Contrary to popular belief, there is more to Munich (Munchen) than beer and Nazis. And the people of Munchen are called Muncheners, not Munchkins.
Although beer and Nazis each played a role in my time in the Bavarian capital, I was able to develop a new appreciation for this new city with a lot of old history. I say “new” because 85% of Munich was obliterated by Ally forces in WWII. Nearly the entire city has been rebuilt over the past 70ish years, while keeping the traditional architecture of the pre-obliterated Munich.
My first full day in Munich I took a walking tour of the town, hitting a large chunk of the major historical highlights while receiving an entire brain’s worth of WWII history. I forgot my camera at the hostel – woops – so I just strolled and enjoyed my lens-free walk. My group’s guide was a professional sailor from Australia who’s sense of humor ran parallel with mine. For example, he mentioned a period of Munich’s history where they imported cats from Italy in order to eat mice, thus, starting to end the Bubonic Plague. He said “If you listen close, you can hear the cats say “Me-ow-a.” Like most jokes I like, I was one of the only ones embarassingly laughing a little harder than everyone else.
After the tour, a group of us had lunch at a local restaurant where I took the recommendation of the “crunchy schnitzel.” The schnitzel was the size of a frisbee and on the side I recieved a sack of potatoes worth of fries. Overall, the Bavarian diet seems to me like a recipe for heart disease. But I stuck to my routine of eating as locally as I could, and put it all down. (Photo credit goes to Patrick James.)
After a nap that assisted in digestion of my frisbeeschitzel, I enjoyed some time in the bar area of my hostel with some a new German friend. He educated me on Bavarian Brew, and we spent the night talking about brew, a bit of politics, and a lot about the glory of the greatest 7ft. German ever, Dirk Nowtizki. Then a live band came on for about an hour before a fight between a two naked guys broke out that had to be broken up really awkwardly. I wish I was joking. #adayinthelifeofabackpacker.
I don’t think I had ever been so engaged in learning history as I was on my second full day in Munich. Due to my walking tour the previous day, I developed a itch of interest about the rise of the Nazi party that had to be scratched. I took a lengthy tour that took my small group and I on an in depth walk around the city, describing the Hitler’s progressive rise to power and eventual dictatorship.
I was educated on humanity’s nature to react desperately to desperate circumstances. I remained silent for the majority of the tour because my heart felt like it was full of lead the entire time. I had no knowledge about the intricate depth of the Nazi party’s rise to power and the systematically inhumane process of convincing an entire nation to proudly support evil. And I was taken back that it happened less than a hundred years ago. And I was taken back even further upon learning the death tolls in other historical genocides.
But what weighed on my heart more than the numbers around the genocides, was what I learned about the resistance efforts that took place. There were many, but one that really shook the floodgates behind my eyes was a group of college-aged medical students known as the “White Rose.” In short, they were a handful of students that learned of the Nazi’s schemes. They printed and distributed leaflets illegally and were eventually caught and executed. They were thought to be a part of a giant British Intelligence operation, when there were only six of them in total. Their last letter was smuggled to England, where it was then printed in bulk and dropped by the thousands out of Ally aircraft all over Germany.
The city has done a great job in being transparent and acknowledging the past. Holes in the sides of buildings that used to hold Nazi propaganda signs are purposely filled with cement that is distinctly a differently color than the surrounding bricks. Bullet holes in government buildings are left untouched.
After the tour I joined my guide and another couple to a local beer garden. Bavaria at it’s finest.
On my third full day I visited the concentration camp memorial known as Dachau, a train and a bus ride outside of the Munich city limits. I forgot my camera again, but that doesn’t mean my mental images will ever fade. It nauseated me, which is the least of what I could have felt going into a place like that. I learned of the daily roll calls, the murder, the torture, and the deliberate, systematic psychological breakdown enforced on the victims by the Nazis. Each person’s humanity was stripped of them and replaced by a number and a symbol. I can’t really describe the unique feeling of heavy tension that was in my chest, so I’ll just leave it up to you to if you’d like to do your own research. To say the very least, I was moved.
I would consider myself patriotic. I love America, and no matter what your political beliefs, you should too. But my appreciation for the heroics of my country’s military were taken to a new level at Dachau. To learn about the Nazi Regime and the dehuminization of millions, and then see images of the Ally’s liberation efforts, would make the devil himself cry.
I capped my time in Munich with a tour of the four best beer gardens the city has to offer. I made some friends from all over the world and we shared many a’brew while I spent hours trying to distinguish the differences between Aussie, New Zealand and South African accents. To them it’s obvious. And they think the world “y’all” is hilarious. They also said they didn’t ride kangaroos to school, nor was Croc Wrestling a requirement for high school graduation. I was extremely disappointed.
Munich, I think you’re pretty swell.
Prague takes the cake now on the most beautiful big city I’ve ever been in, but you’ll have to wait for the next post to read all about it.
Ginormous pretzels, Bavarian brew and Ally heroics,