Thursday, October 10, 2013

Side Trips from Munich - Dachau and Fussen

Continuing with the European adventures recap, today's post includes my favorite stop, Fussen and the King's Castles, and the most important stop, Dachau Concentration Camp.

Fussen and the King's Castles

We went to Fussen, the small town below the King's Castles, on our second full day in Germany. We woke up at 3:30 in the morning (!!!) to catch a few trains, and we arrived in Fussen around 7 am. Trust me, I wondered multiple times whether this ridiculous time table would be worth it, but of course I ended up loving every moment in Fussen and exploring the King's Castles.

(For this trip, we skipped the giant camera because we knew we would be walking a lot and opted for our camera phones. All photos were taken on the Samsung Galaxy 4; if I do say so myself, they turned out spectacularly! This camera phone is by far the best I've ever had!)

We chose to go to Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein after we read about them and learned that Walt Disney had based his own castles (Sleeping Beauty's Castle, for example) on these historic palaces. The pictures looked lovely, so we made the trip, and we loved the whole day. 

Since we arrived so early (we had reservations at the castles at 9 am and only really had one option for our arrival time), we decided to follow Rick Steves' Fussen Walk. The tiny town was eerily quiet (I mentioned to Terry that I felt like Harry and Hermione when they visit Godric's Hollow on Christmas Eve in the seventh book) and barely waking up, so we tiptoed and whispered, which made the whole experience more fun. I thought Fussen was adorable and made me feel like I was in a quintessential Bavarian town. Small churches, winding cobblestone roads, colorful buildings, tiny bakeries, crooked houses. I told Terry I wished we had opted to spend a night or two there (though that idea may have been motivated by the fact that sleeping in Fussen would have eliminated a need for the 3:30 wake up call). We finished the lovely walk and grabbed a few pastries before heading up to the castles.

And then we encountered one of our famous adventures. Thankfully, Terry and I have a pretty good sense of humor when things go wrong on our vacations (after all, it's vacation, so the problems aren't usually that big of a deal), and whenever we find ourselves lost, confused, or in an uncomfortable situation, we try to find a way to laugh about it. From Fussen, Rick Steves told us we would have a two mile walk to get to the castles, so we left with 35 minutes to spare. (There is also a bus, but we thought the walk would be fun. Ah, famous last words.) We were about half a mile in when we saw a sign suggesting that it would take us 35 more minutes to walk to the castles, and that the distance from that point was still 5 km. WHAT?! We practically sprinted the rest of the way, trying to laugh and hoping our reservation wouldn't be canceled if we were late. 

Thankfully, we made it to the ticket booth only a few minutes late and still got our tickets. And then we were able to relax and enjoy the rest of the chilly day at the awesome castles.

Hohenschwangau (High Land of the Swans--there are swans in the adjacent lake) Castle and Neuschwanstein Castle were fun to explore and particularly beautiful nestled among the trees and mountains above Fussen. We bought tickets to take a guided tour, but I was unsure whether I thought it was worth it to pay. The tickets were fairly expensive, and the tour groups were really big (at least 30 people per group). We only saw about four rooms in each castle, and while the information was interesting, I'm still not sure it was interesting enough to warrant the price of the tour. (Without a ticket, you can still walk around the exterior of both castles and see the most beautiful parts of the whole experience. Photos are not allowed inside.)



My favorite part of the day was just walking around. We walked for miles and miles as we explored Fussen, meandered around the castles, crossed the high bridge over the mountains (I was terrified), and hiked an off-the-beaten-path trail that made us wonder if we had gotten ourselves lost. The scenery was peaceful and breathtaking, and there were dozens of other hiking options that we didn't have time for. If we got back to the Bavarian region in the future, I really hope to spend a night or two in the town of Fussen and do more hiking. 

 At the end of the day, we walked back down to Fussen and grabbed a snack, happy to see that the town had woken up and become a busy center for shopping, eating, and socializing among locals. This day was a contender for one of my favorite days of the entire trip.

Dachau Concentration Camp

Since we knew we would be going to Germany, we made sure to plan a half-day visit to Dachau, the first concentration camp established during the Nazi regime. We took a short train and then a bus to get there (very inexpensive), and the camp itself was free for walking around.

I was a little apprehensive about our trip to Dachau, but we knew going to a camp was important. I found that the exhibits at Dachau were extremely well done and balanced in such a way that I came out feeling more educated, humbled by the prisoners' strength and perseverance, and awed at both the tragedy and the outcome, and the information was presented in a way I could handle.

The main part of the camp is a huge museum with photos, historical timelines, information as to how Dachau began and played a role in the Nazi regime, and detailed accounts of how the camp was run. There are profiles of specific prisoners, which makes the experience more tangible, and it was heartbreaking to see photos of the prisoners before they left for the camp living such normal, happy lives.

Many people died at Dachau, but its gas chambers were not used for mass killings; they were more likely experimental at that stage. But many, many prisoners stayed at Dachau before being shipped east to Auschwitz. Of course, the living conditions were absolutely horrid; the prison was built to house 6,000 people and at one point contained more than 70,000 prisoners. People were starving, dying of diseases, and tortured regularly.

We learned a great deal from the informative posters and exhibits throughout the museum, and we were also able to see a bunker, the barracks, the gas chambers, and the crematorium. The grounds were quiet and now have a few memorial works of art to commemorate those who were imprisoned or died at Dachau.

The entire tour (on our own, though guided tours are available and seemed like they might be a good investment to hear more of an overview instead of reading each poster) took us about two hours, plus an hour of travel each way. It was absolutely worth the half day trip, and I certainly recommend visiting a concentration camp if you have the opportunity. My parents visited Terezin, a side trip from Prague, and also said it was a valuable experience.

The side trips from Munich, though very different from each other, really rounded out our experience. With more time, we would have liked to see Nuremburg, about an hour away from the city center and the location of the famous trials after World War II. Next time!

One last trip recap coming up: Prague!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Julie!
    (We met at Alan's wedding)

    I went to Germany in high school to visit some family friends and basically did the same day of touring!

    I totally remember the long walk up to Neuschwanstein and how specatular it was getting to the top. We too went to Dachau afterward. I was really nervous going into it too, but ultimately was really glad I went (in that weird way). I specifically remember the one barrack that they left standing, but the huge empty field that at one time was filled with barracks. It was pretty surreal. But I was also really encouraged to read some of the stories, and also talk to my German friends and hear how honest they are about that time in their history. Apparently all school take mandatory field trips to concentration camps and are very serious about teaching their students about it.

    Thanks for posting this. I've really been enjoying your travel posts!