Europe 2.0 – Day 34 30 June 

Disclaimer: This post was written on 19 Aug, 6 weeks into my new semester in uni and 7 weeks after the end of my Europe trip.

Our trip to Dachau was one of the highlights of my entire trip because it filled me a lot regarding WWII. Unfortunately I didn’t get to study this in any part of 13 years of education. When I was a Secondary 2 student (14 years old), we were taught about the occupation of Singapore but the involvement of other countries wasn’t discussed. So, very embarrassing to say, I have almost no knowledge of how everything transpired. (I did know how it ended though.)

This understanding of WWII from my trip was very exciting for me because I was learning it at the place where action happened. Germany is also very open about educating masses about he events of the war and all the exhibitions that I came across (i.e. Obersalzburg in Berchestgaden, Dachau and NS documentation museum in Munich) have been very informative and easy for a beginner like me to digest.

At first we wanted to do a tour with InMunich tours but it costs 18 euros… So we settled for guided tours provided by the office in Dachau for 3 euros. Berns, an experienced and old tour guide led us (a group of 30+) around the whole compound. The greatest advantage of any tours (also applicable to lectures in general) is that someone is telling you the information, for you to listen. Rather than having to read them somewhere yourself (which can be sleep inducing and boring sometimes). Be it tour guides or lecturers, they are like story tellers and Berns was one of them. He brought us around and I realised that we mostly stopped at places with signboards for him to explain the significance to us. I enjoyed the segment most where prepared his own materials to show us and to help us visualize how the conditions were like. He didn’t cover the largest gallery (which is inside the administration building if I recall correctly) and after lunch YS and I took another 3-4 hours by ourselves reading everything hahaha. I took some notes when Berns was talking to help me remember the pieces of information that I took away from the morning. Here they are (please alert me if there is any factual inaccuracies):

  • Dachau is a forced labour camp for political prisoners/education camp for political opponents and war crime suspects. Intimidation was one of the main purpose of the concentration camp. Never meant as a concentration or death camp. But many died in experiments and from harsh labour, poor living conditions and diseases. (Typhus was a big killer. So were hunger, TB and hypothermia.) Low death rate as compared to extermination camps.
  • All male camp. Women sent to subsidiary camps.
  • A model for other concentration camps. But not the worst or biggest. Easiest to escape. Also a show piece camp for multinational organisations to prove that they were well organised camps for bumps and prisoners. (It fooled even the Red Cross delegates…)
  • Special treatment meant execution.
  • Prisoners were stripped of property rights and human dignity. Berns read out an excerpt of what the prisoners would typically hear when entering the camp: The jailor calls himself a devil and the prisoners as ‘shit’, ‘pigs’ and ‘non human beings’.
  • First managed by Heinrich himmler, Chief police of Munich.
  • 2 plagues at the entrance belonging to 2 different armoured divisions who claimed that they liberated the prisoners. But actually they were only commended by the general and an entirely different division was the true rescuer of the prisoners in Dachau.
  • Only later there was arrival of other prisoners, like the Czechs and Polish. Harsh punishment for not making beds properly or laziness. They were assigned the bunkers farthest away from the kitchen and some would die of hypothermia along the way to get meals in the harsh winter.
  • Soviet prisoners of war also came later. Some were killed by sending to other camps.

During the tour, Berns also tried asking his audience (which was internationally represented by visitors from a good range of different countries) about their perspectives on some topics. I think he created a good platform for everyone to exchange their thoughts and understand one another in a respectful way. He also welcomed any questions and one of the visitors enquired about how she could find the record of a relative who came to this camp before. All in all, it was a great morning listening to the lessons delivered by Berns. He is passionate in educating the public about WWII and most of all, in spreading the message against racism.

Our tour ended at the ‘showers’+incinerator which is now openly known to everyone as a euphemism/code/lie for the gas chambers. However there was no evidence/ records of anyone even sent to be gassed… So it actually remains a ‘mystery’ till today why they built the ‘showers’. I asked a few questions to clear some doubts and YS and I visited the different churches (Orthodox, protestant, Catholic and Judaism) before heading to the visitor centre for lunch. The food was reasonably priced and definitely satisfying enough to fuel us up for our self-tour during the 2nd part of the day!

We spent approx 2h at the gallery and another 1h touring the prison cells. Initially I though we could finish everything in 1/2 day hahaha so we had to cancel our afternoon plans and shift it to the last day in Munich.

Other information that I gathered myself later (please alert me if there is any factual inaccuracies):

  • Germany suffered loss of honour and finances due to unconditional surrender. Hence, many people were not contented and wanted to make Germany great again.
  • Democracy only reached 33% at maximum votes. Germans support Hitler genuinely as long as he delivered his promises and successful.
  • ‘I am the member of the Master race.’
  • Anti semitism started because Catholics believed Jews crucified Jesus.
  • Bunkers used as improvised housing area for 12.5mi German refugees after WWII. Held 10x of the original number of prisoners that it was constructed for.
  • 3.5mi soviet soldiers and 50mi Jewish perished in WWII.
  • Learning about the camps around Europe: Ravensbruck for Jewish women, later became a medical experiment camp. Bergen Belsen had Anne Frank. Lublin was a killing factory = 17,000 per day. Many other subsidiary camps for building Bunkers. Many prisoners buried inside.
  • Invitations were given to car manufacturers to rent forced Labour. On the ‘CV’ include whether the prisoner had any gold filling and probable lifespan.
  • Handicapped were killed in euthanasia programmes, carried out in masked centers like hospitals. But they were never kept a secret. Advertising targeted at healthy tax payers to discriminate handicapped people as inferior race was effective.
  • Pregnant women in Dachau survived, unlike in other camps where they were sent immediately to the gas Chambers
  • Famous for hypothermia and low pressure experiments – to what altitude can pilot fly?
  • Prisoners were forced to shave as a sign of degradation and dehumanisation.
  • Food.
  • The guards knew how to turn prisoners against one another – by offering bribes and special positions.
  • Intellectual activities like chess and reading as forms of escapism. In free time they had to clean dishes, make beds or polish the floor. Not much free time per se.

Day 33 29 June 

It’s official. WE HAVE <4 FULL DAYS LEFT OF VISITING IN EUROPE. In hindsight I should have just maximised this holiday and come back one day before school starts lol. 

Anyways today we had what I felt was the BEST EVER FREE WALKING TOUR. 

At first we thought that we weren’t going to make it on time because we left late. Even though we planned buffer time for delays like this, the train also chose this moment to lag on us so we reached 1 minute later. Thankfully we found the tour group (after mistakenly standing in front of another free walking tour company for a while). 

I found this company online. They’re called ‘InMunich Tours’. If you search for FWTs for Munich, this company only pops up on the 4th result. But thankfully I did my homework and screened through the itineraries of the first 3 hits. This one included reviews and had the most comprehensive list of thing in store for their guests. 

Unfortunately they weren’t having a group as large as the other one which we mistook it for. But for us, it meant that we had a cosy time with our tour guide, Marcin, who is spectacular. 

Firstly he speaks loud and CLEAR enough for everyone without using a mic. And it is partly attributed to the fact that he came from UK. YESSSS! I didn’t have any trouble understanding him from start to finish. In fact he even brought the British humour into the tour and I really laughed out loud at many of his jokes and sarcasm. He’s a real witty and confident guy. 

Secondly, he really knows his stuff. From history, to nitty-gritty details of each place. I’ll try to put everything I learnt here so that I’ll never forget it. 🙂 

We started in the Marienplatz. Initially it was worrying because of the small group and weather. Furthermore, when the tour started, Marcin was fighting against the loud bells of the Glockenspiel while explaining the origin on the gold Virgin Mary standing on the column in the middle of the square. 

The story goes… A king, whose name I already forgot, commissioned a Virgin Mary statue made of pure gold to be made and place on his grave so that she would watch over him in his afterlife. However, he was an unkind ruler during his reign. He drove out non-Catholics and burnt the rest alive on the accusations of witchcraft. 2 days after his coffin was laid, citizens broke into the church where he laid to steal the statue and hid it in another church. Many years later, his son, whose name I also forgot, was running away from the Swedish army when they ‘invaded’. Apparently they barely made a dent on Munich because they loved it here so much they just came over to occupy in peace while the useless ruler is gone. Meanwhile, the latter was at the top of a mountain in Salzburg, drinking BEER. We later learnt that BEER is the cause of many things in Munich’s history. The Swedish finally left after 2 years when Munich people bribed them with money, and because they didn’t have enough gold, beer as well was used as bribery. The useless ruler came back and claimed that because he was praying for the well being of Munich when he was in the alps, a golden statue of him should be erected. Of course the citizens didn’t buy into his lies and even if it were true, they argued, Virgin Mary is Munich’s saviour. Conveniently, they had a golden statue of her and so they decided to put her on a column on Marienplatz, which derived its name like this. It was used to be called market square because there was a market here. 

Back to the tour, Marcin was saying all these above the loud bells and everyone around is were taking videos and snapping photos. However, he assured us that the people in the clock will not move for another 5 minutes and it was true! When they did, he explained to us the story behind it. Munich has many stories Hahaha… 

The glockenspiel depicted the wedding of the nasty, exclusive king that we talked about earlier. People danced around them and even a fight between a Bavarian and a Salzburg soldier were depicted. Guess who won? 

The part below that depicted the times when bubonic plague struck Munich. Men in tights were asked to dance and hop in public to convince citizens that it is safe to come out (if not it spells disasters for beer houses in the past). Clowns go around pelvic thrusting and painting lead paint on children’s nose…. Well… 

And at the end of it, a golden rooster flapped it’s wings and cuckooed but most people already left besides us. Marcin told us to stay because not many people knew about this finale. 

So the attraction which is voted by the world for being the second most overrated attraction was actually pretty interesting because Marcin explained to us the elements in its 15 minute chime. 

Later we went over to the St Peter’s Church, which belonged to a group of tax evading, drunken monks. And why we say this, is because after WWII, when most part of the church is destroyed, they excavated the layers beneath the original church and found that the earliest piece of archaeological artefact was a tax document. And on it, it documented that yes, these monks made beer from over a thousand years ago and underreported the number of monks living in the monastery so as to evade taxes. But they were later exposed by citizens living in the area… LOL. 

Moving on, this church is also the oldest in Munich and YS and I even found time in the afternoon to go up to its bell tower for a panoramic view of the city! ^^

Our tour guide then pointed us to a cannonball (not cannibal, he emphasised) lodged at the edge of a window of the church. It was bombed by Austria and later dislodged during the chaos of WWII. A doctor picked it up, kept it for a few years, and returned it just when they were reconstructing the parts which were ruined. And because many photographers were hired to take detailed pictures of Munich’s architecture before it was bombed by the Americans, they managed to find out where this cannon ball belonged to. 

Trust me, we heard many other bizarre things about Munich. 

Such as how the bell tower has 8 clocks is made into a joke about Germans’ over-punctuality. 

Europe 2.0 – Day 32 28 June

Today was a productive day! We travelled from day to night haha! At 915am we left Salzburg for Munich. Even though I was kinda happy to leave (because imo we overstayed), this place still holds dear to me and is definitely on top it my highly recommended list of places to go. 

We arrived at our airbnb finally at 1215pm,after an ordeal of a walking many times than necessary just because we came out from the wrong exit. According to the host it was 100m away (and we verified ourselves later) but we ended up walking 1km because of our carelessness. 

Anyways, lesson learnt. 

We rushed out as quickly as we came and headed straight for the Hbf for a quick lunch. In a bit over than 2h since we arrived, we left again for Fussen, which means another 2h train journey ahead of us. YS slept through most of it while I tried to catch up on writing and caught some Zzz in between. Not long, we arrived! 

At first I kept doubting myself for getting the directions wrong because there were almost no other tourists like us on the train?! But later when we took the bus to the castle’s station, we realised how crowded it was Hahaha! But still, the ticketing queue was almost empty (we arrived at 430pm) and realised that after all, there may have been no need to do a reservation haha! We walked around to see the cousin of the famous Neuchwainstein, the Hohenschwangau Palace. Why it wasn’t as popular stood out immediately – firstly, it was yellow/orange in colour. Then, different sections of its Palace were split up, making the whole place look kinda disjointed and uncohesive. Lastly, location – the castle was not high enough to look over green pastures dotted with cute settlements, or overlooking a waterfall, or found nestled in the alps, or built on a rock. Neuchwainstein was all of this and hence, the star of the show. 

The up slop walk to the castle was relatively easy for us and we took half the time that they said we’d need. Arriving much earlier than the time of our guided tour, we took photos in the courtyard and visited souvenir shops. YS got an ice cream to beat the heat and hunger haha! I bought a Postcard because it was impossible to get a picture of the castle’s front view. There were construction works taking place in front of it. 

At exactly 1750h, everyone rushed in. Although tours are conducted every 5 minutes, our group was around 40 people in strength. And because the tours run on a tight schedule, we were ushered quickly from one room to another. And because photography was prohibited, I will try to document here what I saw… Lest I forget next time. 

Everything was in very good condition when we went. We were briefed at the first room that we came to from the entrance and we could see the lovely countryside views that Prince Ludwig II, for whom this castle was built, enjoyed over here. Most of the interior was wooden and the ceilings are in the shape of pointy domes, resembling a church and also our room in Bruno and Marilena’s house. What’s different is that they had intricate designs in various bright colours like red, green, white, yellow etc. 

On the way to another room (which I think is used for reception of guests), we passed by the servants’ quarters which were, like the whole castle, well maintained. Surprisingly they were very spacious. Although simple, the room was furnished with comfortable beds and chairs that had medieval motifs. 

The reception room itself has paintings on its wall depicting the story of Nibelung. Later we were told that other rooms are similarly, painted with scenes from operas or legends. The paintings are really nice and medieval, and stretched from ceiling to the floor. They covered all surfaces of the room and collectively, told us a story. Later we were shown to the throne room, the grandest room of our whole tour. The ceilings were golden in colour, following a byzantine style. It caved into a dome above the spot where the throne was supposed to sit and on it, there was a painting of jesus christ sitting on a rainbow, accompanied by St John and Virgin Mary. 

Beneath us, there was supposed to be mosaic flooring but for preservation, they just laid a carpet with the design of the mosaic lol. Ironically, the throne was never built even though they already done the blueprint for it. And that’s because the Prince/king passed away even before they’ve gotten started. A grand chandelier weighing a tonne hung above us and was also golden in colour. It wasn’t especially intricate but they had bothered to make small statues to place on the chandelier… Whatever you make outta that haha. 

Next up, the Royal bedroom. It wasn’t just a bed. There was an adjoining chapel, a study area and a washing basin. Most importantly, there were MANY SWANS in this room (over 150, we were told). 

Now if you imagine living, flapping and sqwaking swans filling up the entire room, that would be incorrect. I meant swan motifs were found everywhere, like the door handles, the murals and even the tap itself was shaped like a Swan. Alright even the castle itself means ‘New Swan’. The furniture and decor in the room followed a gothic theme, for example pointy elaborate spires sprang above the bed frame. 

To go to the next room, we passed through a ‘gottro’ with illuminated with purple lights. Apparently the king built this to resemble the natural one found in ___ (I forgot, already!) but the coolest part was how it housed a small balcony overlooking the gorgeous countryside scenery. The king sure knows how to enjoy! We also saw the study room, dining room and salon before coming to the biggest room of them all, the singing room. It was named so because they were supposed to have singers here to perform for the King but he never saw this room to completion. 

The walls depict an opera ‘The Holy Grail’ and there were many chandeliers shaped like crowns. Like all other rooms, the ceilings are designed and built like heavily decorated domes of a church. A corridor with beautiful arches and pillars ran at one side of the hall and it is my favourite feature of this room. 

30 minutes wasn’t even over when the tour came to an end. On our way out, YS and I viewed a multimedia presentation on the development of the castle and also visited the souvenir Shop, where I once again pored through their information booklet (10€+) to find out more about the castle. 

We wanted to catch our return journey at 830pm and there was no time to waste. Quickly, we found our way to the Queen Mary Bridge, where a side view of the Palace awaited us. 

The first time I saw it, my breath was taken away. 

The castle was not only spectacular itself, but like I said earlier, everything was LOCATION. LOCATION. It was framed between 2 mountains to the left and right and is built on a  Rocky surface that rose above ground. Behind it, the green pastures showed up again. And behind and below us, the water flowed from the alps. Very fairytale and I see why it inspired Disney. 

Our first day in Munich (or actually, its outskirts) soon came to an end. We were fortunate to find a bus to arrive in time back at Fussen train station for our 830pm train. 

Neuchwainstein, done and dusted!