|July 18, 2010
Due to the train leaving an hour late, it was no surprise when we arrived in Munich one hour late, too. Both Elizabeth and I got some decent sleep on the train, although the jolting every time the train stopped seemed to wake me about once an hour! Once at Munich main station, we got the U-bahn to the hotel where we were able to check in and leave our bags. Our room wasn’t quite ready for us, which was no surprise as it was only 8am so we decided to go and walk around and have breakfast. We found a large café not far from the hotel where we were able to get a pastry and a coffee (for me, anyway) and at least get something reasonable to eat.
We had decided to visit three museums today as we had found out that on Sundays they were ust 1 Euro each. Compared to the normal prices of between 6 and 10 Euros, this was a bargain even our tired selves couldn’t resist!
On the way to the area where all the museums are situated, we happened to pass through a place called Konigsplatz. We didn’t know anything about this area until we saw a sign on the street-side which talked about the area’s importance as the headquarters of the Hitler’s regime. The main square was also the sight of one of the very first book burnings here in Germany. I had never known that the Nazis had such a stronghold here in Munich but I guess it makes sense given the proximity to the Austrian border, the Eagle’s Nest and the bunker where Hitler supposedly committed suicide. It was interesting reading about all the different buildings which had been in this area. Many of them were either destroyed or partially destroyed by the Allied Forces, and those which weren’t destroyed, the Allies forced the Nazis to demolish them once the war was over. It was a shame there were only the old pictures to go by, as some of the buildings looked really impressive. I guess it was just the Allied Forces making a point rather than really needing all these buildings to be destroyed.
The museums didn’t open until 10am and so we were a bit early. We were glad the train hadn’t been on time this morning otherwise we’d have had an additional hour to kill! We started off at the Pinakothek der Moderne, a museum housing Germany’s largest collection of modern art. The museum included some cool pieces including a Salvador Dali piece which looked like it was a piece of melting Swiss cheese and a Warhol “portrait” of German Joseph Bueys which appeared to be glittery. A large section was dedicated to the works of a local called Neo Rauch which was on special exhibit. His pictures seemed to depict a lot of scenes relatingto German life and lifestyles and seemed popular with the locals although we didn’t have a clue what most of them were! On the ground floor the exhibits focused more on design and there we saw some cool German car designs (VW Beetle, Porsche 911) as well as wooden models of BMW motorbikes. There was also a display of computers including an old Commodore 64 like the one I used to have! It was so funny seeing it now compared to the sort of computers and games systems we’re used to!
The second stop was the Alte Pinakothek, a museum housed in a temple built by King Ludwig I and comprising thousands of artworks collected by the rulers of the region. There was a lot of work by German artists here but there was also a large collection of Dutch and Flemish art, most notably at least 50 paintings by Rubens. At least 50! There were also some Rembrandt paintings here which were quite impressive, including a self-portrait from when he was in his 20s but nothing to match the prolific Rubens! There were seemingly endless depictions of Mary and Child here including ones by da Vinci and Raphael as well as a number of scenes of hell. Rubens had managed to get in the act on the hell topic, too!
For lunch we stopped at a restaurant called Indisches Fast Food where we tucked into a very non-German curry! The food was good and we got there just at the right time. There was just one woman taking orders and one guy in the back with two hobs cooking up a storm. Just after we came in a load of other people did too and we were glad to get our order in first rather than wait hours!
The final stop on our 1 Euro art-stravaganza was the Neue Pinakothek. This houses a collection of 18th and 20th century artists, pretty much following on from the collection of the Alte. One of the very first rooms we visited contained a number of really impressive works by a number of famous artists including Monet, Manet (including one of him painting Monet), Degas, Gauguin and Van Gogh, including one of the famous Sunflowers paintings. There were also two landscapes by van Gogh and these were actually more impressive than the Sunflowers. It was really interesting seeing them close up though, the large brush strokes and thick paint lines really accentuated by the light and creating an interesting, somewhat 3D effect. There were loads more German pieces here, most of which I’d never heard of or likely would again but the sheer number in the collection was overwhelming. Near the end of the exhibit were a couple of paintings by Klimt including one entitled Music which Elizabeth especially likes. I have obviously heard of Klimt but it is really rare to see his pieces in galleries and Elizabeth reckons she had only ever seen one other of his pieces before today so it was quite a privilege to see two in the same room.
We decided to walk back from the museums to the hotel as we both felt like we needed the exercise. We’d done plenty of walking in Italy despite the heat but today we were tiring due to the overnight train and a little museum overload so we felt like a walk and some fresh air was what we needed. Back at the hotel, we found that the owner had put our bags into our room for us and we were able to go straight in and collapse for a well earned nap!
For dinner we decided to make up for our non-German lunch and head straight for a beer hall! We decided to visit the Weisses Brauhaus, which claims to be the oldest beer hall in Munich. Along with a couple of lovely Schneider weisse beers we indulged in a plate of sausages (würst) with sauerkraut and potatoes. The food and beer were both good and, despite some excellent recent meals, we were relieved to be away from pizza and pasta! After dinner we found ourselves in the middle of a street concert. The sign above the stage said “Christopher Street Party” and I guessed it was a party on Christopher Street. However, it would appear that Christopher Street was actually a Munich-dwelling homosexual who was killed along with his boyfriend. The annual party is now a celebration of the cities openness to same sex relationships. That would also explain why there were lots of men kissing… We didn’t care though as it gave us a chance to sample a Franziskaner Weissbeer and listen to some funky DJ playing some awful pop tunes! (I only overheard the story about Christopher Street the day after in a little shop so I don’t know if the story is correct!)
July 19, 2010
Many European countries seem to have a day on which their museums all close. In Zurich, it was Mondays. In Italy, it was Mondays. And yes, in Germany, it is Mondays! This meant our choices today were limited – limited to one, in fact. After a very hearty breakfast at the hotel we walked into the centre. We’d had a pretty lazy start and so we decided to first head to the Marienplatz to watch the glockenspiel at midday. We had been in Marienplatz last night for the street party and had seen the clock, which a couple of times during the day chimes, plays music and little figures parade around for about 10 minutes, depicting some weird scene. After a short wait, the clock struck 12 and the music began. The figures seemed to take forever to start moving but when they did it was nothing short of spectacular… Or possibly not. The top figures went round a couple of times, including two jousters on horses who played out a joust on the second loop with the man in blue losing. Then another song started and the bottom figures started spinning and that was equally exciting. It was a long 10 minutes staring up at the clock tower!
From there we wandered around to the only museum we could find open on a Monday. Thankfully, we had intended to go there anyway so it wasn’t a complete time waster! The museum was the Residenz Museum, housed in the former Royal Palace. We started off in the Treasury which housed a fine collection of expensive artifacts. These not only included gold, silver and precious stones, but also ivory and porcelain. The most amazing piece was a picture of St George on his horse, slaying the dragon, which was inlaid with amazing red and white stones. All the pieces were really brightly lit which made the precious stones and metals glisten and shine even more than they would normally. It was certainly an amazing collection.
The main Residenz house tour took you around a number of rooms. This started in a lovely courtyard with a nice small central fountain and led into the horribly decorated antiquarium. Despite the outlandish decoration, the room was still impressive – it was semi-circular in appearance, like half a barrel and was very long. The wall was covered in lots of frescos and the ceiling had plenty to match, too. Whilst this didn’t seem much at the time, after we’d circumnavigated the rest of the building it was clear that this was a highlight! Much of the Residenz had actually been destroyed in WWII and as such much of what was shown here had been rebuilt and refurbished and much of the furniture was just period pieces rather than pieces which were actually owned by the royal family.
Given the lack of anything much interesting to me in the museum, I resorted to taking pictures of certain things from funny angles to try and get some cool pictures. At one point, whilst taking a picture of some marble door frames, I was accused by a guard of taking pictures of an alarm box and he wanted to know why! Needless to say, I showed him what I had taken a picture of and he seemed satisfied! I didn’t get any decent pictures, either!
From the Residenz we headed to the wonderfully touristy and kitsch Hofbrauhaus, one of Munich’s largest beer halls. There we were able to get some lunch, try a full litre stein of lovely, cold beer and watch a young Asian girl go crazy over the traditional German band who were playing. Sure it was touristy, but it was good fun and a good break from museums! I had another serving of würst and sauerkraut and Elizabeth had a Bavarian onion soup. We also shared a bread basket complete with Munich style pretzels! The litre beers were funny too as the glasses were so big and Elizabeth could hardly lift hers up! She looked so funny drinking from it but she at least drank it all.
After that we wandered around the centre and visited a number of souvenir shops and saw lots of very expensive and very elaborately decorated beer steins as well as some hideous, ridiculously large cuckoo clocks! We got our exercise today as we decided to walk back to the hotel and then later in the evening we walked back into the city for some dinner. Wanting a change from sausages and pickled cabbage, we went for the speciality of our region of Munich. We seemed to be surrounded by Turkish restaurants, cafés and hotels walking from our hotel towards the main train station so we decided to stop for some Turkish food, which for me meant kebab meat and chips and for Elizabeth meant falafel! The little restaurant also served another type of local beer but this was Paulaner, which we’d drunk in Cape Town. Still, it was rude not to accompany dinner with some yummy weissbeer seeing as we’re in Munich, the home of beer drinking! We were doing well – it was only our second full day in Munich and we’d tried four different beers already!
July 20, 2010
Today we ventured a little outside of the city to a place called Dachau, home to the first concentration camp built by the Nazis in 1933 and which stayed open until the end of WWII in 1945. We had left the city fairly early as we wanted to ensure we got to see the introductory video at the site, which only ran a couple of times a day in English. Once at the sight, we collected our audio guides and started to wander around.
The site was huge although it was difficult to really judge the scale of the horror here as many of the buildings, including the prisoner barracks, had been destroyed after the war. Just two barracks remained and these were rebuilt after 1965 when the sight became a museum and memorial sight. Even so, there were other buildings which remained including the guardhouse and main entry gate, which included the infamous “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Sets You Free) sign which gave many prisoners a false hope. From the main entry gate, we headed around some of the external areas and viewing the international statue set up here as a memorial.
The main area which greets you as enter the camp is the roll-call square. Twice a day, in whatever weather and in whatever physical condition (including, unbelievably, dead), a prisoner was required to attend roll-call. In the morning, every prisoner was required to line up to be counted and even if they were ill they had to line up. If there was a dead person in their barracks, they were expected to bring them out to be counted, too. The morning roll-call served mostly as a headcount exercise and also for the SS guards to hand out the daily rations – both work and food. Not everyone got food but almost everyone who was able enough was sent to work, the Jews getting the most difficult and strenuous of tasks. If you were not fit to work, chances were you were going to be sent to another camp to be “rested”. The evening roll-call was extremely tough on the prisoners as they would be expected to stand there for a length of time decided at the discretion of the guards and on top of a full day of labour without, or with very little, food. Anyone collapsing was punished and those around them were forbidden to help or support them.
We were then able to watch the film and this was probably the most chilling part of the entire day. The entire site almost had a sanitary feeling to it as much of it had been destroyed but the video filled in any blanks you might have had. This including showing pictures of the malnourished, beaten, tortured souls who were brought here, the trains arriving packed full of prisoners, many of whom had not survived the transportation and a number of pictures and clips showing the dead bodies piled up in the death chambers and around the crematorium. These images were what the American soldiers who liberated the camp found and first saw. The sheer number of bodies was a result of a high death rate at the end of the war combined with a coal shortage which meant the crematorium could no longer handle all the bodies that needed disposing of. One of the first things the Americans did was to bring in some of the local villagers to show them the kind of actions and atrocities which had been happening right on their doorstep. Due to the secrecy of the SS, many of them had no idea what was going on inside the camp but it was hard to believe they hadn’t noticed the amount of prisoners coming and going to the entrance. The pictures were truly disgusting.
From there we continued around the outside areas which included the bunker. This was where special prisoners were kept but also where prisoners were punished. The small cells were temporarily divided into four which meant that anyone placed in them could not sit or kneel but could only stand. Some prisoners reported of being kept in these rooms for 6 or more days and nights at a time.
Back outside we crossed the roll-call square and walked down “Camp Road”, the main street through the camp which was previously lined with the 34 barrack buildings but now contains just the first two, rebuilt to give visitors an idea of what they looked like. The different barrack buildings were generally used for different uses with the first couple of rows being administration and then the remainder used to split prisoners by type. Many of the Germans were held in the first few rows until these were turned into an infirmary. Due to the number of prisoners held here, up to 60,000 at some points in a facility designed for only around 6,000, diseases and illness spread quickly with typhoid being one which spread quickly around camp and caused many deaths. Even doctors who were imprisoned here were excluded from assisting in the infirmary, the SS preferring its own “doctors” who often did nothing to help.
At the end of Camp Road are Jewish, Catholic and Russian-Orthodox religion memorials, all of which have been fairly recently constructed.
Finally, at the far end of the camp you crossed a small bridge and entered the area where the crematoriums were. The initial site is small but the furnaces there remind you of the horrible end many prisoners met. More telling however was the larger building, a newer crematorium which had to be built as the first one could not cope with the numbers of dead. Also inside this building were rooms for cleansing, where both prisoners and their clothes were bought to be disinfected if they had been in contact with any diseased. This was important later in the war when the Nazis needed prisoners alive to provide slave labour rather than letting them all die like they had before. The larger building also housed a gas chamber, designed to resemble a shower block, although the prison records claim this was never used for mass executions but might have been used for experimental purposes. Both the small and larger crematorium plus the gas chamber were really unnerving, even with the knowledge that the latter might not have been used for its intended purpose.
After a quick stop for lunch, we headed into the museum which is housed in the old maintenance building. There were some good displays here which showed the types, nationalities and conditions for prisoners and also some general exhibits on the large network of concentration camps the Germans had built up. Places like Dachau were common and many, like Dachau, were so big and so over-crowded that satellite camps were built around them. The purpose of the camps changed, too. Dachau was initially setup for political prisoners and contained many opponents of Hitler’s regime. As war broke out however, a wide range of people were bought here but many visited Dachau only briefly – it was used latterly as a kind of sorting camp before prisoners were transported around the German countryside to provide slave labour or to be exterminated.
Some 200,000 prisoners were held here at one point or other and over 30,000 of these were known to have died here. This doesn’t include the many who were sent elsewhere, to extermination camps like Auschwitz, to meet their deaths.
By the end of the war, the Nazis had seven camps which were classed as extermination camps and not a single one of them was actually within the German borders. When you hear the atrocities which went on here though, I can imagine many prisoners probably wished they could be put out of their misery. Many kept fighting on though and the pictures showing those liberated at the end of the war were at least a little uplifting.
The museum was really detailed and, combined with the audio guide, took a lot longer than we’d expected. Elizabeth and I went around at our own paces and we must have both spent at least 3 hours reading the different sections about the camp, the war and the prisoner stories. It was a very moving exhibition, even if I thought the sight itself wasn’t representative of the true events which happened here and had well hidden all of its dirty secrets.
After getting the train back into the city and back to the hotel, we both lazed around for a while before we headed out for dinner. Tonight we went to the Augustiner Brauhaus and there we had currywürst with chips. Once again, the food was good and the beer was excellent. I am thinking I might be getting near to my sausage saturation point though!
July 21, 2010
Today was a bit of a splurge day as we visited the BMW site and took the museum and factory tours. We started off in the BMW Welt, which is basically their showcase for various cars as well as information about the design and technology of their vehicles and, of course, a shop. After a brief walk around here, avoiding as many Asians as possible, we crossed the street to the museum where we joined our tour.
The museum was really interesting. As well as containing lots of various models of cars and motorbikes dating back from the 1930s it also showed the aspects of design and some of the tools used to design the cars, including moulding models from clay as that is a material which can be manipulated easily and warmed up and added to as required. There was also a section on BMW’s involvement in motor sports including the original F1 cars of Nelson Piquet, which was used to win the championship, and Nick Heidfeld, a more recent version from 2006. It was amazing how small the cockpits were and I would definitely not fit in one. Even Elizabeth reckoned she would struggle. These guys must be the same size as jockeys! Seeing all the old and new cars was definitely the highlight though and they even had copies of the Z3 used by 007 in one of the more recent Bond films. The tour was supposed to last 90 minutes but a bit before the end we had to shoot off as our next tour was supposed to start immediately afterwards.
The factory tour was really good, too. It started with an introductory video about BMW and the size of the plant here, which has around 9,000 staff working here. They produce the 3 series model and the production line runs Monday to Friday from 6am until midnight, incorporating 2 shifts. The staff work a 36 hour week, which I guess means they each do four 9-hour shifts during a normal week. Each car is custom built for a customer so there is never a huge stockpiling of cars here. The system is primarily driven by robots and it was amazing to see the parts being moved around by the robots and pieced together and welded with such precision. Unlike the Mazda factory we visited, BMW make all their own parts, including the seats and upholstery. The parts are all made by the robots but when it comes to putting the actual car together the process is a lot more human driven with the production line being more like we’ve seen elsewhere. One of the funniest things we saw was the robots who were painting the cars. The painting itself was cool to see but it was also really funny to see the robots opening the doors of the car to spray inside. It was like being in some sci-fi film where you wonder when the robots will rebel and take over the world! We got to see the finished products, too, including one being tested – the driver took it up to a speed of 160km/h and at various speeds had to test the ABS braking system and various other electronics.
We went back into BMW Welt at the end to finish off our lunch (we’d not had time for all of it in between tours!), take a few more snaps and head back to the hotel. We’d had two pretty full days and I was looking forward to a quiet evening and a quiet day tomorrow.
In the evening we went out for dinner and I was hoping for something other than sausages. We looked at the Hard Rock Café as I thought a burger would be good but the cheapest one was over 11 Euros! That is about $14 for a basic burger. There is no way I would ever pay that so we just bought a magnet and went looking for something different. We ended up in the Augustiner Brauhaus opposite which had a different menu to the one from last night and, seemingly, had options other than sausage! Of course, the beer halls we’ve been to previously have had other stuff too but I haven’t fancied trying pig’s knuckle or any such other big chunks of meat! Here I ordered the Bavarian meatloaf and Elizabeth went for the roast pork. My meatloaf turned out to be a frankfurter sausage which had been flattened and baked and Elizabeth didn’t care much for her pork or the dumpling which came with it. I let her have most of my potato salad and I had some of her meat but honestly it was probably the worst meal we’ve had for a while. Think we’ll be going back for currywürst tomorrow! Thank heavens for the good beer though, which one can never tire of!
July 22, 2010
Today was our last day in Munich and Elizabeth wanted to go to the city’s Stadtmuseum. I wasn’t too interested so I decided I would hang out and get our laundry done. It was a really hot day and thankfully the launderette was close so that I could hang out in the room while I waited for the washing to finish. It didn’t take too long to get done and I was able to grab some lunch at the end and finally have something other than sausage – a tasty Thai chicken salad with a pretzel and some fresh raspberries!
The rest of the day was spent lazing around before heading out to the Paulaner Brauhaus in the evening for another great currywürst and more great beer. We’re leaving Munich tomorrow but I can certainly see us coming back here in the future – it has been a lovely city to wander around and there are plenty of other things we would like to do here and would’ve done if the budget hadn’t been so tight! Unlike the things in Italy which were all very much alike, there was plenty of variety here for food, beer, sights and even the architecture of the city. I love Italy but it does get a bit repetitive at times so it was so nice to have a change here. We both agreed it is a city we would happily come back to!