Monday, June 11, 2012

Day 32, 33 & 34 - Munchen & Dachau

The past few days have been a little blurry. We had such a whirl wind time getting from Amsterdam to Munich that my brain is just now slowing down to take it all in. So.... Let me attempt to catch you guys up.

Day 32 was spent traveling from Amsterdam to Munich. You all heard that story a few posts ago.

Day 33 was our first day in Munich. We got to Munich a night early from vacation and had to rent a room for the night. Soooo... the next morning we slept in as late as possible, checked out and then had to wait until 3pm to check back in to the room Anoop reserved for us. We all met at 5:30pm to discuss how the days in Munich will go and a few house keeping items before heading to the world famous Hofbrauhaus. This is a beer garden in Mariaplatz in downtown Munich. Take a look at this whopper...

Drew with his liter of beer:

If David aka "Fat Boy" is reading this, you would have been in heaven. A liter of beer for 7 euro. I was going to steel you a beer mug but I could not come up with a way to get it home. Sorry Fat Boy!

Dinner was awesome and it gave us a chance to catch up with everyone and how their vacation went. A group of guys went to the Swiss Alps and climbed from 4000 feet to 7000 feet. That is definitely now on my bucket list although I need to get back in to shape before I attempt that one.

I may frame this one from dinner. Sorry Kendall and Anoop!

After dinner, I headed back to the hotel to do laundry. I was down to zero undies and that would put anyone in a tight spot! I am so ready to be home and have good smelling laundry! The laundry machine in the hotel took forever and ended up not getting in bed until like 1am (of course that includes reading a few chapters in my book).

Today is day 34 and it was one heck of a day. I am sure that when I look back on this trip 20 years from now, today will be in the forefront of those memories. We woke up and met downstairs at 9:30am to take a 30 minute train ride to Dachau. Dachau was the first (just months after Hitler took power) and one of the largest concentration camps in Germany during Hitler's reign. Let me preface the next few paragraphs with a few things. World War II has been an interest of mine since I first sat down on the front row of Libby Renn's world history class. I have been to many Holocaust museums throughout the states and even at the beginning of this trip in London. Also, I have read many books on the subject  including The Anne Frank Diaries, Elie Weasel's Night (which I think I still have a stolen copy from Libby's bookshelf) and When Hell Was in Session. Books, museums and, even though it pains me to say it, teachers cannot give you the experience of walking in to a concentration camp. Chilling and humbling are the only two words to describe it.

Hopefully pictures and words can give you a glimpse of what this morning's adventure meant to me.

Tens of thousands of Jews were shipped into this camp and got off on this platform:

It is a direct path from the platform to the main gates of the camp:

Written as prisoners entered the gates is "Work will set you free":

Over 200,000 Jews walked into this camp and over 30,000 never walked out between 1933 and 1945. This camp was built to house 6,000 "political prisoners" and at one point it housed 42,000. There were 30 bunk houses on this site as well as a crematorium, manufacturing facilities, work shops and living quarters for the SS guards. After the war, Germany did it's best to tear all remains of the concentration camps and Hitler down so what you see in these pictures are all that remained and a few replicas of what once stood in it's place.

Prisoner Bunks:

I am most certainly done complaining about hotel beds, number of pillows and crappy showers.

Only two of the bunk buildings remained. The foundations of the other 28 remain and it is unreal to even imagine what this camp looked like with all 30 standing. I wish I could give you words to describe how massive this place was. If I had to guess, the bunks alone covered 10 football fields.

Along with the bunk houses, there were isolation rooms in another building on site. As I walked in, I saw the number 40 on the top of the door and decided to walk down the hall to my favorite number. After seeing it, I felt extremely humbled.

The number 25 has been my favorite number since I was 12 because that summer my favorite swimmer of all time, Maggie Bowen, gave me a set of Auburn Swimming gear after challenging me to race her at the end of a training session at swim camp. I got a jacket, swim cap, shirt, bag and towel; all pieces had her locker number on it, 25.

My favorite number, a silly superstition, is someone else's worst nightmare. A number that corresponded with a room that only brought memories of pain, torture, abuse and neglect for several prisoners that entered the Dachau gates. Like I said, humbling.

Guard Towers:

Parts of the original fence still remain with the original barb wire:

Okay, here is where it gets a little more chilling. Once you walk through the bunk grounds, you can take a left to the crematoriums. This was the new crematorium built after the camp was in operation.

Words cannot express the feeling you get standing in front of a human furnace.

Even more nerve racking, walking into a gas chamber.

Here is the first crematorium on the Dachua site:

Once you go through the crematoriums and gas chamber, there is a path that leads to several burial sites where American soldiers who liberated the camp buried ashes from the furnaces in honor of those killed here. Here are a few pictures:

There are many memorials and sculptures on the site that honor those prisoners who did not walk out of Dachau on the site. Here are a few of my favorite:

This place is racism at it's worst. I am not sure if you all are keeping up with the European Cup, but racism is still a world issue. Although American is far from perfect, I am proud to say I live in a country that does not tolerate racism. Today solidified those feelings because as I walked through this camp, I passed so many German students laughing and carrying on as if walking into a movie. These kids could not have cared less about what happened here and it is a part of their history. I was proud to see that our group could not have cared more to be here. Every one in our group took their own path through the camp. We were all moved in a big way.

Everyone reading this has a story of who they know that served in WWII. Interesting facts about the war, events, places, and more importantly people all come to mind when talking about this part of our history. My dad's father served in WWII and although he did not come to Germany and liberate these people, he served, fought and sacrificed for a greater good. A part of me felt him as I walked through the camp and the amount of respect and honor for a man I never had the chance to meet overflowed. I doubt I will ever encounter an event that requires me to display great strength and courage in my beliefs in the face of death but, if I ever do, I hope to have half the character of people honored in places like Dachau.

I will say it one last time, today was humbling. The atmosphere, the buildings, and the feelings you get walking the same steps that prisoners did is something I will never forget. It is an experience that taught me more about the present and what kind of person I want to be than it did about the past. I hope that was the point.

I will save our bike tour for tomorrow's post. After such a draining day, sleep is the best remedy.


  1. I can tell it was very moving for you and the others. It was something we have read and heard about so much I can't imagine the feeling of actually being there. Small correction my dad only served in WWII. Love Ya, Miss Ya, PC

  2. I remembering him telling he fought in the Philippines. He would have nightmares about it. He was awarded many medals--very brave and dedicated man.