Where the Craziness All Began

I had briefly entertained the thought of visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau when I got to Poland, but Mum and Dad had already been there, and the trip was going to be an all-day affair when I really wanted to spend as much time with my parents in Poland as possible.  So I thought that maybe being in Munich would be a good opportunity to visit Dauchau.

Dachau was opened in March 1933, at the small town of Dachau, and was one of the first camps. It was known as the “School of Terror” and was a training ground for the SS.  Over 200,000 people were incarcerated here.  It was the terrible images captured on camera and film by US soldiers upon liberation that exposed the full force of brutality to human life to the world, and mark Dachau’s name for eternal history.

This is the camp where human experiments where carried out, Soviet prisoners were mown down in mass executions, Jewish prisoners were transported to the gas chambers of Auschwitz.  German dissidents, anti-socials, people who did not ‘fit in’, Sinti and Roma gypsies, outspoken clergymen, Jehovah’s witnesses, homosexuals, Jews and Polish civillians were its unfortunate inmates.

My guide for today is Levi, an American now living in Munich.  As he points out, not many people know there is a town here.  Just as its inhabitants were unsure of the horrors that were occurring on its doorstep all those years ago.

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We are especially lucky today, because on the grounds is 84 year old Leslie Schwartz.  He sidles up to Levi as he expounds his historical knowledge on Hitler’s regime and quietly puts in ‘I was here’.  Here today to sign his autobiography “Surviving the Hell of Auschwitz and Dachau”, Leslie lost his whole immediate family in the Holocaust.  He was just 14 at the time.  He has travelled the world to leave a legacy of healing and conflict resolution and in 2013 was awarded Germany’s highest civillian honour – The Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.  He tells us his movie will be coming out in the next year and will star Kurt Douglas.

The historic grounds of Dachau, and its remaining buildings, have become a major international memorial site.  It’s a place of pilgrimage for many.  A place of education for others.  A lesson in not forgetting for all.

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Certainly a sobering experience, and may we heed the warnings, “Never Again”.

Welcome to Our Bierkeller Ms Keller!

Today I thought it best to knock over a number of things in Munich, and it looked as though the easiest way to do it, transport wise, was to jump on a city sightseeing bus.  Although I’d say €20 was a bit steep, I did get to see streets and monuments that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

So first stop, was Nymphenburg Palace, which I only used as a photo opportunity, but really didn’t appreciate how big it was until we rocked up in front of it.  And the photo below is just half of it!

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Next stop, Olympiapark – the Olympic Stadium.  Munich was the site chosen for the 1972 Olympic Games and the world was nervous, given this was the first Olympics to be held in Germany since Nazi Occupation.  The Israeli athletes and trainers were especially nervous as many of them had family members who had been murdered during the holocaust or were themselves survivors.  And then it happened.  Eight Palenstinian terrorists from the ‘Black September’ group broke into the Olympic Village, killed two members of the Israeli Olympic team and took nine hostages, demanding the release of 234 prisoners from Israeli prisons and two from German prisons.  The siege ended with a massive gun fight that left 5 of the terrorists and all nine hostages dead.

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However after a 34 hour respect and mourning period, attention returned to the games under the watchful eye of the Munich’s olympic mascot, Waldi the daschund.  Bruce Jenner placed tenth in the decathlon, which prompted him to devote himself to a subsequent intense training regime and which everyone who watches Keeping up with the Kardashians knows, led to him winning gold at the 1976 Games held in Montreal (and setting a new world record in the process).

It was also a successful Olympics for Australia’s 15 year old Shane Gould, who won gold in the 200m freestyle, 200m relay and 400m freestyle, silver in the 800m freestyle and a bronze in the 100m freestyle.

I went in the elevator to the top of the tower – good view of the city, but nothing really spectacular – if anything it was a good place to get a photo of the Olympic grounds.  I was most looking forward to the…

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But all it was, was a sparse collection of bits and pieces and loads of photos of Queen.  I particularly liked this one:

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And didn’t realise David Bowie had long hair at one stage also:

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Anyway, the main sights of the park really left me feeling underwhelmed, though the park itself is really a lovely green space.  Back on the bus, lets keep moving.  The bus winds itself through the streets of Munich, past Schwabing, which was known as a bohemian quarter in its day, past the English Garden and a host of other buildings and monuments and then back to its starting point outside the Hauptbahnhof (main train station), which is where you then jump on another bus to do the rest of the tour route.  I, however, am hungry and while I’m back in this part of town, there’s somewhere I want to go…Augustiner Keller.

Those of you who know me personally, know that my surname is Keller – yes it’s German, and yet I claim to be half Polish. Keller was the surname of my father’s step-dad, Michael Keller. Contrary to what I’d always thought, Michael was actually Polish and its just that with all the moving of Poland’s borders, all manner of nationalities appeared in Poland. Keller is a German surname meaning ‘cellar’ or ‘basement’. And it’s generally associated with ‘beer’. So wherever you are in Germany (I’ve seen some in Japan too) and you see a sign with Keller on it – it usually means its some kind of beer cellar.

Augustiner Weissbier

This bierkeller (beer cellar) belongs to one of Munich’s oldest breweries, dating back to 1812.  The garden itself is huge (it’s Munich’s largest) with tables and chairs stretching as far as the eye can see.  It’s a shame that today is a bit overcast because you could just imagine the vibe of the place when the sun is out, the tables are all full, perhaps a German band playing.  The menu has a large selection of German specialities, including pork with pepper sauce and spätzl, which I go for.  I don’t know what spätzl is, so I’m taking a chance, but that’s what dining in any foreign country is about to a degree.  Turns out its nice!  And a quick search on the internet reveals its a kind of a soft egg noodle.  And of course I have to try the Augustiner Weissbeer.  It’s nice and light, very drinkable, which is good, because there’s none of this ‘middy’ stuff in Germany.

Suitably fed and watered, I walk back to the Hauptbahnhof to take up the second half of the bus tour.  The bus winds its way through the streets past the Pinakotheken (painting galleries) the Odeonsplatz, and one of my favourites for the day, the Angel of Peace:

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We stop outside the Residenz, which was the former home of the Bavarian royals.  It houses a museum now, but when I found out you couldn’t take pictures, waiting in the never ending ticket line (not long, but just incredibly slow!) seemed to be not so worth it, so I decide to leave and walk the streets through to the city.  The streets here were quaint, large cobble stones and archways and little laneways and alleys, and then you arrive at Hofbrauhaus, which is where all of Munich appears to be today.  I was going to stop for a beer here, but the sheer noise inside the hall freaked me out a little and I decided this wasn’t a place I wanted to be sitting by myself.  Maybe I’ll try again tomorrow if I get time.  But for now, the Hard Rock Café is right across the road, and although I have eaten not long ago, I find myself stepping inside, on the pretext of having to use the toilet.  And maybe a glass of wine.  Oh, but they have steak which has vegetables and I kind of feel like I need that after all the tablets and medicines I’ve pumped into my body to get over the flu before I got here.  So what the heck, early dinner.  This HRC houses a jacket worn by Mick Mars from Motley Crue.

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I do want to try and get to the Viktualienmarkt, but it seems to be closed also today.  Sunday is not the day for shopping in Munich by the way.  Most things are closed except for some  restaurants really.  Another one I’ll have to try for tomorrow – just as well the city is close to my hotel!

The King Who Fancied Tutus

This morning  am onboard a tour bus for a trip to visit Neuschwanstein Castle.  The drive out through the countryside is beautiful.  Impossibly green rolling fields, neat paddocks, cows lolling disinterestedly in the fields, wooden barns – its all very charming.  Not to mention the typically German-looking  towns with their clusters of a-frame homes, all window shuttered and displaying colourful window boxes.

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The castle was built by King Ludwig II – more commonly referred to as Mad King Ludwig.

The castle in all its glory
The castle in all its glory

Unfinished when he died in 1886, this is the castle which reputedly inspired Disney’s Fantasyland Castle – you know the one that comes up at the beginning and/or end of a Disney film.

Ludwig became the King of Bavaria upon the  death of his Father, in 1864 at the age of 18.  He and his brother Otto had a very strange upbringing (including not thinking it necessary to feed them very well and not allowing them to have friends) and this left Ludwig ill-equipped for the role of King.  Although it was Ludwig that was declared mad by a doctor who never even met him, it was Otto who was a sandwich short of a picnic – probably a very lonely picnic given he did things such as not remove his shoes for a year at a time.

The King had a penchant for the composer Richard Wagner and the castle walls are filled with painted scenes from his operas.  It is also likely his feelings for Wagner extended beyond an admiration for his composition skills.  He was most likely gay (vaguely supported by the fact he like nothing better than a dance around the place in a tutu), though he did try to fulfil his duties by getting engaged no less than three times, to his cousin Sophie, who was unfortunately left standing at the altar on each occasion before her father stepped into annul the engagement.

There are many theories on how the King died, however it is most likely that he was shot by the Government to stop him replacing his cabinet. This is not the story that the Government guides at the castle will tell you in their extremely brief walk-through through.

A stand out of the tour is the King’s bed which took 14 carpenters over 4 years to make.  It’s a terrible shame that you are unable to take photos in the castle (for no other reason than it takes up too much time) as it has to be seen to be believed.

The castle was unfinished at the time of his death (poor Ludwig only got to live there for about six months) and due to the debt he owed,  the Government of Bavaria seized the castle and just six weeks after his death, it was opened to the public.

Apart from visiting the castle Mike’s Bike Tours give you an option-laden, action-packed day of activities all undertaken within constant sight of the castle.  First up was a beautiful bike ride around Swan Lake.

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They had to ban the dog Jesus who used to walk on water because it was freaking the tourists out.  Brad's joke...
They had to ban the dog Jesus who used to walk on water because it was freaking the tourists out. Brad’s joke…

 

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Returning the bikes, it was time for a well deserved lunch, followed by a shot at the alpine slide, or what we would call a luge.  Then a hike up to the castle for the tour before hiking back down again for the ride home.  For those that were keen there was also an option of paragliding.

The bar is officially opened back on board the bus but I think after the long day, most of us are most grateful for the smooth ride home and the chance of a kip.

Meandering around Munich

This trip was someone else’s trip.  A trip that I gracefully tacked myself onto the end of as part of a ‘why didn’t I think of that before?’ moment.

Mum and Dad were heading to Europe – six weeks of travelling through England, Ireland, Paris and Amsterdam, and finishing with a short stint in Poland – the country of origin of my father’s side of the family.  My parents have been to Poland only once before, about seven years ago, my father actually having been born in Tehran, which I’ll tell you about later.

All of a sudden, it dawned on me that Dad was getting older and that if I should travel anywhere this year, it should be to Poland with him.

But given the length of their trip, they were only going to be in Poland for a short time, about a week and I couldn’t justify flying all that way for just a week, so I scrounged around my Intrepid Tour brochures, hoarded for just such an occasion, and came up with a nice nine-day jaunt through Central Europe.  The dates aligned perfectly, as if it was meant to be, and the trip was born.

As soon as I was aware that I may possibly ever want to travel anywhere, or really anywhere outside Asia, I knew it would be central/eastern Europe.  I’m not sure I can exactly pinpoint why – whether it was the more gothic inspired architecture that called to me or whether because, really, deep down inside – it’s kinda my hood.

Despite the tour starting in Munich, there’s not actually any tour time scheduled here, which is quite usual on an Intrepid tour, apart from a group meeting dinner in a few days time.  So I’ve arrived early to spend a few days looking around myself to make the most of my time here and hopefully shake off any jetlag.

I have never been so glad for having organised a private transfer.  Although I slept on the plane, it was that bitsy, horrible napping that only vertical sleeping can provide and my back aches even more than it did before, though it’s now probably a little worse cause I can also feel bruised bits from last nights ‘massage’.  About 45 minutes later though, I was all checked into the hotel and standing under a hot shower counting the seconds until I could put my head down on the pillow.  I know you are supposed to get straight into the routine of the place you arrive in after a long flight, but I am too tired to care.  I force myself to go downstairs for a little breakfast (which is quite an incredible spread for such a little place) and then its lights out for a few hours.

When I awake it’s edging mid-morning so I freshen up and head on out to check out the city.  My aim is really to try and see where I need to get to in order to join my day tour tomorrow morning, but I wander around snapping photos and enjoying the scenery and fresh air.  I head to the main street, Neuhauser Street.  The architecture is quite stunning.

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There are little fresh fruit stalls dotted throughout the mall.

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For lunch I sit at a little outside café and order a grilled vegetable salad with a nice glass of prosseco.  The streets of the city, although crowded, don’t seem to be loud or pushy or too much.  Strolling back towards the hotel I can’t resist stopping by one of the little fresh fruit stalls to buy some beautiful looking strawberries and seedless green grapes.  Back in my room I crack open a bottle of French wine and a handful of the strawberries – so beautifully sweet and tasty.  Perfect to settle in with to enjoy an episode of Bold & Beautiful – in German of course.