Many years ago an old friend I worked with was studying German and decided to go to Germany to test her language skills. Rather than go on her own, she asked if I’d go with her. Having never been to Germany before I jumped at the chance. We packed rucksacks, booked our tickets and endured a twenty four hour coach journey from London to Munich. We eventually arrived after a ferry trip to France and a long drive through France, Belgium and Germany. We were tired and hungry and Munich was in the middle of a massive thunderstorm. In the dark we navigated the streets of Munich and made our way to the hostel where we booked in and got some sleep.
Over the next week we spent our days exploring the city and its surroundings, we travelled the U Bahn and S Bahn, Munich’s equivalent of the underground, we ate and drank in the Hofbrauhaus a famous German drinking house, and explored the many sights including the beautiful Marienplatz, the Frauenkirche (Cathedral Church of our blessed lady), and the Olympic park where we climbed the tower to take in surrounding views.
One day we took a train to the town of Dachau. My friend wanted to go, but I wasn’t sure it was something I really wanted to do, but rather than stay in Munich on my own I tagged along. In the town are the remains of Dachau concentration camp, one of the first camps created by the Nazi’s during the war. It’s a lonely, abandoned looking place with a hauntingly horrific past. With much trepidation, not knowing what to expect, we entered the camp remains and agreed to split up and meet up with each other a little later. The stories you hear of the silence and birds not singing in concentration camp sites is quite true and it’s also very unnerving. Alone, I walked abandoned pathways, past old barracks where camp prisoners would have lived and down the long tree lined Camp Road, that runs the length of the site. At the end, close to some chapels, was the crematorium area, which housed the gas chambers. They were rooms made to look like showers that were built with one purpose; cruel mass murder. Inside one of the shower rooms I stayed silent, trying to imagine what those poor people who had been forced to enter and never escaped had felt like, and I was at a loss. Some say the gas chambers at Dachau were never used, but an overheard tour guide told their tour group that they did indeed use them. The emotion I felt was very real. I was unable to understand how it had ever happened. I felt sadness for the thousands who had so cruelly lost their lives in Dachau, but also very angry, and was I glad that I was experiencing it alone.
Wandering back down Camp Road to the former maintenance building that I had yet to visit, I stopped a moment to take in the place of death, that now stood silent as if nothing had ever happened. It was hard to believe that so much cruelty had taken place there. In front of the maintenance building was a lone metal statue – The International Monument – a tribute to those who had lost their lives in this place, and it seemed so little in comparison to the huge loss.
The former maintenance building had been turned into a museum, and the walls inside were covered in black and white photos of some of those who had been prisoners. Some photos were plain, merely men women and children standing or sitting, a haunting sadness on their face as they endured their daily existence, others however were much more graphic. They showed inhumane experiments that had been conducted on unfortunate prisoners, executions and other things that don’t even bear thinking about. It was at this point that I’d had enough, and could no longer stay in the museum, but before I left I stopped to ask one of the staff a question:
“Why do you allow people to visit Dachau and keep these awful pictures on show?”
The response was: “We are not proud of what happened here, we want to remind people how terrible it was in the hope that it never happens again.”
The rest of our trip to Munich continued with the usual sightseeing ad exploration after our visit to Dachau. We visited the Hofbrauhaus again, and it became a favourite place to eat and drink, we sunbathed in the English Garden and visited the Viktualienmarkt. But it was the visit to Dachau that stayed with us the most, and remained on my mind for a very long time, my friend and I never discussed it, but the stories we heard and the images we witnessed shocked us to the core and is something that will remain always. It’s certainly something I’ll never forget and in part I agree wholeheartedly with the museum staff. What happened during the war was truly terrible, we should never forget and it shouldn’t ever be allowed to happen again.
- Have you ever been Munich? If so what was the favourite thing about it?
Chrissie is an author who loves history and enjoys travelling and days out exploring. www.chrissieparker.com