In Honor & Remembrance

Today was a very sombering, very emotional day for us…pretty much the opposite of yesterdays Hofbraühaus experience. Breakfast was light though. We ate at the hostel with two new friends of ours. They were actually the two boys we watched play chess for over an hour in Salzburg…we didn’t know they were coming to Munich next too, but we all ended up at the same hostel. How serendipitous! But for our main activity of the day we joined a Sandemans New Europe (the company that does our fav free tours) paid tour to Dachau Concentration Camp.

Dachau was the first Nazi concentration camp opened in Germany. It was opened in 1933, just 51 days after Hitler took power. It served as a prototype and model for the 1500 Nazi concentration camps that followed.

For the first years Dachau was used to hold political prisoners, German politicians (mostly Communists) who opposed the Third Reich. As the war began and the Nazis invaded neighboring countries the number of prisoners grew and conditions worsened. The prisoners now included criminals, the mentally ill, homosexuals, gypsies and Jews from throughout Europe. The Dachau administration recorded the intake of 206,206 prisoners and 31,951 deaths. Many of the deaths were the result of poor sanitation, malnutrition, deprivation of medical care, and beatings & shootings for infraction of rules, or at random. But despite the massive number of deaths, this camps primary aim was not extermination. Prisoners in weakened condition were transferred elsewhere to be executed in the gas chambers for their unfitness. The actual number of deaths at camp remains an estimate because of the use of the crematorium and the unknown number of Soviet prisoners of war who were executed without reason and without written record.

Together with the much larger Auschwitz, Dachau has come to symbolize the Nazi concentration camps to many people. It was the second camp to be liberated and one of the first places where the previously unknown Nazi practices were exposed to the Western world.

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A visit to Dachau is hard to explain. We’ll start by saying we are glad we went as part of a tour group, as opposed to on our own. There are English explanations everywhere, but the tour guide was full of extra knowledge and stories that made everything so much more real…and that’s when the camp really hits you: when you wrap your head around that fact that this all really happened. Going and seeing the camp, with the halls & barracks & vast, barren center square, is surreal in itself. The idea of people living there at all is unplesant, and when you add the horrible conditions described to you it becomes completely horrible. Everything seems to be set up to break down the prisoners mentally…and physically too. The graphic videos, photos & stories of beatings, torture & starvation makes your stomach turn and your heart hurt, all at the same time. And this is all before you even start considering that you are standing on the sight of mass murder…a center of genocide.
We are not going to give you a bunch of photos or talk about details of what we saw today, it seems in bad taste, but we encourage anyone interested to learn more about WWII, the holocaust & internment camps. It may be difficult to see, hear and read…it may seem impossible to stomach…but it is so important that we know, understand and learn, lest we never let it happen again. As you leave Bunker X and the sight of the execution wall & gas chambers at Dachau there is a simple statue. It is an unassuming man in his prisoner garb, standing in a completely symbolic casual stance. He is the unknown prisoner and he stands as a memorial to the a least 32,000 (and possibly up to 65,000) men who died in this one of 1500 camps. At the base of the statue is a simple statement: To Honor the Dead, To Warn the Living.
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Our evening was subdued. When we returned to Munich, we gathered our bags from the hostel, ate a quick donair & fries supper at the rail station and boarded a train to Füssen. We got in at about 8 pm so we just went to the hostel and hung out there for the evening. Tomorrow will be a much perkier day…into a fairy tale from a nightmare. But even with calling it that, today was an incredible day, one we wouldn’t dream of trading or taking back, and one we won’t soon forget.

Love, Luck & Lasting Hope,
K&J

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Hallo!

We started our day in Salzburg, Austria but that is not the city we intended on seeing today…in fact, that isn’t even the country we did our sightseeing in today! It still blows our mind how close & interconnected everything is here…plus this whole EU: a continent without borders thing just makes switching countries unbelievable easy. For example, we took the metro to Germany this morning…the metro! Once in our desired country, we hopped on a train to Munich.

Our hostel was only 4 minutes walk from the train station, according to Goggle Maps. It took us about 15 minutes to find it. We came by the S-bahn, rather than an intercity train. This meant we emerged from a subway stop, not into the central rail station. After doing laps of a few random blocks we found the Tourist Information Center, which we recognized from our brief stop in Munich for Oktoberfest. It is right around the corner from the train station, and therefor just a block from our hostel. After dropping off our bags we wandered to the rail station. Here we picked up a snack, a Starbucks and our tour group.

Our favorite tour company (Sandemans New Europe) offers a free city tour in Munich. Yay! For the first time we had a girl guide; she was as epic as all of our guides before. She was funny & entertaining but also informative & serious when she needed to be. We cannot recommend these tours enough! We won’t describe ever stop to you (as we have with some past tours) but we do have a coupe awesome things to show off – slash – stories to tell.

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Marienplatz or Mary’s Square is the central square of Munich. It has been the city’s main square since 1158. The square is dominated by the City Hall with the Glockenspiel in its tower. For those of you who don’t know what a Glockenspiel is (and we do not look down on you if you do not) it is an instrument similar to a xylophone that is placed in bell towers to play at certain times of day. What makes it exciting is that it is usually accompanied by a multiple-layered merry-go-round of sorts that will spin while the glockenspiel plays. The one here features a jousting match, a clown and many dancing men. In the centre of the square is Mary’s Column, erected in 1638 to celebrate the end of Swedish occupation during the Thirty Year’s War.

St. Peter’s Church is one of many churches in Munich. This one is associated with an interesting story. Embedded in the side of the church is a cannonball.
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This cannonball dates back to the Napoleonic wars of the early 1800’s. During WWII the tower with the embedded ball was destroyed. But Muinch was one of few cities in Germany that was able to be completely rebuilt back to the original. Hitler was fond of Munich and he knew the city would be greatly damaged during the war. He had the Nazis take photos of every single part of the city so it could be rebuilt with all of it’s former glory. Using these pictures the city was reconstructed exactly…the cannonball was even put back in the wall!

The maypole or Maibaum is an old German and Austrian tradition from the 16th century. Each town has a maypole, often painted in the blue and white Bavarian colors. Practical jokes were often played between neighboring towns. If a town stole your maypole you had pay their ransom by providing enough food & drink for the residents of that town to have a large party. Only then would you get it back. This was easy enough in the middle ages but recently Munich wasn’t too happy when Frankfurt, a city of 600,000, stole their maypole.
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Another tradition has young men cutting down a tree, painting it and placing it in the yard of the woman they wish to marry. The girl had a week to guess who the man was and then decide if she wished to marry him. Our guide told us a story of a young Bavarian man who proposed to his girlfriend by placing a maypole in her yard just a couple of years ago.

Many people do not know the National Socialist German Workers Party began in Munich. Gaining support in a beer hall, Hitler attempted to mobilize his supporters to march to Berlin in 1923. This “Beerhall Putsch” was a complete fail, resulted in the death of 15 Nazis and ended with Hitler spending almost a year in jail for treason. When Hitler was released he realized if he wanted to gain power he must go about it in a democratic way. When Hitler came to power in 1933, he made a law that everyone who passed the Nazi plaque on the wall honoring those killed in the failed Nazi rebellion had to give the Nazi salute. Naturally there were many who objected the Nazis and refused. Instead they would take a short cut down a side alley. The armed Nazis became aware of this and positioned guards down the side alley. Any who took the short cut were met by the guards and when they didn’t salute they were sent to Dachau. This gold line in the middle of the alley honors those who risked their lives and resisted Nazi influence.
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The last church was the Theatine Church of St. Cajetan built in 1663. The church has a very Mediterranean appearance, like the churches we saw in Italy. Unlike many other churches, this one stands out because of its bright yellow exterior. Our guide recommended we visit the inside of the church, she claimed it was much nicer than the exterior. She was right! Inside the church was all white…we mean super white, as they repaint it every few years. That would be an awful job because look at all of the super fine detail work the place is covered in:
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We returned to our hostel in the afternoon to check in to our room (we’d been too early to actually check in this morning). In order to warm up after our 3+ hours walking outside in the chilly temps we sat around and chatted with the boys we were sharing a room with. There was a pair of cute boys from New York and a really strange Asian guy from Toronto. Mainly we talked to the cute ones and found out they were also cousins! Fun fun!

We attempted to find a restaurant our guide had recommended for supper, but instead of getting to the square we wanted we found ourselves in front of the Hofbraühaus. This was our after dinner plan, so we decided to just go in and eat there as well. The Hofbraühaus was founded in 1589 by the Duke of Bavaria, Wilhelm V. It was originally founded as a brewery for the old Royal Residence. In 1920 the hall was used by the Nazi Party to declare policies and hold functions. It was here the German Workers Party became the infamous Narional Socialist German Workers Party.
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We walked a few laps to scope the place out. There are some really awesome traditions within those walls. First, there is always a live Oompa-pa style band playing traditional music. Second, although now at least half of the people in the place are tourists, there is still a good collection of local regulars. If you continuously go to the Hofbraühaus for long enough you can be granted your own engraved beer stein that is locked up and pulled out for only your use. You can also be issued your own table (with a sign above it & everything) is always yours to sit at…if you arrive & people are at your table you can just throw them out!
Eventually we found an open sest…a long 8-person table with just us at it. It didn’t stay just us for long though; we were joined by a a father/son pair with their wives & a friend. They were from Moscow, Russia. That is the beauty of the Hofbraühaus, you never know who will sit down beside you! The men spoke a little English, enough to know ice hockey, Stanley Cup & Wayne Gretzky. The father had went to special English courses where he apparently learned Canadian geography…he could name all of the Great Lakes. We had broken conversations while we downed a litre of beer (Justine’s was a Radler, aka half beer/half lemonade) and ate supper. Justine had beef goulash with bread dumplings and Kristin had meatloaf with German potato salad. She was proud of herself for getting something other than sausage…then it showed up…it was basically a slice of a giant sausage…weird, but delicious!
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When the Russians left we were joined by a single Asian man (who we later learned was in his 70s), and then two German couples who were probably in their 60s. We thought, oh this could be fun, but had honestly been hoping for a younger crowd. We are now glad we didn’t get our wish because our table ended up being so much fun! We are pretty sure we were laughing harder than anyone else in the place. The Japanese man tried really hard to express himself with his limited English and had lots of pamphlet to show us about his home town, and even made Kristin an origami present 🙂
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The German men were ridiculous and when we were almost finished our second drinks, they bought a round for the whole table. The wives kept telling us “ignore them…we are normal, we swear!” but we weren’t judging. To be honest, we had been discussing how they reminded us of our dads, as one was outside the window dancing around for our entertainment & the other was cheersing with the table next to us. Anyway, in a nutshell: it was everything we thought the night could be and more…something we will remember for a long long time!

Things We Learned Today:
– If you are caught doing anything resembling the Nazi salute while in Germany you can be immediately detained, fined and deported. But that’s not the worst of it, your passport will be marked and the Interpol system will forever have you listed as a NeoNazi.
– For the past few years the Austrailians have brought in extra staff to their embassy in Germany during Oktoberfest because so many Aussies come to the city, get obliterated & lose their passports. Last year over 1000 Austrailian passports had to be replaced after Oktoberfest.

Highlight of the Day:
– The drunk 70-something Japanese man telling the drunk 60-something German man “rebeliebe dich”…aka I Love You in German 😀

Love, Luck & Litres of Beer,
K&J

Skoal!

We know you have all been waiting on baited breath for our next post…and we have definitely kept you waiting. We’re sorry about that but with night trains and so much to do & see, we just haven’t had time to write and/or the means to post. But we are back & better than ever…or at least just as good…we hope…

We know you have all been anticipating our tale of our first night train! Well here is our opinion…it was an adventure…not necessarily a postive one…but not an entirely negative one… Our seats ended up being in a compartment. In case we never mentioned, all night trains need prior reservations so you have a specific seat. If you need help picturing a compartment watch Harry Potter…it’s just like on the Hogwarts Express except the seats are a bit more divided and less of a continuous bench. There were 3 seats on either side. We were the ones closest to the door, so we were across from each other. The seats didn’t lay back. They also didn’t leave you a lot of leg room when you consider here’s another person across from you. Our compartment was full with 4 other people also crammed in. We were able to turn off the light & we had eaplugs (as always) but it was very difficult to get comfortable. We both did get some sleep but just couldn’t get a good long, continuous sort of sleep going. It was very disjointed and not entirely restful. Oh well…hopefully tomorrow will be better…

We “woke up” in Munich. Yes that does mean we have officially reach country #10! We celebrated by finding a train station bathroom to change & fix ourselves up in. Being as it was a night train into Munich during Oktoberfest, there were a lot of other girls doing the same thing. Justine was feeling pretty tired at this point as she is a fan of a good-nights sleep so Kristin started trying to wake her up. She realizes that she was probably being more annoying than helpful but she was really excited about the day ahead! We found ourselves a station map to direct us to day-use lockers. At first glance we weren’t sure our bags would fit, but then we turned the corner. Here we found lockers big enough to easily fit both of our bags in one. With extra space! Nice deal.

At this point it was 8:30 am…is 8:30 am too early to show up at Oktoberfest? We thought maybe a bit so we found some pastries & coffee and wandered around the central station area of Munich. Eventually we made our way to the subway and went the one stop to the Oktoberfest grounds. We say eventually because there was some major delay in the train showing up…we of course have no idea what it was, being as everyone was spouting off angry German (which probably wasn’t actually angry, German just makes people sound unhappy). But we got there!

And boy was it cool! Think Stampede but instead of it being about Cowboys & Rodeo, it’s about Leiderhosen & Beer. We’re serious about the Leiderhosen too. Everyone is dressed up. At least one third of the men are in their checkered shirts, high socks & leather Leiderhosen. And at least a quarter of the women are in cute traditional, peasant-style dresses. It was awesome!

Everything is set up like a standard fair-type event. There was a midway with rides. There were a million food stands selling traditional German food. There were also a million souvenir stands selling anything you’d ever want. Then there were the cookie stands. They were large heart-shaped cookies with icing decorations & sayings written on them. They sold them everywhere so this must be a normal thing. They also had a string through them so you could wear it around your neck…lots of people did.
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We did 2 full laps of the grounds. The first one was just us trying to take it all in. The second was to take in the main event: the beer halls. There are lots of them…more than you would expect…and they are huge! Each it decorated in it’s own special way and has it’s own specialty beer, food and traditions. The halls themselves are like giant barns with tables and wood benches everywhere. You can reserve tables if you are serious about being right where you want to be, but the unreservedly section is where the party is really at.
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Being the experienced girls we are (don’t look at us like that…university isn’t just about school learning) we knew we had to eat some lunch before we hit a beer hall for good. We missed the corn dog, mini donut & deep-fried-everything stands we woud normally find at a fair…but we are here to embrace the culture! After examining many booths we made our picks. Justine got a schnisel-y sandwich. We are still not sure what type of meat it was made with but it was breaded & bunned and she thoroughly enjoyed it!
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Kristin couldn’t resist the sausage stands. She got a Brathwurst dog with some yummy onion toppings. Basically Kristin couldn’t be happier, being that she has entered the land of beer & sausage (Justine is holding out for 2 weeks till we hit the land of pasta & wine).
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Selecting a beer hall was almost as hard as picking food, but we had done our research. After our “looking-in lap” we decided we liked the look and feel of the Haufbraus Tent best. It was decorated with hops (because all of our brewry tours have taught us to recognize them) and already had a pretty hopping un-reserved section. We walked around until we found a free space and plunked ourselves down. There was pretty decent party going on with lots of rowdy boys & girls.
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There are beer-maidens walking around who are happy to grab you a beer. These girls are amazing! They come from all over Europe just to waitress for the couple of weeks of Oktoberfest. Apparently the pay isn’t great, but the tips are utterly amazing. It’s not unusual to see them carrying around 8 full beers. And let’s not forget that these are not your average bar pint, these are giant glass tankards holding a liter of beer each! The waitress for our area (who, for any of you who have seen the show, looked just like Casey from Greek) grabbed us each a liter for ourselves.
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Then we mingled. We had some New Zealanders behind us, an Aussie couple on one side and a group of Norwegian men on the other. They were all really social and fun and we had soon bonded with everyone. It’s easy to bond when you’re all there solely to have fun & drink beer. Justine is proud to say she drank about 3/4 of her beer. Kristin drank all of hers…plus at least half of the one a nice Norwegain bought her after…eek… At least she wasn’t one of the people standing up on the table and attempting to chug their whole drink. The entire hall then cheered or booed at you depending on your success. The whole situation is so hard to describe, but was so much fun. There is a traditional band playing traditional music with tubas & accordions and everything. Approximately every 10 to 15 minutes they would play this one song and everyone in the hall would get up (often on their benches) and sing along. It was in German so we were just trying to make sounds similar to everyone else. We did get someone to translate it for us though and it was something along the lines of “Cheers – Cheers – Cheers – We all drink more and we are all happy – Cheers – Cheers – Cheers.” Truer words were never spoken.
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The cheersing was an intregal part of the event…but did you know it’s also very dangerous? During one enthusiastic round the cups all clinked a little too hard and chip actually flew off Justine’s glass. Look at the far side of the cup…
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The chip then decided to hit Justine in the eyebrow! She was suddenly just bleeding! Kristin whipped out her glasses cloth to staunch the flow and then Justine found Kleenex to clean it up. It was just a tin cut…nothing serious…but she is lucky it didn’t hit her further down in the eye.
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Eventually Justine wanted to go do a bit of souvenir shopping & Kristin wanted to ride some roller coasters. So while Justine did her thing Kristin tagged along with her new Norwegian buddies and forced them to ride roller coasters they were afraid of. She really didn’t force them, she just said she was going on and they felt to lame to back out if the only girl was riding.
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It was all just a surreal experience! So cool to have seen! So cool to have taken part in! Justine is really glad she’s done it once. Kristin wants to do it every year!

Now we are seated at the Munich train station. There is a spot of wall where we could prop up our bags and scam off Starbucks’ free internet. We don’t feel too bad seeing as it’s kinda slow & frustrating. In a matter of minutes we will be boarding our next night train. Kristin remembers reading something about reclining seats in one of the reservations she made, btu there is no guaranteeing that it was this trip, or that the reclining seats will be any better than the compartment from last night. It’s a long trip tonight so we have lots of time to try to fit in some sleep…which hopefully will work out better than last time. Justine is starting to turn into a zombie and even Kristin (aka the girl who never sleeps) is starting to feel like she could use a good rest. Either way we have a bed in Berlin tomorrow night…Yay! Wish us luck!

Love, Luck & Leiderhosen,
K&J