Germany/Austria 2019: Day 8

This morning I had to pack up and leave Berchtesgaden. I could easily have spent another week there. The sun was shining, the temperatures were in the low 50s, and it was a beautiful morning in the mountains. The rainy days had their beauty too, but this is what the pictures in my head looked like before I came here. After breakfast, I walked around the town taking pictures and then saw a sign for a hike up to a lookout point.

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Overlooking Berchtesgaden

On the way, I came to Kirchleitn Kapelle, this tiny yellow chapel on the meadow-like hillside with a stunning view overlooking the mountains. Church bells were ringing in the town below and I spent time just sitting outside taking in the view. I can’t imagine a better way to start the day.

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Kirchleitn Kapelle

Then it was off to Hallstatt, Austria. You’ve probably seen pictures of this little town on the edge of Lake Hallstatt with its iconic church. I’m hoping to get some iconic pictures too, but the lighting today was all wrong. Many people day trip to Hallstatt from Munich or Salzburg, but from everything I read, you need to be here before and after the tour buses to really appreciate the town which means spending a night. There’s no parking in the town itself, so day visitors and overnighters like me have to use the remote parking lots and either walk or take the hotel shuttle into town. I dropped off my things and then set out to explore the town (along with all the aforementioned daytrippers – it was pretty busy!). You can walk the length of the town from one end to the other in about 15 minutes. There are souvenir shops, several salt product shops (Hallstatt is known for its salt mine), a few restaurants, and lots of window boxes and Bavarian architecture. It’s really a cute town.

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Market Square, Hallstatt
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Hallstatt, Austria

What if I told you you could visit a 12th century chapel filled with bones and skulls? Would you do it? It’s one of the interesting tourist attractions in Hallstatt, and of course I had to go in. Since cemetery space is at a premium in a small town like Hallstatt, bodies would be buried for 10 to 20 years, then exhumed to make room for the newly dead. Those that were exhumed had the bones and skulls bleached in the sun and moved to the “Beinhaus”, literally “bone house”. Many of the 1200 skulls in the chapel are artfully decorated and include the names and/or initials of the deceased. Kind of a morbid attraction, but neat to see.

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Beinhaus, Hallstatt
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Beinhaus, Hallstatt

Hallstatt has a funicular to the top of the Salzberg (salt mountain) with a suspended “Skywalk” platform overlooking the lake and town. There is also a restaurant at the top, and it was the perfect setting for today’s lunch/dinner. The food was average (spaghetti bolognese), but the view was to die for. 

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Lunch at Rudolfsturm, Hallstatt

After my meal, I walked around town some more and then headed back to my hotel. An evening spent sitting by the water on my balcony was the perfect end to the day!

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Hallstatt, Austria

Germany/Austria 2019: Day 7

The hills are alive! Can you guess what I did today? Yep, a Sound of Music tour in Salzburg! It’s touristy and semi-cheesy, and… well, I felt like I needed to play tourist for the day. 

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Off to Salzburg!

My original plan was to drive into Salzburg, but it turns out that with my Berchtesgaden guest card, the bus would only cost €5 round trip and would deliver me right to the Mozartplatz in the center of Salzburg. Perfect! 

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Salzburg, Austria

Taking the bus meant leaving Berchtesgaden before breakfast time at the hotel, which was actually a good thing. I love eating breakfast out and being stuck with the same breakfast buffet every morning is getting old fast. Europeans sure love their cold cuts in the morning! 45 minutes after leaving Berchtesgaden, I was in Salzburg headed for Café Tomaselli, the oldest coffee house in Salzburg and one of Mozart’s favorites. There I enjoyed a croissant with butter and jam and a hot chocolate on the patio overlooking the Alter Markt. 

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Café Tomaselli
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Alter Markt, Salzburg

For a variety of reasons, the Sound of Music tour did not live up to my expectations. We visited many of the sites from the movie and got the obligatory photo ops, but it was definitely not a highlight. A lot of driving around (it was a 4 hour tour) for just a short amount of sightseeing.

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Palace of Leopoldskron (where the children fell in the lake)
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16 Going on 17 Gazebo – Hellbrunn Palace

One not bad part was stopping at a little cafe overlooking the Wolfgangsee for a morning snack. There were only 5 of us on the tour, and two of the others were teachers and we got to chat over our “strudel break”. I enjoyed a redcurrant meringue cake and a hot chocolate. I know, carbs are the common thread in my meals this week!

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Hot Chocolate overlooking Wolfgangsee
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Redcurrant Meringue Cake

After the tour, I wandered around the Mirabell Gardens and the Old City, semi-following Rick Steves’ audio guide. I took the funicular up to explore the Hohensalzburg Fortress which overlooks the city. I skipped the audio guide and just wandered around enjoying the views. 

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Overlooking Salzburg

A highlight of the day came next: a visit to Nonnberg Abbey, where Maria von Trapp was a postulate. You can walk through a graveyard and around the side into the beautiful chapel with dark wood benches and Baroque accents. There were only a couple of people inside and it was a perfect place to just stop and remind myself that I’m in Austria sitting in the same church where Maria von Trapp once sat.

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Entrance to Nonnberg Abbey
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Nonnberg Abbey

On my way to St. Peter’s Church, I ran into the two teachers from my tour, who told me I had to try the fresh baked bread at this little kitchen in the basement of a nearby building. Sure enough, the oldest bakery in Salzburg had a few rolls fresh out of the oven. I wish I could have bottled up the smell… talk about fresh bread!  

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Oldest bakery in Salzburg!

The churchyard/cemetery at St. Peter’s was peaceful, but another treat was climbing up to the hillside catacombs that were carved out during the 8th century. It is said that medieval hermit monks once lived there. It was a steep set of stairs, but the little stone chapels were worth every step.

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St. Peter’s Churchyard
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Catacombs at St. Peter’s Church
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Getreidegasse, Salzburg

I had about an hour before I had to get the bus back, so I walked to the end of town and walked down the Getreidegasse, the main shopping street in Salzburg, zigzagging through narrow cobblestones alleys and passageways as I made my way back to Mozartplatz. Along the street are old metal signs hanging above the doors that advertise the business inside. If you look for it, you can even see a crafty Golden Arches hanging!

The bus was a few minutes late which caused me some minor panic since it was the last one of the day back to Berchtesgaden, but it eventually showed up. Once back in town, I found the Gasthof Watzmann and sat in the courtyard eating pork schnitzel Cordon bleu for dinner. I’ve noticed that all of my pork dishes here come served with a lemon. I would never think to put lemon juice on pork at home, but it’s actually a really good combination!

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Gasthof Watzmann


Germany/Austria 2019: Day 6

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Today’s adventure was to Lake Königssee, just a few miles outside of Berchtesgaden. The lake is long and narrow, about 5 miles long and 1 mile wide at its widest point, and crystal clear. Thanks to electric boats which carry passengers to a couple of stops around the lake, and the absence of any development, the lake water is unpolluted and said to be the cleanest in Germany. The small tourist village of Königssee where you catch the boat is filled with souvenir shops and restaurants, including everyone’s favorite Bavarian restaurant, McDonald’s.


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Tourist village of Königssee

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Boat dock in Königssee

It was a 35 minute boat ride to my first stop on the lake, the iconic St. Bartholomä church and “village”. On the way, the boat slows by the “echo wall” and it is traditional for a boatman to play the trumpet to demonstrate the echo. It was pretty cool.

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St. Bartholomä Church

The twin red onion domes of the church at St. Bartholomew are easily seen from around the lake and a favorite stop for pictures. The inside of the church has the same incredible detail I saw at Maria Gern yesterday. I was planning to do some hiking today, and the first hike started from St. Bartholomä. After a wrong turn on the trail I eventually found the right one and hiked about a mile to the St. Johann and Paul Chapel. This little church is tucked right into the hillside along the Eisgraben River. Though you can’t go inside, there is a metal gate through which to take pictures and a photogenic bridge leading up to it.

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Welcome to St. Bartholomä
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St. Bartholomä Fischerei – fresh from the lake!
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St. Johann and Paul Chapel

By the time I got back to the boat dock, it was downright pouring and I was soaked. But I decided the lake was the only thing I was going to do today and if I ended up soaking wet at the end of the day, so be it. Spoiler alert: it kept raining and I did get soaked.

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Boat arriving at Salet

The next boat took me to Salet. Salet is the furthest point on the southern end of the lake and the start of several hikes (Salet itself has a small restaurant and snack cart by the boat dock.). I decided to walk from the end of Lake Königsee to Lake Obersee, which is only about 15 minutes away on a well worn path. Lake Obersee is not nearly as big as Lake Königsee, only about 1 mile long and a quarter of a mile wide. There is a popular photo stop at the head of the lake with a wooden boathouse. Of course, I took lots of pictures while dodging the raindrops and selfie-takers. 

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The iconic boathouse on Lake Obersee

A mile long trail leads around the west side of Lake Obersee to the Fischunkelalm am Obersee, a small wooden snack hut and the start of another trail to Röthbach waterfall. I skipped the snacks and headed for the trail. Cows roam freely along this trail and with cows comes… cow pies. Between those and the mud from the rain, it was an adventure. ¾ of a mile later, I arrived at the base of the falls, but the trees were too full to actually see the waterfall from there. The views were better further back on the trail. Live and learn.

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Röthbach waterfall

I turned around just as another downpour began. I was tired and wet, and one of the buttons on my camera had frustratingly stopped working, so I was ready to head back. 1.5 hours later, I was back on the boat to Königssee.

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I wish I could say that I did something else exciting this afternoon, but I was tired and wet and in desperate need of clean clothes. So it was back to the hotel to freshen up. Dinner was at the pizzeria that is part of the hotel. There is Bavarian music on Monday nights in the pedestrian zone of Berchtesgaden, and one group was set up right by the outdoor patio, but after spending a day in the rain and cold (it was only in the low 60s today), I sat indoors and enjoyed a really delicious pizza. Two scoops of ice cream/gelato finished off the night. Tomorrow I’ll be adding a 15th country to my list!

Germany/Austria 2019: Day 5

Today’s weather certainly didn’t cooperate with my outdoor plans for the day. I couldn’t decide what to do this morning because in the span of time it took me to use the bathroom and put my laptop away, it went from pretty clouds hanging over the mountains to torrential downpour. After much internal debate, I decided to just go with my original plan for the day and head to the Dokumentation Obersalzberg, a museum/archives dedicated to Hitler’s use of the Obersalzberg region (the area around Berchtesgaden) as a “getaway” and propaganda location during his reign. I downloaded the audio guide to my phone before I left my hotel and found the whole exhibit fascinating, aside from the crowds thanks to the crummy weather. Hitler basically started using the area as a vacation spot and eventually turned it into his Nazi headquarters, forcing out all of the other landowners. During his visits there, he used the opportunity to have pictures taken against the mountain backdrop to let his people know that all was well in Germany.

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Morning clouds in Berchtesgaden

After the museum, I decided to press on with my plans for the day and head up to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest (Kehlsteinhaus). Today, the building is a restaurant, but unless you plan to eat, the draw is to the view. The clouds made me question my decision, but it wasn’t raining and there were a couple of breaks of blue sky. Wow! About 5 minutes into the bus ride up, the views opened up and we were high up overlooking the Alps. From the upper bus terminal you can either hike up the rest of the way or ride the elevator. I hiked the 20 minutes up to the top and as I got there the sun started coming out around the clouds. It was beautiful, with some clouds still hanging on the mountains and the clouds below moving through the valleys. There is a small exhibit in the building but most of it is a restaurant. It was a surreal feeling to be looking out the same windows Hitler looked out of. From the building, you can climb a short distance further to a view overlooking the Eagle’s Nest with a large wooden cross. 

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Hike up to the Eagle’s Nest
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Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest
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Above the Eagle’s Nest
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Cream puff at Gasthaus Windbeutalbaron

Next stop: afternoon snack/indulgence. I am going to need a serious break from carbs when I get home! I think that’s all I’ve eaten since I got here. Gasthaus Windbeutalbaron was just a short drive from the parking lot at the Eagle’s Nest, and I knew from pictures that it had to be squeezed into my visit here. Two words: cream puffs. Not just your ordinary “pop it in your mouth” cream puffs either. Huge, delectable pieces of soft, chewy pastry filled with all possible toppings imaginable. I should mention that normally the deck is the place to be with its commanding views of the Alps. However, the clouds were returning and the tables were still wet from the earlier rain. So I was seated with an older German couple inside. She had ordered a cream puff with eggnog. I immediately decided I wanted that too. Then changed my mind to chocolate. Then the waitress suggested I could do both. Oh heavenly tower of bliss! (Well, almost bliss. The eggnog turned out to be either very heavily spiked or eggnog liqueur. Too strong for my taste, but the chocolate made up for it!)

My final afternoon stop was at Wallfahrtskirche Maria Gern, a small church in the most beautiful setting of Maria Gern, a little hamlet outside of Berchtesgaden. From up the road, you have a beautiful view looking down on the church with the mountains behind. I took some pictures (including the sheep out front) and then tried the door handle. Surprise! It was open, and inside was a breathtaking church. I wouldn’t have expected the intricate ceiling detail and paintings in such a small building.

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Wallfahrtskirche Maria Gern
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Inside Wallfahrtskirche Maria Gern

I came back to my hotel for a short while before heading to Bräustüberl Berchtesgaden, part of the Hofbrauhaus Berchtesgaden (no connection to the one in Munich). Since communal tables are big here, I ended up sitting with a woman who is a fellow teacher from San Diego and is traveling around Germany after teaching English in India. She had also visited the Eagle’s Nest today and was headed to the same concert I was planning to attend. We ended up walking over and sitting together to enjoy the Young Voices Toronto. The music was mostly a capella and the acoustics allowed their small voices to fill the church. Tomorrow’s forecast is calling for more rain, but I’m determined to power on with my plans once again!

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A rainbow to end the night!

Germany/Austria 2019: Day 4

I didn’t realize how much of a non-city person I am until I picked up the rental car this morning and set off on my own to explore Bavaria. Once I was out of the city (and its traffic!) and driving through quaint Bavarian villages and towns, I couldn’t help but smile and relax. After the horror stories I had read about rental car companies forcing you to take their insurance, or involving hidden costs in their pricing, I was a bit anxious about how the whole thing would play out. I’m pleased to report that my experience was nothing like what I had read about. Quick, easy, and no hidden costs. In fact, I got an upgraded car with built in GPS, and they actually took off the cost of the GPS. Of course, they also wrote “full risk” in big letters and made me sign to decline all their coverage, but still. I picked up the car at the airport, which added both time on the train and time in traffic to my day, but it worked out fine.

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A sure symbol of Bavaria in Berchtesgaden!
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German maypole

Before I knew it, I was headed southeast from Munich toward my next destination in Berchtesgaden. After about 45 minutes of sitting in traffic, the GPS detoured me to a secondary road. It passed through quaint village after quaint village, many with maypoles in the center of town. Maypoles in this area are tall blue and white striped poles that display the trades of the townspeople, traditionally erected around May Day. Legend has it that as May Day approaches, townsfolk will try to steal a neighboring village’s maypole and hold it ransom for beer.

I eventually ended up on the Autobahn heading southeast out of Munich. Contrary to popular belief, most Autobahns do have reasonable speed limits, with only small sections where there is no speed limit. My midday stop was Prien am Chiemsee, a large lake dotted with three small islands. It was on one of these islands, Herreninsel, that King Ludwig II of Bavaria (Mad King Ludwig) chose to build one of his three palaces. He revered King Louis XIV of France, and modeled his palace after Versailles. In fact, several of the details and artwork are exact replicas of the Palace of Versailles. Once on the island, there are several footpaths or carriage rides that will take you to the palace. There is also an old Augustinian monastery which has been turned into an art gallery, a couple of churches, a restaurant, and several walking trails. I bought the island ticket, which in hindsight was probably a waste, but which allowed me access to all of the buildings and a guided tour of the palace. No pictures allowed inside, but to say it was impressive would be an understatement. Ludwig spared no expense on the gilded walls, tapestries, hall of mirrors, and marble entry fit for a king. Sadly, he died before the palace was finished, so only 20 of the 70 rooms were completed.

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St. Maria, Herreninsel
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King Ludwig II’s Royal Palace Herrenchiemsee

After touring the palace, I made it back to the boat dock just in time for the boat to Fraueninsel, a small inhabited island on the lake. From the boat dock, you can stroll the dirt roads and alleys of the island, which is car-free. It took me less than an hour to walk the whole island and take pictures. The buildings and homes are very Bavarian in style, complete with dark wood trim and overflowing window boxes. There is a Benedictine convent and church at one end, homes for the island’s 300 residents, and a multitude of biergartens. Had I gotten there earlier, I likely would have eaten in one. As it was, I was pushing the time and decided to head back and finish the drive to Berchtesgaden. 

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By time I arrived, it was after 7PM. I navigated the large but very narrow and confusing underground parking garage and was soon in my room overlooking the Alps surrounding Berchtesgaden. The back of the hotel abuts the pedestrian zone, and I was able to find a small biergarten for dinner (pork schnitzel with French fries tonight).

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Gasthof zum Neuhaus, Berchtesgaden
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Pork schnitzel for dinner tonight!

I haven’t addressed the weather at all because it’s been very summery and beautiful until now. Not unlike the temperatures in Massachusetts, it’s been in the upper 80s every day with almost full sun. However, that is about to change, as the weather forecast calls for rain the next couple of days (which started as I was eating dinner) and I have two days of outdoor activities planned. I’m determined not to let the rain change my plans, but my hopes for beautiful mountain scenery may not come to fruition for a few days!

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Germany Austria 2019: Munich Thoughts

It’s time to move on from Munich, but first a few final thoughts about the city. It felt very European, but not necessarily German. I don’t know that there’s anything about Munich that would make me come back, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t find things to do here if I were to come back here again someday. Here are a few random things I noticed:

Bicycles. They’re everywhere. The wide sidewalks are divided into pedestrian lanes and bike lanes, which are loosely adhered to. There are directional signs for bikes just like you see street signs for cars.

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Bicycle signs

Sidewalk cafes are also everywhere. Outdoor dining is very popular (probably not so much in the winter!), and people sit outside to drink, eat, or just converse. Like other places in Europe, you can stay as long as you want. You just ask for a bill when you’re ready to leave. Nobody brings your check to you unless you ask.

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Sidewalk cafes abound in Munich!

Being outdoors in general is a big thing. Aside from the bicyclists, there were hundreds of people sunbathing in the English Garden the other day on a random Thursday afternoon and splashing around in the brooks that run through the park.

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Splashing around in the English Garden

Public transportation is just like any other big city, with a complicated map that looks daunting at first, but isn’t so bad once you’ve used it a couple of times. There are S-Bahn trains (suburban trains), U-Bahn trains (urban trains), regional trains, and long-distance trains. I also saw plenty of trams and buses, though the only trains I took were S-Bahn. 

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Munich public transit map

Munich was a good place to recover from jet lag for a couple of days, though it wasn’t the real destination for the trip. I’m most looking forward to spending the next week and a half exploring the Bavarian Alps and the countryside of Germany and Austria!

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Marienplatz, Munich


Germany/Austria 2019: Day 3

“Work Makes You Free”. Those haunting words greet you at the entrance to the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site, just 10 short miles outside of Munich. Visiting Dachau during my trip to Munich had long been on my must-do list. I’m not much of a history buff, but World War II and the Holocaust have always fascinated me.

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Arbeit Macht Frei – “Work Makes You Free”

The day started off with blue skies and sun, a stark contrast to the realities of Dachau, where I spent the morning learning about the first of many such concentration camps established by the Nazi regime throughout Europe. Several of the buildings have been rebuilt since the camp’s liberation due to their poor condition, but there are several original buildings too. From the words that greet you upon entry to the words at the end of the memorial – “Never Again” – the site is a living memorial to those who lost their lives at Dachau between 1933 and 1945 and to those who somehow struggled and survived. It’s hard to believe that just a couple of miles away is a town that had no idea of the horrors taking place on its own doorstep. 

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Roll-Call Square, Dachau

There are really two parts to the memorial: the museum and the barracks. The museum tells the story of how the Nazi party came into power after World War I, how Dachau was built, the living conditions, its eventual liberation, and its repurposing as a Nazi prison for those awaiting persecution as war criminals. There are two rebuilt barracks as well as the cement footprints of 30 other barracks surrounded by seven guard towers and razor wire fencing. At the far end of the complex are five religious memorials as well as the crematorium and (unused) gas chamber. It was incredible to see and a lot to take in, but it was well worth the visit.

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Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site

When I got back to Munich, I was hungry. I had planned to eat at another biergarten, but a lack of tables without a “reserved” sign caused me to rethink my plans. I ended up at Ratskeller in the courtyard of the New Town Hall. Though just a short walk from the busy Marienplatz, it was quiet and the pork schweinebraten, apple strudel, and blackberry cider were delicious. Tomorrow’s adventure will be picking up a rental car and driving to the Bavarian Alps!

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Ratskeller, Munich