Sunday, February 24, 2008

Travelogue continued

Munich--day two

In deference to my still weary toes we bundled into a waiting cab for the ride to the train station. The day was crisp with a smart little breeze from the north but the sun shined cheerily and I drank in more architectural detail on the way to the tour office. Bridges, arches, doorways were continually surprising and engaging, rich with sculpted detail. The kind of elaborate stonework I’d previously only associated with mythical castles or intimidating cathedrals was everywhere.

The train station itself was an elaborate work of art of vast proportions. Inside steps led to small kiosks, which as we progressed further into the building, opened up into a cavernous space where sleek life-sized Lionel train sets hummed and hissed in menacing and impatient fashion. Centrally located electronic signs, along with a disembodied voice, announced arrivals and departures. An orderly flow of well-coordinated movement surged around us. Streams of people arrive or depart all of them moving at a pace just short of stampeding.

We followed the directions on daughter’s printout to the tour office successfully. She confirmed our reservation, and then we joined a subdued group of waiting tourists. After a few minutes, our British tour guide appeared and instructed us, needlessly, to follow him. Immediately, he bounced down a stairwell and we all galloped along in his wake. He took a visual head count after herding us into a small circle at a whole other, unsuspected train stain, which existed underneath the first. A local trail pulled in, and as instructed, we piled on. A few stops later, we arrived in the hamlet of Dachau and boarded a bus to the edge of town.

An attractive park entrance beckoned and wooden sign announced we had arrived at the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site. Here’s the link for those wanting more details.

A wide crushed gravel path led us further from the town and into the memorial site. A site designated to mark incomprehensible cruelty, suffering, and countless deaths seems strange and little barbaric. But this location is also a vast unmarked grave for only vaguely numbered thousands. I reminded myself that grave sites aren’t for the dead, they are for the living. Dutifully, I trudge along my eyes already burning with tears before our guide had begun his explanations. An enthusiastic student of World War Two history, our guide gave us a reporters detached view of the events. Stopping before we’d gained sight of main gate he paused and explained how the camp had come to exist.

One of the most horrific facets of the entire experience is the bureaucracy and hence surrealistic normalcy which was applied to handling of those passing through the camp. The buildings which remain have been enhanced with photographs, video displays, plaques, and statuary--mark a quiet haunting testimony to pain beyond imagining.

The trip back passed in a blur as I tried and failed to process what we’d seen.

Within a few hours we once again presented ourselves at the same office. This time for a beer and food tour. A fresh guide led us unto a bus and we whooshed off to a beer museum. The building was like the Disney version of a Bavarian cottage expanded to unexpected heights. Rough white stucco walls wereoutlined and braced with dark wood. Our slightly rowdy group was made up of Scots, Aussies, Norwegians, and us. The stairways are sturdy but narrow and the doorways low. Not a barrier to enjoyment for the short and sober but a head-banging experience for some of the guys in the group as the evening grew longer and number of beers sampled grew larger.

Our jovial host shared a potpourri of beer trivia along with lots of beer history. Eventually, we made our way to a local beer house where we were served a generous sample of Bavarian culinary delights along with, of course, more beer. Once the steins had been drained and the food reduced to greasy smears, we ventured off to world eminent Hauf brau House. Picture a couple of grade school gymnasiums lined with picnic tables and benches all full of drinkers swilling down liters of various ales and lagers. There you have it. It’s Saturday night and the place is packed. After a brisk walk through, daughter and I departed and piled into one of the taxis waiting to serve the departing patrons.

Sunday was our final day in Munich. Much to daughter’s disappointment none of the shops we’d passed the night before are open for business on Sundays. In the late afternoon we sallied forth and indulged in window shopping and searched for a restaurant, which had been recommended the night before. Amazingly enough we found the establishment and were ushered inside and handed over to a bubbly multi-lingual waiter. The menus included alternatives to traditional fatty, meaty, Germanic delights and I ordered trout with a green salad and hand-made ice cream topped with warm fresh raspberries. The meal was lovely, revising my estimation of local cuisine upward several points.

Then it was back to our rooms to pack, checkout, and return to the, now familiar, train station to catch the night train back to Paris.


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