As we exit Munich’s main railway station, it is apparent that even here in the heart of the German pride of Bavaria, the region Adolf Hitler loved so dearly, Germany has become a multi-cultural country indicative of their modern tolerance and acceptance.
Turkish immigrants open their supermarkets, shops, and small restaurants for the day on the Ludwigsvorstadt, commonly dubbed Little Istanbul, a street that extends up to the train station. Turkish shwarma spins on a flame and radiates out to the streets with its delicious smells, Turkish coffee is had at outdoor cafes, and tobacco is ubiquitously smoked. The sights and sounds converge into one memorable scene.
We walk the streets of the city, getting a feel for its rhythms and idiosyncrasies. After backpacking through Europe and staying mostly in hostels, we splurge on a small quaint room where we can walk to Munich’s most famous square to bask in history and the pungent redolence of currywurst.
Munich’s famous Marienplatz, the city’s most historic square that has been around since 1158, has been a witness to everything from end of Swedish occupation in 1638 to the gathering for Hitler’s attempted coup at the Beer Hall Putsch.
Here is where we ponder the events of history, eat bratwurst served with curry sauce over potatoes Americans would call french fries, and some German mac n’ cheese with schnitzel. None of this would be complete without two large mugs of delicious German beer.
After we eat, the square becomes political once again with protesters demonstrating against a far-right politician, holding signs with swastikas crossed out, waving brightly colored flags, and boisterously chanting slogans with fervor while the police watch over the gathering. We watch, and my girlfriend listens because she speaks German. It is getting passionate, and though we love our coincidental rendezvous with political activism in the country, we have some German chocolate to eat from the chocolatier around the corner, and wine to drink back at the hotel.
Feeling content with arriving in Munich, we languidly flip through German TV eating some of the best chocolate I’ve ever had, and looking forward to a day filled with a death camp and gargantuan beers to quiet the immensity of history.
A new day and we’re off to Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp opened in 1933 that eventually became a factory of death. We walk first through the administrative building, where there are profiles of the dead, figures of how many died in Dachau as well as the demographics of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, mentally handicapped, and others who met peril in this ominous camp and in the genocide overall.
Then, we walk across the way, past the long barbed wire fence depicted in the film Shutter Island when the American soldiers lined up the Germans working at Dachau and shot them to death. When we get to the barracks, the wood beds are rigid, grim, and barbaric. The oven in the next room was for burning the bodies of the dead. And the empty gas chamber no longer smelt of toxic flesh like some said it would. Walking along the gate separating the soldiers quarters from the camp, we walk solemnly as we see a family eating ice cream just after viewing the anachronisms of genocide, and we grimace with a visceral reaction at their ability to do so.
The train ride back from Dachau to Munich is dark and melancholy, and we pledge to pick up our spirits over the largest beers imaginable at the world famous Hofbrauhaus. The um-pah band, the pretzel girls and their pretzels, and the huge brews pick up our spirits. The room is optimistic and infectious. We drink merrily and enjoy the atmosphere, and how lucky we are to be alive, happy, and traveling the world.
We’re a little sad to leave Munich so fun, but are very excited to see the Black Forest, a place of myth, darkness, and undeniable beauty. But first, we’re off to see Neuschwanstein Castle, the gigantic and stunning edifice that inspired tales such as Sleeping Beauty. It towers high above the earth, reminding us that most castles were positioned to defend their home from invaders.
We’re not able to get inside because the tours are full, but the outside and the surrounding area of verdant flats and protruding mountains is satisfying enough.
Then a short train ride away we’re staying at a guesthouse in Hausach, and we are welcomed by the couple who owns it with open arms–actually quietly reserved German arms at their sides– but with a friendly candor and a hot meal of fish and meat nonetheless.
It is beautiful here. The small rolling hills are covered in green canopies and grass that cover the trail we take in brisk shade. We walk in and out of the nature, and the small town of Hausach. Every old German town from the tenth century has its own castle, and this one is no exception.
We pass through daily life, amidst this gorgeous landscape, walk through a neighborhood, and are offered water from a local who simply acknowledges without speaking English that it is hot and that we could use some. The people here are incredibly kind.
Taking the train to a nearby town, we’re trying to see an antiquated and abandoned monastery, but we realize that it has been replaced by modernity and a new church in its place. If I have discovered anything about traveling, it is that for every ten times it fills you with joy, it will break your heart in some small way once again. Despite the minor disappointment, our sojourn in Bavaria was magical. On our way back to the guesthouse, we try Turkish pizza from a local joint because we are curious, and most of the other restaurants are already closed.