Day 9.5 &10: Munich, a Tour of Emotions

Hilary: We had a half day in Prague on Day 9 before catching a bus to Munich, so we spent the morning exploring some sites in the Jewish Quarter that we’d briefly visited the day before on our walking tour.

Jess: The Jewish Quarter definitely contained a lot of history I didn’t know about. We walked around a cemetery that had over twelve layers in it because the government wouldn’t give the Jewish people any more land to bury people in; only dirt to put on top of the existing land. One the top of the 10m high cemetery were all of the old tombstones that had to keep being raised every time another layer had to be added. Extremely haunting. There was also a museum of artwork of children from a nearby concentration camp during the Holocaust. An art teacher had the kids express their feelings through art and it was a solemn moment to read the name, birthdate, and the date of art right before the date they were killed in the camp.

We walked back through Prague once more to the train station to find our bus to Munich. It was relatively painless (minus the fact that I forgot my passport in my bag that was stowed under the bus and had to get the man to open the compartment on the side of the road in Germany to retrieve it… but that happened to about 10 other people too so it wasn’t that mortifying).

Once we got to Munich we had to find a place to stay. With a severe lack of time/wifi we were unable to do so beforehand.

Let me tell you, despite how compact we look, carrying around those backpacks is not the easiest thing when you are tired and hungry. I’m already an animal when I’m hungry, add in being exhausted and a 25lb backpack and I’m basically the Hangry Hulk. (Hangry, for those of you who do not know, is hungry+angry).

We went to a hotel on one side of the train station and they were far too expensive but they had great desk candies that I decided to stock up on. Hilary thinks I eat too much sugar. She’s right. The woman behind the desk there sent us to the other side of the train station to the cheaper hotels. It was hard finding one that wasn’t all booked up. The one we landed on only had one room left in the entire hotel but no air conditioning. Once the desk clerk, Marcus, threw in free breakfast we said, “who needs air conditioning?!?” and booked the room for the night.

Marcus told us about the huge local beer garden Augustiner Keller, the oldest beer garden in Munich, and said that we’d have to hurry because it was closing soon (at least I think that’s what he said). We went upstairs, dropped our backpacks, and quickly tossed things out of our day-bags that weren’t necessary in order to lighten our loads.

The beer garden was insane. Imagine a giant park with trees and a couple playgrounds with winding paths and then drop thousands of people in there with some cafeteria-style food service, giant soft-pretzels, and enough beer for an ice hockey game in Boston. I told you… insane. We ambled around a little bit, unsure of what to do, because this was our first beer garden experience. Eventually we figured out that we go to the food, not vice versa, and found the food lines at the back of the garden.

I was paying, excited to go sit in this giant park full of drunk people, and Hilary looks at me with a face of pure horror and says, “Jess, I don’t have my wallet. I think someone stole my wallet.” Since I was still in Hulk mode I just looked at her and said, “Well, do you want me to pay for your food?”

Hilary: Yes, I did want her to pay for my food, because in my tired and hungry state I went into what I’ll call an “emotion-coma.” Pure numbness. I figured half a chicken, a liter of beer and 5 lbs of soft pretzels could only make things better. I also figured that my wallet was a lost cause, so we sat at the beer garden for a while formulating theories as to what could have possibly happened to it.

“I bet it’s at the hotel,” Jess said. “I’ve been with you the whole time, and no one has bumped into you.” This was true. But in my numb state, I’d dreamed up the Houdini of pick pocketers, stealthy enough to summon my wallet with magic.

Jess:  We have heard A LOT about the amazing pick-pocketers of Europe. Because of this we have been pretty diligent about watching each other’s stuff and holding onto our bags. Hilary had me a little worried, but we were just so exhausted and she had definitely thrown a bunch of her stuff out of her purse at the hotel; so I was betting at about 85% that her wallet was with the stuff on her bed. It didn’t make eating the plate of ribs and pretzel any easier, though. We were both anxiously drinking beers just wondering what kind of horrible monsters hung out at beer gardens stealing wallets.

Hilary: Long story short, thankfully my wallet was indeed at the hotel. After an exhausting day of travel, we all but passed out into our beds.

Jess: Hilary hugged her wallet for about 10 minutes, by the way.

On day 10 we had a decision to make. We only had the day in Munich and heard about this monastery where the monks have been brewing their own beer for centuries and the only place to get it is at the actual monastery. That sounded pretty good, especially since Hilary still had a wallet. Our other option was the Dachau Memorial. I think we chose well when we decided to go to Dachau instead of drinking beer all day.

We joined a tour group at the Munich train station and headed for the former Holocaust Work Camp. From the moment we stepped foot at the entrance I was absolutely consumed by emotions. Once we stepped through the infamous gate, “Arbeit Macht Frei,” I don’t think I took a breath for a while as I was just taking it all in.
Our tour guide explained the history of the camp, some of which I knew, some I didn’t. We went through the jail and the barracks before making our way to the gas chamber. I don’t know how to explain to you the feeling of walking through a defunct gas chamber, even if history reads that the one at Dachau was never used. It’s not something I want to experience again and it’s hard to put into words the feeling I had when I was there. We walked through the park where the mass grave was and I just stood there for a minute by myself in the quiet woods and lost it.

This question has been asked so many times in so many different ways but how in the hell can humans do that to one another? How do we keep letting this happen in the world?

At the end of the tour, the tour guide read some quotes about how remembering and learning from the atrocity would be one way to honor the victims. It doesn’t feel like enough.

After that I don’t think I thought a coherent thought for a good couple hours. I didn’t even talk until we got to lunch and even that was strained.

Hilary: I’ve been reading about the Holocaust and various individual accounts of it since my early teens, and I still had no idea how I would feel when I walked into the camp. That time in history has always been a point of fascination for me from a humanitarian perspective- as Jess asked, how did this happen on such a mass scale and how can we keep it from happening again?
I was determined to soak it in from an academic “what can I learn from this” perspective. As a person whose memories are very much influenced by how I feel in a particular moment, I knew if I didn’t try to walk around the camp with a certain level of emotional detachment I wouldn’t remember much about the experience except being sad.
One of the most chilling aspects of the camp was how organized it was. Our guide told us that Dachau was the first camp and served as a model for the others, and that the people living in the small town Dachau had no idea what really was going on within the walls.

We had a reservation on an overnight train to Venice at 11:30pm that night, so with a few more hours left in Munich we explored around the city.

Jess: My dad had told me that in his 20’s he also visited Munich. He said that he remembers a large city square and the place where Hitler founded the SS (Hofbräuhaus). Thirty years later, I went to those same places where he went and it felt pretty cool to be somewhere across the world where my dad had been 3 decades prior.

We made our way to the English Garden for a little relaxation after our trying mental day. The streams running through the park were perfect to dip our feet into after the long walk there; but in order to get there we had to walk through the nudist meadow. We knew it was coming because it was on the map but I guess we weren’t completely sure if it was real or not. Spoiler Alert: the Nudist Meadow is real. Several people were completely nude running around the park and tanning. Everyone else was just in their swimsuits enjoying their day by the water like everything was normal. The water was absolutely perfect and I’m still a little sad I didn’t have my swimsuit with me. I know, you think I should have just taken all of my clothes off and went in nude but I just don’t know if the pool in Reykjavik, Iceland was enough to expand my comfort zone.
The stream along the nudist meadow. No nudists were captured in this photo... sorry.

The stream along the nudist meadow. No nudists were captured in this photo… sorry.

We were leaving Munich on a good note, ready to see Italy for 10+ days, drink a bunch of wine, and eat a bunch of pizza and pasta. Then Hilary went and said she was excited for our first night train… leading to The Hell Train to Venice.

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