Day 10 – Munich and a trip to Dachau

The next morning was bright and sunny. We have really had extraordinary weather while we have been here. Other than one quick period of rain, it’s been very nice. We ate breakfast again, chatted with our Canadian friends and then checked out and hit the open road. We had until noon to return the rental car and the trip from Salzburg to Munich is only 112 km, but I wanted to allow for delays. Plus I wasn’t sure how much time it would take to find a gas station in town to top off our fuel tank. At least this time we googled the exact directions to get to the rental car return.

Lake Chiemsee view

The drive back was along the A8 Autobahn and was beautiful. We stopped briefly at Lake Chiemsee to take some photos of the lake and the swans, then headed back on our way. We got into Munich with no problem around 10 am, but then spent another hour looking for gas. Finally, we found a guy on a motorcycle who told us where there was a Shell station.

Luckily, the car rental return was near to our new hotel – the Hotel Eder. We would have stayed at the Uhland again, but it was full. Oktoberfest wouldn’t start for another week but there was evidently a convention in town, which was causing some hotels to fill up and raise their prices. We were fine with this place, though. It was much closer to the train station and we were both leaving the next morning very early; Pat to take the S-Bahn to the airport for Cincinnati, and me to catch the 7:30 am train to Vienna.

But in the meantime, we had plans for our last day in Munich. Dachau was only about 30 minutes outside Munich, and we both really wanted to visit there. We walked the few blocks to the train station to get our tickets for the S-Bahn to the Dachau station, and boarded soon after. Once we got to the station, we took a seven minute trip on a local bus to the concentration camp and headed on in. Admission is free, and walked over to the visitor’s center to pick up a map.

Bus to Dachau

Dachau was the first concentration camp started by the Nazis and the one that was the longest in existence. Many thousands of people died here. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about this, and certainly wasn’t prepared for the emotional upheaval I felt while touring this once-horrific compound. Pat and I agreed to split up so that we could take it at an individual pace. It first hit me when I walked through the iron gates that say in German, “Work shall set you Free.” This is what the prisoners saw as they were led into Dachau.

"Work shall set you Free" (entrance to Dachau)

Beyond that was the large courtyard where roll call was held each morning, and the prisoners forced to stand at attention, sometimes for hours on end. To the right was the museum, which was held in the actual bunker. It showed various artifacts and many photos and stories of the camp prisoners. I think this was the most heartbreaking part of the tour — reading the stories of these individuals who were treated so inhumanely and for no rational reason at all.

I spent what seemed like hours in here, reading information and looking at photographs. I watched other visitors — they all moved slowly from one exhibit to the next, and I felt a deep camaraderie with them as we experienced this together. They were strangers but seemed like friends. It was a very different feeling than I am used to.

The bunker at Dachau

At one point, I came across the shower room, where the Nazis practiced “pole-hanging” and hung prisoners on poles suspended from beams across the ceiling. Another room told of the horrible medical experiments practiced on the prisoners. One room held plaques, shrines and other memorials that people had sent in honor of those who died at Dachau. Finally, I headed back out into the courtyard. From there, you could see a couple of barracks where the prisoners were housed, and the foundations of dozens more.

After that, I walked towards the back of the compound. It was a long walk but I wanted to see the religious memorials and the crematorium. Along the way, I saw one of the security compounds, where prisoners were shot for coming too close to the barbed wire. At the back were four religious memorials – Jewish, Catholic, Protestant and Russian Orthodox – each very moving and unique. Near the Catholic memorial is a Carmelite convent and I stopped into the chapel for a moment to let some of the horrors I saw wash away.

The gas chamber

Feeling a bit more at peace, I walked to the final section – the crematorium and ash graves. When the Allies liberated Dachau in late April of 1945, they found immense piles of bodies back here. Graves were labeled with memorial stones to signify the number of people whose ashes now lie in the ground at Dachau. There were two crematoriums. The original had only one oven, but when the body count started to rise, the Nazis built another building that held five ovens.

The crematorium

Walking into the newer crematorium, I came across the first room–the disrobing room, where prisoners were stripped and their clothes sent to the disinfection room. There was also a gas chamber disguised as a shower. Although Dachau, unlike Auschwitz, did not practice mass murder in the gas chambers, it was used to kill small groups of prisoners. After these rooms came the crematorium, which contained the ovens used to burn the bodies. Individual prisoners were often hung in front of the crematorium – evidently for the Nazis’ convenience.

Grave for ashes of unknown prisoners

I slowly and quietly walked back to the front area and let it all sink in. I think that the Germans have the right idea by opening this place and letting people see it. In fact, school children in Germany are required to visit Dachau or some other concentration camp as part of their school curriculum.

Once I got back to the visitor center, I met up with Pat and we headed back to the bus stop. We grabbed one that was leaving in a few minutes and were soon traveling back to the city. It was around 4:30, so we decided to have an early dinner and get back to the hotel. We found a place in Pat’s Frommer’s book that looked good, so we got off the train at the Hauptbahnhof, and transferred to the U-Bahn over to Goettestrasse.

From there, it was a quick walk up to the Cafe Beethoven on Beethoven Square. The Cafe Beethoven was absolutely charming – the outdoor cafe sat on a quiet tree-lined street, and had a variety of patrons. The inside held a grand piano, which is evidently used for evening music events, but we sat outside and enjoyed the mild sunny weather. The food was very good. We each ordered the same thing – pork medallions wrapped in bacon, served with dumplings and green beans. I had a glass of Rioja red wine and Pat got a huge cafe latte.

Cafe Beethoven

We savored the food and the setting and enjoyed our last night in Munich (and our last night before Pat left). After dinner, we splurged on dessert. Pat ordered cheesecake, and I got my heart’s desire – the best apple strudel I have ever had. It was incredibly delicious and came with a warm cream sauce. That, along with a cappuccino, made for a perfect ending.

We finally headed back to the hotel, and did our packing up and last-minute things. At some point during the evening, I pulled out my train ticket, which I bought online, and realized that the train left at 7:30 am, rather than the 9:00 am I had in my mind. I was very glad that I had checked – my ticket was only good for that particular time, so I would have had to buy another (and way more expensive) ticket if I missed my train.

Later in the evening we snacked on leftover chocolate and sausages and did some late-night email checking.  The last thing we did (or rather, that I bullied Pat into doing) was to call downstairs and see if we could get into breakfast early, since it started at 7 am, and that’s when we needed to leave. The hotel assured us that we could eat early (yay!), so we set the alarm for early and went to sleep.

Tomorrow – Pat leaves for home and I travel on to Vienna


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