Munich

We woke up bright and early to head to the train station and catch our train to Munich. The walk to the train station wasn’t extremely far, but the whole thing was uphill and we had all of our luggage with us, so by the time we made it we were dripping in sweat and exhausted.

(Old Town Hall and the Christmas market)

The hostel where we were staying in Prague didn’t have a printer, so we were counting on getting to the train station and printing out or ticket there. When we got to the station we looked for those computer things they have in airports to print our tickets, but they were no where to be found, so we headed to the ticket desk and asked if they could print them for us. Apparently the ticket people do not have Internet or any access to our ticket information, so the only option the lady offered us was to buy another ticket. The ticket lady also told us there was Wifi on the other floor, but she said there wasn’t a single printer in the entire train station, so basically we were in trouble.

(The Christmas tree in the market and the moon!)

Sarah and I ran upstairs and, planning to take a picture of our tickets, found a Burger King with Wifi. Obviously their Wifi didn’t work, so I went wandering through the station looking for Internet. Luckily I found an Exchange place with an Internet station and printers (looks like the ticket lady was wrong!), so we downloaded the tickets, printed them, and made it onto the train just in time.

(decoration stand)

As I said in my earlier post, our train to Munich was the Hogwarts Express! The train wasn’t literally the Hogwarts Express, unfortunately, but it was made of cabins just like the ones on the Hogwarts train, and Sarah and I ended up with an entire cabin to ourselves. The train from Prague to Munich is 6 hours long, so Sarah and I closed our curtains, stretched out on each row of seats, and napped for about half the trip!

Once we made it to Munich and checked into our hotels, we headed straight for the Christmas markets. I thought Prague was full of Christmas markets, but Munich seems to have even more! From our hostel it was about a ten-minute-walk to the first plaza with markets, and from there markets stretched out in all directions.

(ornament stand)

We walked around looking at all the pretty decorations and Christmas ornaments, but once again I put my money towards food. First, I stopped and bought a few cherries, which were so good, and then I got a bag of “kettle corn” (it wasn’t warm and coming fresh out of the pot like the kettle corn at the trail of lights, but it was sugar coated popcorn, so I guess that’s the same!) which I had been craving ever since we got to the markets.

(ornaments!)

After walking around for what felt like hours, it was only 7 and we were exhausted, so we decided to be super American and have an early dinner. We picked a random restaurant on the same road as the markets (I don’t have Rick for recommendations because I sent my Germany book home with my dad) because the inside was decorated and it looked really cozy.

I had Spinach dumplings, which probably significantly raised my cholesterol, but they were pretty good! From dinner we headed straight back to the hostel and went to sleep.

Our second day in Munich we woke up early and decided to cancel our third night and head to Salzburg early since besides the markets there isn’t much to do in Munich that I haven’t done, and neither Sarah nor I have been to Austria.

(another cookie stand!)

First we cancelled our hostel reservation and then headed to the train station to get our Salzburg tickets. Buying the Salzburg tickets was quick and painless—and cheap!—so we were feeling pretty good about our choice and then we headed to Radius Tours (the company my dad and I used while in Munich) to see what was going on for the day.

(ornaments…so many ornaments!)

Our good luck continued, and when we checked out the schedule we found out there was a “third reich” tour in 30 minutes, so we bought tickets and went to get some breakfast in the station before the tour.

The third reich tour was a guided walking tour that told the history of the rise of Nazism while taking us through Munich to see some of the significant sites. First we stopped at Hoffbrauhaus, which is the most famous beer garden in the world, but many don’t realize it also is the symbolical birthplace of Nazism. Hitler joined the German Workers Party, which later became the National Socialist Workers Party and held their meetings in this very beer hall. The dark history is still evident in the swastikas that are painted (although now more discretely) on the ceiling.

On the tour we walked around to a few other sites while the guide talked to us about the information and the history, but there wasn’t really much to see since Munich was almost completely destroyed World War II, so now most of the city is reconstructed; also, Eisenhower directed a “de-nazification” program, in which all remnants of Nazi ideology were destroyed.

(capital. Destroyed in WWII and rebuilt with glass to show “transparency of the government”)

Although the information the guide was telling us was really interesting, the tour was really long and entirely outside, so by the second hour I was miserably cold, so cold that I thought I would have to leave the tour early and run somewhere to get inside.

Luckily I was able to stick it out until the end of the tour where we went inside one of the last remaining Nazi buildings—the Nazi headquarters—where our guide described the events leading up to Hitler’s suicide, and then she read aloud his last will and testament.

When I heard Hitler’s will, I really understood Hitler’s persuasiveness and his talent as a speaker and writer. Obviously I detest Hitler for the terror he caused and the horrible crimes he committed, and I was disappointed when I heard about the numerous assassination attempts against him that failed, but when I heard his will spoken I actually started to sympathize with Hitler and imagine him as a nice man who was willing to sacrifice everything for his country and his people.

(English Garden)

Five seconds later that sympathy disappeared and the abhorrence returned, but I was completely shocked by how well spoken he was and how convincing he was, to the extent that it made me better understand how history occurred the way it did.

After the tour ended we stayed in the building a little bit longer so my toes and legs and fingers and nose could thaw out, and then I insisted on first stopping to buy more clothes to put on before doing anything else (I don’t know what is wrong with me but it seems like my body refuses to produce its own heat).

With a new turtleneck, wool sweater, my wool coat, and scarf, I was finally able to head back out into the Christmas markets. Sarah and I shopped around for gifts and snacked on some chocolate covered strawberries for a while before deciding to head into the hostel and rest until dinner.

(one of the entrances to the Munich market)

Once we made it into the hostel Sarah and I were overcome with laziness and we lied in bed showing each other pictures of our friends and family and dogs from home. All day it was horribly cold, and then while we were lying in our room it started raining, so we had a perfect excuse to continue our sloth-like behavior.

As we were pretending to consider heading out into the markets again and being good tourists, the rain turned into snow. With the weather change we were completely rejuvenated, so we jumped out of bed and headed out to experience the Christmas markets in the snow.

(Me and Sarah in the market while it is snowing)

We wandered around for a little while enjoying the falling snow until it got to the point that we were pretty soaked and our toes were going numb. Then we headed to one of the little food booths and got frankfurters for dinner, which were delicious, and for dessert I had my very first crepe! I had been intending to get a crepe since we got here, but it hadn’t worked out logistically until our last night, and I have to say, I saved the best dessert for last!

(Market in the snow)

For my very first crepe I got nutella and bananas, and by the time Sarah ordered her crepe and made it to our table I had already almost finished mine! I can’t even begin to describe the deliciousness that was this crepe; nutella makes anything amazing, and with the combination of bananas and it being all melted, it was heaven.

Anyways, with the dessert crepe I would say that Munich ended on a high note, and that night we went to bed early and then woke up the following morning and headed to Austria!

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Munich in Review

During my first few days in the city, I was kind of making a list of all the reasons why I know I don’t want to live here (what a horrible way to look at things, yet that’s what I did):

-the perpetual cloud of cigarette smoke over the city

-they eat too much red meat

-the language isn’t pretty

-they put people in concentration camps

And I was grumpy about where we were staying (can I plead jet lag?)

-My bed is probably a little under 6 feet long, and with wooden edges, giving me JUST enough space to sleep with the top of my head and toes touching either end.

-no air conditioning

-too many rules (we have to take our shoes off before coming in and put them on a mat, we can only carry one piece of luggage up the stairs at a time, and….

apparently there is no peeing while standing. This rule doesn’t affect me personally, but it’s just the principle of it!)

Luckily I stopped being such a grouch and acting like my way is THE right and only way, and I actually really, really like Munich and enjoyed my time here. (So, just for clarification, I don’t actually think all those negative things about Munich/Germans/the German language!)

Here are some highlights:

1. At the end of the castle tour, our guide was explaining that there were two options for getting down: a steep walk down to a gorge (more scenic but longer and harder) or walking down the way we came. I wanted to go down to see the scenery, while my dad didn’t think twice and started down the quicker, easier path saying,”I’ll be at the bottom with a beer, see you when you get there.”

An Argentinian couple was having a hard time understanding and kind of mumbling in Spanish, so I went ahead and explained to them in Spanish what the tour guide had said, and we ended up going down the mountain together and talking the whole way. Although they called me “Pamela Anderson” at first, I really had so much fun talking to them, plus it was good practice speaking Spanish!

2. While having dinner at a biergarten, an older man and a guy somewhere around my age or older sat down at the empty seats at our table. My dad of course started an awkward conversation that I was ready to let die off, but the guy actually kept the conversation up.

Anytime I am at a restaurant ordering or asking a question at the rail station, I pull our my German phrase book and try to put together a sentence. Unfortunately I was not at all able to pick up German, and my dad started cutting me off and saying my orders in English before I could even try (I guess I was embarrassing).

Anyways, when I talked to the guy at our table, he actually tried to help me pronounce German phrases and teach me things to say! It was very fun (and probably funny for him) learning how to pronounce the words and sayings!

3. Today my dad and I rented bikes and did a big loop around the city (about 26 kilometers!). The weather was perfect, and it was so nice to not do anything but just enjoy the city and the scenery. Also, Munich is VERY biker/walker friendly which I love and the city has so many beautiful areas.

I didn’t take many pictures because I just wanted to enjoy the bike ride and there would’ve been too many things to photograph anyways, but here are a few that I did get.

So, bright and early tomorrow morning my dad and I will be getting on a train and heading to Switzerland! I am so excited to hike and see the beautiful landscape. I feel like I’ve been doing a fair job keeping my blog up to date, but, disclaimer: I may not post for a few days! However, I will try to make a few notes of what I do so I won’t forget the details!

Cinderella’s Castle

Today we saw Cinderella’s Castle (almost literally)! In Fussen, a town about two hours outside of Munich, King Ludwig II built a castle–Neuschwanstein–that is said to have inspired the Disney World castle.

The day we planned to go turned out to be a beautiful and sunny day (my dad would said horribly hot and bright), which was perfect for visiting the castle.

(view from train window arriving into Fussen)
Right in the valley below King Ludwig’s castle is his father’s castle, Hohenschwangau. Hohenschwangau loosely translates to “high swanland”, in reference to Swan Lake which is in the valley below; Neuchwasntein means “new swanstone”.
(Hohenschwangau)
Before making our way to Ludwig’s castle, our guide warned that the way up is a steep and demanding walk, and he wasn’t exaggerating! My dad opted to take the bus to the top, while I decided to walk because we had been on the train all morning, and I wanted to be able to take pictures.

After finally making it to the top, and sweating through my shirt, I was reward with a panoramic view of the town below.

Near the castle is “Mary’s bridge”, a steel bridge built over 100 years ago, that spans over a gorge and gives an amazing view of the castle.

(Neuchwanstein Castle)
The castle is idyllic on the outside, and Ludwig had amazing plans for the interior, but he died before these plans could be realized.Still, about one floor was completed and we were able to tour these rooms, giving us a taste of the decadent plan Ludwig had in mind. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to take pictures of the interior, but I can describe some of the most interesting features, and show some pictures from the internet!

Ludwig used the interior design to honor the operas of his friend, Richard Wagner. In each room the paintings on the walls displayed scenes from specific operas, such as Tristan and Isolde, and the castle even has an artificial cave, also inspired by one of Wagner’s operas.

The king’s bedroom alone took four years for woodcarvers to complete, which is understandable when looking at the wooden bed canopy which is intricately carved into the shapes of Gothic cathedrals.

We also got to see inside the king’s bathroom which was funny because the decadence didn’t stop there! His toilet seat looked like a wood carved throne (not unlike the one in our guest bathroom).

Those were the main, and my favorite, features of the castle. I can’t even begin to imagine what the castle would be like if things like the chapel and the king’s chair were completed.

Although the castle is amazing and I really enjoyed seeing the rooms, I think the history behind the castle and King Ludwig was actually even more interesting. (This is as told by our tour guides, and from what I’ve read in my guide book)

(me and my dad in the castle courtyard- He said these shoes gave made it obvious I was a tourist. Sorry to blow your cover, Dad!)
Ludwig assumed the throne at 18 after his father’s death, but he was not very politically minded, was likely homosexual–a fact he would’ve struggled with–and suffered from paranoia (in some of his other castles, Ludwig had his dining table on a lift so that the servants could set the table and it could be lifted to his dinging room, thus enabling him to avoid contact with others). All of these factors contributed to Ludwig withdrawing from people and his political duties, and turning his attention to designing grand, fanciful castles (which also led to the nickname Mad King Ludwig).

 

(view from Castle window)
However, designing and building these castles was an expensive endeavor, and Ludwig was driving his family into a deep debt. Eventually, Ludwig was diagnosed as mentally insane, and therefore incapable of being king, by Dr. Bernhard von Gudden, who had yet to actually interview Ludwig, but based this diagnosis on interviews with his family members.
(waterfall in valley below Castle and Mary’s bridge)
After spending only a night at the castle where he was placed under disability, Ludwig and his doctor were found drowned in the lake (my guide says the water was only about knee deep). Autopsies were never performed and the cause of death was simply listed as drowning.So that is the mysterious history behind the castle, and the reason it was never finished!

Dachau Concentration Camp

After two days of warm, sunny weather, we woke up Saturday to a cold, drizzly Munich. My dad was so happy for the change in temperature and, while wearing only shorts and a t-shirt, he still managed to break a sweat; of course I, on the other hand, was freezing in pants and a jacket! However, I do have to say the weather changed just in time because a sunny day wouldn’t have felt appropriate for the activity: visiting an old concentration camp.

My dad and I took a tour of Dachau, a concentration camp just barely outside Munich, and I learned a ton of interesting information that I hadn’t known before.

I didn’t realize that many of Naziism’s roots are in Munich; Hitler, after moving from Austria, settled in Munich and launched his original campaign in the beer halls of this city (including Hoffbrauhaus which I visited). Furthermore, the very first concentration camp was established in Dachau, a town only a few kilometers outside of Munich.

Also surprising was the fact that today, every German student is required to visit a concentration camp.

(Section of the original wall surrounding the camp)

Walking into the camp, the door reads “albeit macht frei”, which is literally translated to work makes free. According to our tour guide, this saying was part of the propaganda spread by Nazi’s to advertise concentration camps. The quote was intended to assuage concerns by implying that if the prisoners were to work hard, they would become better Germans and could rejoin society.

Within the camp there was another prison (essentially a prison within a prison) with numerous tiny cells. Our tour guide explained that people in these cells were often people like George Elser, a man who made one of the assassination attempts against Hitler, that the Nazis wanted to keep alive for various reasons.

(prison hallway)
Originally, Dachau contained 34 bunkers to house its prisoners. Here you can see the two remaining bunkers, plus the foundations for the other 32, and this is nothing compared to the size of Auschwitz! It’s really hard to imagine the number of people that would have been imprisoned here.

A gas chamber was built on the grounds towards the end of Hitler’s hold on power. Although it is unknown the extent to which these chambers were used, my tour guide said that although it is likely they didn’t kill mass amounts of prisoners, they were probably put to use.

Above the door is the phrase “brausebad” which is an old german term for “bath”. To expedite the gassing process and prevent prisoners from attempting to escape, this phrase was placed above the door to the chamber, leading the entering prisoners to believe they were only being bathed.

Seeing this sign above the door was one of the things that hit me the strongest; so many horrible things happened within these camps, but for whatever reason, this trickery upsets me on a whole other level.

Connected to the gas chamber is the crematorium.

Because thousands of people went missing over this time period and many of the bodies and ashes from the Dachau camp are unidentified, this is “the grave of many thousands unknown”.

This memorial to the suffering that occurred within the camp stands outside the building where prisoners were admitted into the camp and where they were tortured.

I wouldn’t describe visiting Dachau as a fun experience, but it was so moving and interesting. Our tour guide did a great job explaining that a lot of this was done without majority approval (because I have to say I was feeling pretty angry with the German people after hearing about torture tactics etc) and giving the details that really painted a picture of what happened.

The Adventure Begins: Munich

Although packing my things and saying goodbye for a whole four months was very hard—particularly saying bye to aunt bee—I am very excited to have begun my journey. At 7 am Thursday morning (midnight Wednesday in Texas), my dad and I finally landed in Munich!

I’m not sure what the best strategy is for dealing with jet lag, but we went with the power-through-the-exhaustion route. So, after checking in and dropping our bags off at the house where we are staying, my dad and I got straight to touring.

(the New Town Hall)
After a minor struggle figuring out the subway station, we made it to Marienplatz, which is a main plaza in Munich. There we saw the New Town Hall, which was constructed after the old one was destroyed in WWII, and climbed it’s tower for a bird’s eye view of the city. The New Town Hall is also famous for its glockenspiel, and we luckily arrived close to the time of its daily joust. So we wandered around the plaza until the show started, and then we enjoyed its recreation of a 16th century wedding.
(Glockenspiel)

Then we continued around town, hitting various sites. We saw Hoffbrauhaus, a famous beer garden, Allois Dellamyr, a really cool delicatessen known for its exotic foods, and I even got my picture with a German in lederhosen!
(German, Lederhosen)

Our main stop of the day was the Residenz, the palace of the Wittlesbach’s family, which ruled in Bavaria for about 700 years. Among the rooms I toured, I really liked the Shell Grotto and the antiquarium. The Shell Grotto was destroyed during WWII, but Bavarians donated shells (since they didn’t have money) to remake the grotto according to the original photos.

(shell grotto)

The hall of the antiquariam reminded me a lot of the hallways in the Louvre. In each window recess there were a number of statues of emperors’ busts, and, above the statues, murals of Bavarian villages as they looked in 1550

(antiquarium)

Following our visit to the Residenz, my dad and I had a delicious lunch at a nearby biergarten, but after that we couldn’t last any longer, so we went back to our hotel and surrendered to the exhaustion (I slept 13 hours!).

*Update: Once we made it back to our room, I realized I had missed one of the main things I wanted to see: Cuvillies Theater. Luckily, I managed to get back over to the Residenz and see the lavish performance hall.