Casa’s Blog

A Life Abroad

Let me tell you the story in the form of a dream. I don’t know why I have to tell it but I know what it means. Close your eyes, just picture the scene….

Guten Tag!  Wie Gehts?  Ich bin Simon und Ich bin neu here…DAS IST MINE HAMBURGER!

Alright well that is the limit of my schoolboy german (and I do not vouch for its accuracy).  However, you can know tell that I am in Germany finally and to be more specific I am in Munich.  I arrived last night after a pleasant train trip from Vienna, via Salzburg and with views of the rolling hills passing by.  If you want the image of the most pleasant train trip possible…that may be it.

I am staying at the Wombats City Hostel in Munich after Justin’s recommendation and it is a pretty cool place.  The decor is very much bright colours and ikea furniture and the people are all young and out going.  Probably not the best place to sit and relax, but a great place to meet people and it is well located- just next to the train station and 10 minutes walk from the centre of Munich. Within a few minutes of being in my room I met my bunkmate Mike who is a cali-born, ex-film student, ex-software company owner who now appears to do little more than travel and surf.  Think about Sean Penn from Fast Times at Ridgemont High and just add a few brain cells.  He was a good bloke and we ended up chatting for quite a while.  I had gotten in quite late though so after a quick exploration of the surrounds I was in bed, with my head resting on the biggest softest pillow ever, awaiting a day of Munich and Nazis.

Yep, as someone with such an interest in World War 2 it took me no time to delve in the most horrific part of Germany’s history.  Justin had recommended Munich Walk Tours and they had a pair of walking tours I wanted to do today.  Firstly it was the Third Reich 2 1/2 hour tour and then a guided walking tour of Dachau Concentration Camp.  Both left from out the front of the glockenspiel so I have seen it although I am yet to see its performance.

The Third Reich tour was really interesting.  Even someone with the faintest interest in history, Germany or Politics would’ve got something of this tour.  Jeff (my guide) was a UK guy who has lived in Germany for 30 years so he had a unique perspective.  Jeff told the full story of Adolf Hitler (including aspects I had not heard about or forgotten) as we strolled around the streets and saw some of the landmarks.  Of course Munich was 80% bombed during the war so few of the buildings were originals but some were.  Also the Nazis took detailed pictures and plans of the main buildings when they feared that they would be bombed so quite a few have been rebuilt as replicas so the city architecture looks a lot older than it truly is.  It is also funny seeing an Old Town Hall that looks older than the New Town Hall 😛


The two main points I took from the tour though were that firstly it is only recently that Germans have started thinking and talking about the War and its atrocities.  A lot of the memorials to resistance fighters or liberators were put up in the 90s at the earliest.  Of course this isn’t surprising as most people would not want to live such an horrific period of their history, but the counterpoint to this part of the story was that we had two germans on the tour to hear the Allies view of the war.  They said their elder relatives had only recently talked about the events of World War 2 but finally they had started talking and it was interesting for them to compare the different points of view.  After all what is history but a compilation of different points of view.  Also, all school children in Bavaria are made to at least make 2 trips to a concentration camp so that history is not forgotten as the survivors pass on.

Probably the most interesting buildings you see on the tour still standing though are the Nazi headquarters and the old Museum which are great examples of Nazi architecture.  Large columns to link them to the past and a hell of a lot of concrete to support their claims that it was a Reich to last 1000 years.  It was a super interesting experience walking around the streets where history happened (a history I have read so much about).


The second tour changed guides as we swapped Jeff for Carlotta but about 10 people did as I did and continued on to Dachau.  Now it is at this point that my day got probably 10 fold more interesting, 100000 fold more emotional and 1000000000 fold more real.  After taking the train and bus to the camp we were no longer hearing the stories of the war but seeing something much much more real.  Dachau was the first concentration camp.  It was started in 1933 (6 years before the “war” started) and was one of the last ones to be liberated and to call it an emotional experience is an understatement.  Actually to learn that the horrors pre-date 1939 by a significant period was a surprise to me.  I am glad I now know the truth. To compare it with Auschwitz (probably the most famous camp) this camp had gas chambers but there is no evidence they were ever used.  Also the prisoners were mainly political and although there were jews in the camp there were other camps, like Auschwitz, where this was more a focus.


A fair percentage of the camp still remains and a few other bits have been rebuilt accurately.  There is a museum that shocks you the more you read and odds are you could spend a full day in there, although it would be a painful day.  Also there is a 20 minute video which includes footage taken by Americans of the camp when it was liberated that are horrific.  This camp shows the absolute worst side of humanity and it is confronted to say the least.  To hear about how economic and other factors were considered when deciding if people lived or died or that the barracks were overcrowded by 10 fold by the end of the war….the mind just cant comprehend such things.


The two thoughts I had during this stressful, emotion, yet meaningful and rewarding visit is that firstly the place is so big. It may sound so strange but the camp just went on and on and I dont know what I expected but I didn’t expect such a size.  The stronger feeling though was that it so easily could have been me as one of the shaved, beaten, abused and suffering prisoners in the concentration camp.  The tour is set up so you see it from a prisoners point of view.  You walked through the gates so many entered but so few walked out of.  You don’t go up in to the guard towers as that would be experiencing the wrong side of the camp.  You see the horrors from the eyes of a prisoner the best you can…and I am in no way claiming that this was anything more than a glimpse in to their suffering.


However, it could have been me.  Just a change of circumstance and it could have been me.  If I was born in 1917, not 1987, and in Munich, not Melbourne.   Odds are I would’ve, or at the very least could have, seen the inside of the walls of Dachau or some other concentration camp if those little things were just a little different.  I don’t have to change at all.  Just those little parameters of time and space.  That is a crushing realisation to have.and at least I can now claim that the last time tears welled up in my eyes it was as a result of something meaningful and not as a result of watching Marley and Me.

Today was one of the most interesting days I have had.  It is also one of the harshest days I will go through where I personally suffer no consequences.  Definitely I recommend going to Dachau or another concentration camp.  It isn’t fun…but it is a must do.


July 1, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments