Tuesday, July 13, 2010

In Munich--Day III: Chillin' in Dachau!!!

Let’s be honest, broad readership: This is a great continent and all, but as has happened in the past, the wandering and the exploring can get kinda old after a while. This is not to say that Munich’s not a wonderful city to visit, but I’ve been on the road for near-on a month and there are large parts of me that are looking forward to being back stateside.

Which is more or less how I felt when I woke up yesterday: fairly indifferent between the idea of staying an extra day in M-burg or just heading home. But since it takes an act of congress and the contents of Fort Knox to change an international air ticket, and since I wanted to make sure I’d squeezed every last drop of touristic juice out of the city since I’m already here, I thought I’d go for one, last, big, festive celebratory tourist experience. Yeah, you guessed it…


Seriously, the Dachau memorial site is only an S-bahn ride away from Munich, and while I have had more than enough Holocaust history in my time (when it was easily the #1 topic we studied in freshman intro classes as well as sophomore tutorial, plus a good heaping helping of it in popular academic culture as well as occasional visits to, e.g., the Berlin Holocaust Museum), it seems like an important enough historical site that one should pay a visit while one has the chance.

So I hopped the trains to Hbf and connected to the S2, which speeds you right out to Dachau. It’s really hard not to figure out how to get there: there are signs and direct busses as soon as you alight at the station, and the crowds of people are all pretty much going to the same place. I sat next to an older lady from Kentucky on the bus over from the train station; she had been to Bregenz and expressed shock that I hadn’t been there (“You haven’t been to Bregenz? Well, you’ve just got to go. I’m serious.” I wanted to be all like, “Bus driver, stop this vehicle—I’m changing my plans and going to Bregenz, because a random person with whom I’ve conversed for three minutes said so!”).

What’s strange about all this is that even though Dachau has become synonymous with awful Nazism and is of international interest almost exclusively for this reason, they still have the town name and people still live and work there. I know some people changed their names after the scandals of WWII (hence you won’t find too many guys named “Bill Hitler” out in the world), but Dachau apparently didn’t think to do this (or found it infeasible or unpopular for whatever reason). Strangest of all: there are wholesome-looking middle-class houses built right up against the edge of the concentration camp site. Can you imagine the sell-job the nice real estate lady had to do with that one? “Lovely entryway, spacious master suite, and the balcony from your bedroom has a sweeping view of the crematorium!” I bet the values of those houses are half what equivalent places would be elsewhere.

At the site, I learned that I just missed the informative movie, which was a real annoyance since I like informative movies, and there wouldn’t be another one until late in the afternoon. I blame the hotel staff here at the Haydn, who screwed up my reservation (putting me down for 2 not 3 nights, despite clear confirming email to the contrary), and offered me a different room for the last night, albeit one that I had to move into—this delayed my departure by 20-30min and effectively precluded me from seeing the informative film. I want the Haydn to discount the rate of my room by the value of the historical information I would have gotten but for their snafu.

All right, Dachau itself: honestly, the verdict is in and it was interesting, sobering, but not terribly surprising. Getting educated in the very late 20th century means you’re pretty much exposed to the facts of the Holocaust, and that often includes some pretty gory and in-your-face footage of suffering inmates, piles of corpses, and the like. It’s never fun to see these things, and it’s always at least a bit unsettling to think of how terribly things can go wrong, but it was really just another illustration of a grim reality that I’ve been aware of for a long time. At least there was no freaking out or public keening in the exhibits (as there was in, e.g., my soph tutorial, where people went on and on and on about how they could barely take the material and it made them cry and lose sleep, etc.), although there was a couple that kept smooching in the shadow of the death-camp photos, which I thought was weirdly macabre.

I tromped around the grounds for a good long while. There are some nice memorials (nice in the sense of “well-executed,” not nice in the sense of “pleasant”—obv.), and a long, tree-lined walkway where the prisoners used to gather in what little time they were allowed to recreate. The walkway was downright picturesque, and with a breeze blowing and the trees shielding the hot summer sun, it was easy to forget what the place used to be about.

After much tromping, I grew weary and headed back via the brutally un-air conditioned bus, and then the deliciously air-conditioned Deutschebahn train, and arrived back at the pension, where I managed to nap despite the onset of a BBQ in the courtyard right below my room window. I eventually woke up because there was a single Italian guy in the BBQing group who was so loud that at first I thought he was having a rage-y altercation with someone. Turns out, he was just talking, though I think there’s something about some Italians (and yeah, it’s totally culturally specific in my experience) that brings out an almost comically loud vocal quality when they’re in a group. It’s kind of like a norm cascade—others were getting loud, and there were many hi-pitched shrieking girls laughing as well, but I figured, hey, it’s like 6pm—they’ll certainly quiet down by the time I’m back and want to sleep, right? (This is, broad readership, the kind of foreshadowing that is the mark of true literary quality.)

So at this point it was early evening, and DF’s eurotrip was in serious denouement. I’d seen what I wanted to see of Munich—and then some—and wanted nothing more than to relax and do some blogging, because after all, I am truly devoted to my readers. So I headed to Odeonsplatz, site of my beloved San Francisco Coffee Company. You might say, “Why visit a US-themed coffee shop when you’re in Europe.” My answer is four words: big, iced caffeine beverages. I got a massive (by Euro standards) cappuccino on ice, and sat in a courtyard off Theresienstrasse that could easily have served as an ad for old-Europe refinement: high windowed walls, central fountain, a few folks sipping coffee—it was one of those moments that felt scripted in its relaxing perfection.

My trusty but fading computer ran out of power not too soon after, so I took a wander through the Hofgarten one last time, where they were playing swing music in the Diana Temple and folks were milling around to gear up for the WC finale. And in the interest of not missing the latter, I hopped the U6 and hightailed it back to Goetheplatz for a farewell game-watch at Sinans, the really pretty good barrestaurant around the corner from the Pension Haydn.

The game, meh—I’d gone in wanting the Dutch to win but was so turned off by their cynical play that I felt it was some vindication for attacking soccer when Spain finally pulled out the late winning goal. I’m also glad there was a goal—if it had gone to scoreless penalties, it not only would have been unfair to the Spanish, but would have meant that we’d go at least 12 years without a decisive score in the final. Again, ugh. The atmo was really pretty fun—there was a table of Dutch people and Sinans was full and festive despite Germany not being in the game. The mood was clearly pro-Holland; when the game ended, there was no clapping, just mildly disappointed silence, as well as a few muttered “scheisse”s.

Then back home for DF, and sweet sweet repose, right? Oh, so wrong—I did indeed get to sleep, only to be woken up at like 1.30am by … the screaming Italian and his cohorts! They’d come back from watching the game, it seems, and had reassembled in the courtyard for more yelly, yelly conversation. I tried what I could to drown out the noise, even closing the window despite the hot oppressive night. But a half-hour in, I decided to chat with them, and was really surprised to find that the Italian who felt it necessary to scream at the top of his lungs to communicate with people sitting at the same table with him was … the proprietor of the pension! I think my shock was obvious when I went out to talk to the group, and he seemed incredibly embarrassed, though I can’t imagine he’d be surprised (“Oh, you mean the guests find it disturbing that I’m bellowing in a foreign language at 2am on a Sunday morning directly beneath their windows? What a puzzlement!”). But all was more or less well—they agreed to quiet down, and eventually packed up and went inside, by about which time my adrenalina had simmered down, and I finally slept.

And with that, twas morning, and the time of present writing, and I’m getting this all down in my Pension Haydn room before I leave for the airport. The flight is at 3.45pm, and my goal is to get there as early as possible so I can see about switching to a deliciously non-claustrophobic aisle seat, and possibly also do some internetting before the flight departs. The feeling upon departure day is right where you want to be: happy to have been here in Europa, but also ready to leave and go back home.


1. Famous entrance to Dachau, greeting prisoners with "Arbeit macht frei." Hey, who says the Germans have no sense of humor?

2. Eerie spit-turning sculpture outside Dachau main barracks.

3. More barracks, but in background check out the nice middle-class houses. How effed would it be to raise a family right next to a goddamned concentration camp???