turkish immigration to Munich and there are Turkish restaurants everywhere. I happened to love Turkish food (one of my buyers owns a great Turkish restaurant in the Village called Istanbul, which has incredible hummus), so I was excited to nom-nom on the good stuff. I ordered two dishes; the first is Lamachun, which is a Turkish pizza. It’s a flatbread with a little lemon and parsley on top. Simple and delectable. My second dish was the Doner Kabab (translates to something like a dinner kabob), and it was also spectacular. The rice they served with it was so good I wanted get more take with me, but unfortunately had no where to store it. Marmaris did not disappoint. I also had half a beer with dinner, but was just so worn out emotionally, spiritually and physically that I called it an early night and went home after dinner around 9:30 or so. I wrote until about 1 when I finally was able to drift off to sleep.
Day 5: New Years Eve. Stupidly, I didn’t make plans with James and his friends the night before, and at that point I didn’t know his last name, have a phone number, email, or where he lived, so I had no way to contact him to see if I could join in his New Years plans. I figured I’d just stay at the hotel that evening and maybe walk down to the bar to have a glass of champagne so I could at least wear my sparkly Alice + Olivia dress I purchased just for the occasion.
I woke up around 6:30 and since I had no plans for the day (all tour groups were closed, and the city was literally shut down by about 5 o’clock); I headed out to Marienplatz to check out everything I hadn’t had time for on the first day. Marienplatz is like a large outdoor mall, think Louis Vuitton, Burberry, H&M, Zara, Apple, Swarovski and souvenir shops, but it also has an ice-skating rink and a huge outdoor market. I grabbed a crepe with raspberry jam and a mug of gleuvine since it was snowing. As I ate my crepe, I had the idea to go ice-skating. I don’t particularly love ice-skating, nor am I particularly good, and ice-skating alone sounds really miserable, but something came over me and I did it. Maybe I was hoping for a moment out of “Serendipity”, who knows. I paid for my skates and after the challenge of figuring out what size ice-skate I wear in European sizes (heck I wouldn’t know what size ice-skate to get in America), I hopped on the ice. It was surprisingly fun, and they have these neat little things (I didn’t use one), that look like a bear on skis, so it won’t let you fall. I’d never seen anything like it and was pretty fantastic. There was a group of some really handsome men maybe in their early 40’s (my favorite demographic) skating together, so I skated with them for a bit, and then hopped off to check out some churches.
I made it a habit that if I wasn’t rushed for time, to walk into every single church I saw. Some were spectacular from the outside, and simple inside, and vice-versa. One of my favorites was Autres de St. Peters, which means “The other St. Peters” (the original could be seen a block away from my hotel window). There was a mass going on in German, and I sat on the back row for a bit and listened to the mass. I have no idea what they were saying, but the acoustics were beautiful.
Right around the corner from Marienplatz, is one of my favorite places of the trip. Hofbrauhaus. As un-ladylike as it sounds, I love beer. Now, I am a bit of a beer snob, and won’t drink anything that isn’t craft or imported, so going to the BEST bierhaus in the world was high on my list (and although touristy, would come in second to Dachau on my MUST DO LIST). I walked up right as they were opening, which was perfect because the flurries had turned into full on snow. I walked up the stairs, and into a giant room. I described it to my mom as a room in a beautiful hall filled with table after table of strangers. It was awesome. The first place I sat was a table alone along the wall, and tables were filling up very quickly, but no one sat by me. I felt like Forest Gump on the school bus, no one wanted to sit by me, heck no one even gave me second look. Then I saw this HUGE group of very attractive men walk into the room (are you catching on to a theme here?), so I waltzed my sweet self over and asked in my sweetest southern drawl, “Hey y’all, can I sit here?” I think about 4 of them jizzed their pants and the rest nodded as they drooled over the blonde, and moments later I figured out why. They were ALL Italian on holiday from Verona. I looked like a bus had hit me, but something about me (probably my golden locks) makes Italian men go bananas (I’m not being conceited here, it’s just what happens). I’ve been on dates with two different Italians in America, and when I was in Italy years ago I had the problem of guys following me for blocks (which was scary then because I was only 16 years old). I can’t explain it; they just love me.
As I sat in the middle of this table, everyone was vying for my attention, and all I wanted was a bier. I ordered my first bier and I ask the waitress (it took 45 minutes for her to get to our table, that’s how many people are in this place) for a menu in English. She tells me they don’t have any (2 days later I found out they do). I have no earthly idea what the heck anything says, but I see a picture of a pretzel. I point to that, randomly pick something from the menu, and order the Hofbrau Dunkel bier, in the liter size (as is pretty standard). I start chatting with the boys from Verona and we talk about everything under the sun. There were about 16 of them, and most spoke some English and 3 were studying it in school so they wanted to practice (this was also pretty common). A very cute one sitting next to me named Giacamo started to ask me about Texas. He didn’t know where it was. GASP. So I drew him a map and gave him a geography lesson about America. Then he told me the best places to go in Italy and the best things about Verona. We exchanged emails and he sent me info so I could meet them at the discotheque that night to celebrate the New Year with them. Then everyone ordered another beer, and to be perfectly honest, I can’t remember a whole heck of a lot, except that at one point the entire table stood up and sang some Italian song while cincin-ing (cheers-ing), and then the Germans in the room stood up and started singing some German song and prost-ing (cheers-ing). The neat thing was that with hundreds and hundreds of people in the room, there are no fights at Hofbrauhaus. As I left, I asked a man that worked there if he saw many drunken brawls, and he said he hadn’t seen one in the 12 years he’s worked there. That’s impressive. The food they brought me was a giant potato (kind of like a potato dumpling) and this weird hunk of pink meat that looked like a hip or something, I couldn’t even tell you what kind of animal it came from. However, it was good, and helped soak up the 2 liters of beer I had just consumed in a very short time (somehow I managed to get some cool photos with my Nikon, which is impressive because I was drizzity-drunk [the happy and calm kind] by the time I left.