University of Wisconsin–Madison

Guten Tag Duestchland

Going back to my roots in Duestchland with my partner in crime Martha. Martha, known as Marta in Europe (she tried to do the whole euro thing) has been my one of my best friends since she and I cried at blue lagoon at our friends twelfth birthday party. Now like all the pinterest signs claim (and apparently psychologists) since we’ve lasted seven years were stuck being friends.

Getting to Germany posed a lofty goal on both of us as in an attempt to save money we both flew out of 2 hour away airports by train. Long stories short Martha ran, tripped a few times, missed a few train or two but made it to Germany with 4 hours to spare before my arrival. I sweated through my two layers of clothing (getting prepared for the blistering cold of 45 degrees) and nearly collided with an old Spanish woman but I made it to Munich as well.
Caution to the wise:
-S-bauhn (suburban train system) is all in German. If you like pretty colors though (as Martha and I do) it’s easier than you think.
-In 1158 Henry the lion founded a village called Aputlinen which means by the monks. Influencing the crest even with the monks customary color of a black robe and gold tassels.
-The population of Munich is 1.4 million and 20% are from other countries.
-Munich, costing 16€ / meter, is the second most expensive city besides London. Since space is so sparse gravestones can only be kept for twenty five years before a new occupant comes in.
-Lost and found of Octoberfest:
165 wedding rings
76 wheel chairs
Over 600 apple devices
56 dentures
 4YouHostel 
  • Martha and I tried out a 10 person mixed dorm approach. Despite having our speculations it wasn’t too bad. They have free wifi (only in the basement and main floor) and free breakfast with 7 different types of jam and Nutella. We have a man who looks like a wolf but hey that’s not the worst we could do. Just remember to bring zquil, earplugs, and shower flip flops and you’re golden.
We went on a Royal Castle Tour at 830 am with Ryana bus driver and Francisca our english speaking guide.  We traveled into Bavaria (southern Germany) where all the castles built by King Ludwig II were built. Essentially we drove into a fairytale valley tucked within the southern alps. Martha fell asleep every time we got on the bus like a spell was on her.
Our itinerary was:
  • Palace Lindhof– More of a mansion sized palace with ornate 100 carat  gold painted details on the walls. After banishing an antisemitic composer whom Ludwig thought to be his friend (forgot who) Ludwig went into a depression where he did not leave his room and kept it dark for 8 months. No visitors ever came to this palace.– The swans mimic Ludwigs attitude and the palaces beauty. Our guide told us they took some of a gentlemans “trousers” last summer.

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  • Oberammergau
    Was a cute village known for wood carving, nut crackers, cuckoo clocks, christmas and naval school. It puts on every decade an 8 hour passion play whose tryoutees must be single and non professional to be eligible.– During our free time we also found a local bakery where we bought the most delicious peach cheesecake ever. Unlike the American version which is usually very moist and cold, this cheesecake had a shortbread crust and a seemily less moist center, it was topped with struesel as well and is pictured below.
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  • Neuschwanstein-Neuschwanstein Castle is best known for the influence it had on the world renowned Disney Castle.-The hike up to Neuschwanstein was a steep one mile incline that caused me to start sweating profusely.
  • 5Marienplatz-Saturday night we wandered from our hostel to Marienplatz. It’s like Michigan Avenue in Chicago, it’s the main shopping center.
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  • We stumbled into a Biergarten on the main plaza of Marienplatz. If you don’t know what a Biergarten is I’ll explain it.
  • Picture a high school cafeteria with classmates from around the world and of all different ages add in 1 liter beers then multiply it by ten. You literally sit at whatever random spot is available and drink beer / eat authentic german food, aka the pretzel.
  • We circled the expansive Biergarten for ten minutes before a gentleman helped us find two spots near a rowdy group of British men celebrating a 40 year old birthday and a group of Japanese students with their professors.
  • Needless to say Martha and I have never laughed as hard as we did that night.

Dauchau

  • The next morning we visited Dauchau concentration camp. We used the s bahn to (starts with a p) to get there.
  • Audio guide in hand we spent the next four hours walking around a place few people ever thought could exist and whose horrors we will never truly grasp.
  • It’s barren. Void of color but ominous with foreboding. It’s appearance almost reflects what happened to the prisoners there. Completely stripped of character besides uniformity and coldness.
  • When you enter the camp the doorway used to read “’Arbeit Macht Frei’” which means work will set you free. I don’t know why it no longer adorns the front entrance.
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  • A biting wind stings your face and pierces through your clothing in the main square where prisoners stood for hours and wore nothing more than cotton clothing and wooden shoes.
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  • The bunker held prisoners of war including political prisoners.
  • Some would be tortured by gachau, the spanish word for a torture I don’t know the name of in English where your hands are bond behind your back and you hang from them. While others would be locked in a room full of darkness for months. Experiments also occurred in this place.
  • All the barracks had been destroyed prior to the opening of the historical monument in 1969. But two are replicated and show the different bunks used according to the decade.
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  • At the end of 1944 the camp which was made for 3000 prisoners held more then 200,000 prisoners.
  • Many memorials have been constructed in honor of those who lost their lives here. The main one is pictured below:
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    The concentration camp was impressively large and in the far right corner was where the crematorium and gas chambers were stationed.
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  • Documents suggest that only a few group gasings occurred here but the gas chamber was in use. The white walls stare blankly back at you while the low ceiling threatens to suffocate  you.14
  • There are two buildings for cremation. Both were built and maintained 24/7 by the prisoners. It was in the rudest sense a large oven whose rack was a gurney like structure that held two people at a time.

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  • The chimeys stopped smoking for the first time since 1933 (opening day) on April 29th 1945 (liberation day). The audio tour also gave audio biographies and gave one of a liberators. What he said stayed with me “it was as if we walked into a different world, none of it made sense.”
  • I lost it in the gas chamber and crematorium. I think it finally came full circle and I understood that it wasn’t a movie set. This place was the site of one of the biggest atrocities of the history of man.
  • Although sombering I felt hopeful after it all. I saw a young boy and his father (whom I overheard speaking in german) entering the gates as I was leaving. The young boy will not understand what happened here for some years but it’s the fact that his parents brought him. To me it shows what the monument in the middle of the camp says in four languages “never forget”. We can’t change the past but we can learn from it.

Olympic park

  • Munich hosted the 1972 Olympics and constructed a beautiful village and park. We went and saw a swim meet in the same pool the Olympics occurred in! Being an Olympic fanatic I swooned at this.
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  • Unfortunately we arrived to late to make the entrance to the football / track stadium but we did walk up to a viewing point where we saw the entire city of Munich.
  • We also stumbled upon and entered with ten minutes to spare the (tall tower) which gave spectacular panoramic views of the city of Munich.

Hofbräuhaus

  • Saturday night we went to the world renowned Biergarten houfbaus haus. It was somehow even bigger then the one we went to the previous night. Whats more is there were several groups of men in typical German attire and an eight man orchestra playing typical German music. We loved it and had a great time.

Overview

  • Overall the weekend couldn’t have gone better. It’s one thing to visit your best friend in the United States and it’s another to see her around the world. Martha proved to be a poor bus partner (without a doubt falling asleep on every bus ride) but an excellent travel partner.
  • Many people would approach me on the streets and start speaking fluent German usually asking for directions, yes I have blonde hair and blue eyes but no I am not German.
  • To say I wasn’t flattered would be lying. I just liked the feeling of being considered a European verses the dumb American that I am.
  • Germany captured my heart with its culture, mountains, and bier. I want to visit again as soon as possible. After all it was my ancestors home after all.
  • The last thing I’m going to say may come as a surprise but I don’t actually mind the sound of German. I also found out where I get my stubbornness (sometimes about non-important things) from.As always here’s the food I experienced in Germany:
  • Holy burger 
  • The first night we went to a restaurant recommended by our hostel. We partook in a cerveza and split a chickpea burger with fries for 9,05 euro.
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