Bavaria’s concentration camp in Dachau

Warning: This is not an ‘upbeat’ travel tale.

Deep in upper Bavaria is the unassuming German town of Dachau.  Unfortunately, it’s only claim to fame is its international notoriety for the concentration camp set up in the east of the city that was responsible for about 32,000 documented deaths during the Second World War.  Thousands more were undocumented.

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Memorial sculpture erected in 1968 within the camp

Visiting Dachau was a heart-breaking experience.  As you enter, the sterility hits you and it seems that the starkness has been cultivated on purpose, to convey and hide the horrors that occurred here.  But, after a minute walking around you’ll feel it.   It’s hard to escape the intensely sad feeling that settles over you, mostly because of the combination of a weird melancholic energy that lays low and heavy over everything.  Add to that the deathly stillness and silence that everyone who visits seems to immerse themselves in and you’ve pretty much hit the nail on the head with imagining what it feels like to walk around here.

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My friend Maria standing in the vast empty spaces of the camp grounds

The shock begins from the gate itself as we imagine all ‘workers’ passing through these gates saw these words ‘Work will set you free’ also loosely translated as ‘Virtue through labour.’  The incredible lies that bound these spaces of incarceration together still resonate throughout politics today, perpetrated by politicians of all race, creed, colour. The stark reminder lies here for us all.  History is doomed to repeat itself.  Politicians still lie.  We have not learned the lessons, only how to cover them up better.

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‘Work will set you free’

 

The eeriness spread across the camp is magnified by the exhibitions inside one covered space which outlines a narrative history of this death camp.

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As I read through the narrative, I found myself stopping only towards the end when I started reading through a few of the explanations of photographs of the scientific experiments that were carried out on inmates.  There were stress experiments on people to test the extreme effects of hypothermia and ways to revive as well as high altitude experiments to test affects and potential ways of recovering from unconsciousness.  The prints said that the original documentation was burned or lost after the Nazis heard the Allies were coming for them.

Walking around the camp, we saw the dormitories where we learn that inmates slept five or six to a bunk with barely a blanket to cover them.

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Bunk beds in the overcrowded dormitories
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Bathroom water taps

The worst thing to see at Dachau is these chimneys which one could easily walk past without realising they were a part of the furnace that incinerated the bodies of those inmates who were killed in gas chambers and then piled into furnaces to be incinerated.

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While the preservation of these camps seeks to keep alive in our memories the atrocities that human beings can rain down upon their own species, the hope in creating this ‘museum’ was that we would learn the lessons and pass them down through generations.

The harsh reality of our lives today is that genocide is alive and thrives in countries across the world.  There are no memorials for their dead.  Have we not yet learned the lessons? Obviously not.  In some countries, those who have perpetrated genocide through complicity and other means are still handed power and have been handed power time and again across the world.  Like the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia under Pol Pot in the 1970s which wiped out at least a quarter of the Cambodian population.  Think Rwanda 1994.  And of course, most recently, the ongoing mass genocide of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people in Myanmar which is continuing to shock people across the world as visual images of the atrocities perpetrated by its regime are starting to be released.

And so it continues.

Visited in 2009

 

 

 

 

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Pretzels and Schnitzel

What do Lederhosen, Swiss army knives and Weinerschnitzel have in common? You can find all three in the medieval, island town of Lindau.

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Lindau harbour

On the eastern edge of the freshwater lake Bodensee in southern Bavaria is the beautiful island town of Lindau. This German town is one of the most beautiful locations on the Bodensee (also known as Lake Konstanz) which also touches Swiss and Austrian borders. On a hot summer’s day, there’s not much that beats sitting on the promenade of Lindau harbour watching yachts and ferries coming in on the glistening waters while sipping a cold Weissbier. The wonderful thing about this island town, connected to the mainland by only a narrow strip of road, is its collection of historic buildings which bring alive the medieval feel of the town. The island is small and can be enjoyed as a full day trip. From the train station, head over to the marketplace first, where you can view the churches and the state museum before walking around the rest of the island.

The marketplace’s atmosphere is dominated by three main structures surrounding the fountain of Neptune, the King of the Seas in the centre. St. Stephan’s church, in one extreme corner of the market place, was built in 1180. Enter quietly to note the contemporary feel brought on by the cream coloured walls with pastel green embellishments, modern stained glass windows and use of open space that flows between the pews, the altar and the baptismal font behind it.

In sharp contrast, the inside of the Catholic church of St. Mary’s is a breathtakingly kitsch, Baroque vision of Italianate marble, gold and silver work. I was enamoured with the intricately carved wood ends of the pews which formed an ornate fantasy of flowers and leaves entwined against a background of fish scales and shell-like motifs. The massive silver organ at the back-end of the church is impressive and fully functioning.

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Baroque church interiors

At the opposite end of the marketplace is the 18th century House Cavazzen that once belonged to a wealthy merchant and is now the city museum (Stadtmuseum). It has a rich facade of colourful frescoes on the outside and contains collections of glass, pewter, paintings and furniture from the past five centuries. If you’re an Art Nouveau fan, the 3 Euro entry fee is worth the visit to the two rooms containing furniture and collectibles from the Jugendstil period.

From the marketplace, head west to the Diebsturm or ‘Thieves tower’ which was built around 1370 and housed prisoners in medieval times. It’s a curious structure with four mini-towers built into the pointy roof. The roof tiles sparkle in brilliant multicolour, making an otherwise plain tower rather attractive.

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Multi-coloured tiles of the Diebsturm roof

Next to the Diebsturm is the Peterskirche church and war memorial. This is the oldest church in the region, dating back to 1000 AD. However, what makes it truly remarkable is what it contains. I walked through the entrance into complete darkness. There was a button to the right of the entrance to switch on a light. Not knowing what to expect, I pressed it and gasped at the sight of the 15th century fresoces by Hans Holbein the Elder that came to life when the lights came on. These are the only wall frescoes by him that are known to exist in the world.

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Close-up of Han Holbein the Edler’s wall fresco inside Peterskirche

From the church, head toward the harbour via the Old Town hall, a large box-like structure crammed into one end of Reichsplatz. The brightly coloured frescos have been refreshed and contain wonderful detail.

Lindau harbour is only a stone’s throw away from this spot. You’ll easily spot the yellow and green tipped Mangturm, which once formed a part of the island’s fortifications and served as a lighthouse for some years. It was built in the 13th century and was in use until 1856. Don’t miss the Rapunzel plait lowered from the tower window. For Euro 1.60, you can climb up the tower for a panoramic view of the lake and surrounding mountains.

The promenade goes all the way around the harbour entrance, where you can get a closer look at the magnificent lion statue, the heraldic emblem of Bavaria, and the ‘new’ lighthouse flanking the mouth of the harbour. From here, you can catch day ferries to other lakeside towns in Austria, Switzerland and Germany. There are plenty of cafes and restaurants along the promenade. The Marmosaal cafe and cocktail bar serves a great selection of food from breakfast to regional specialities and everything in between. They have tables outside for you to enjoy the harbour view with a Weissbier or if it’s wet and windy, the inside is a combination of chandeliered luxury with brocade-covered sofas and high-backed wooden tables and benches.  There’s even a mock altar behind the bar.

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A lion guarding the entrance to Lindau harbour

After your meal, you’ll want to digest with a quiet walk from the promenade along the west side of the island. The old wall runs around this side and at the westernmost point, you’ll find the Pulverturm or ‘Powder tower’ dating from 1508 AD. It forms a part of the island’s fortified wall.  The views from here stretch across the lake to the Swiss and Austrian alps in the distance.

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View from Lindau Pulverturm

The final must-see item is one that many tourists miss, simply because it’s just off the island on the mainland. It’s the local cemetery in Aeschach, where people have been buried since the plague came to the island in the 16th century. This beautiful, old cemetery has mausoleums dating from 1510 to 1915, in a range of styles including Baroque, Renaissance, Neo-classical, Gothic and Jugendstil. They are laid in a beautiful park, shaded by tall trees. Not far from the cemetery entrance are the remains of a Roman villa dating back to 200AD when the first settlers came to Lindau. Stones from the Roman ruins were used to build the cemetery.

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Jugendstil design on a tomb in Lindau cemetery
Baroque tomb in Lindau cemetery
Baroque tomb design in Lindau cemetery

 

Lindau is two hours by direct train from Zurich and three hours away from Munich.  The best time to visit is from May to August when the weather is warmer and great for walks along the promenade. Food and drink-wise, Bratwurst (sausage), kasespatzle (cheese noodles) and Maultashcen (dumplings) are the regional dishes to sample. Pretzels or Flammkuchen (flatbread) go very well with a local Weissbier (White beer).  Drink up and enjoy a hot, summer’s day out at this character-laden town the next time you’re in the area.

#jugendstildesign #lindau #allgau #germany #bodensee

 

Visited in Sept 2012

 

Spa-ing at Baden-baden in the Blackforest

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Heated swimming pool inside the spa

Nestled in the German state of Baden-Wurttemberg is the almost mythical and enchanting Black Forest, laden with waterfalls, moss-covered trees, rolling hills and plunging valleys. This is the place where fairy-tale writers the Grimm Brothers imagined their characters, from Hansel and Gretel to Snow White, ensconced. The beautiful spa town of Baden-baden is located at the foothills of the Black Forest. It was known during Roman times for its thermal springs that had curative abilities. I visited with a friend while I was still in my twenties and young enough to enjoy a day at the spa exploring the different kinds of saunas on offer– semi-precious stone saunas, herb saunas and aromatherapy ones with invigorating scents were the ones I can vaguely recall. There were really a lot of them at Freidrichsbad – seventeen in all. I tried the amethyst stone one and an aromatherapy one. In the end, energy vibration aside, a sauna is as hot and steamy as its supposed to be and somehow I found the courage to take a flash cold shower in between sauna-hopping to clear out my pores and improve my circulation, as recommended. The gently heated open pool was a treat in the slightly cool weather.

 

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Friedrichsbad spa in the Black Forest

But more than enjoying the spa, I loved the huge 170 year old Roman-imitation building in which the spas were housed. It was a day out at the spa for my friend and me so we didn’t take the time to see the rest of the elegant town known for its luxury. Maybe, next time!

Pfahlbaumuseum Unteruhldingen, Germany

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I know the title reads like something I typed while having a stroke, but this is actually German for a very unique archaeological museum. This open air museum lies on Lake Constance in Bavaria and translates into Stilt House Museum.  It consists of reconstructed houses built on stilts in the Neolithic Stone or Bronze ages that show one of the few examples of lake dwellings from this pre-historic era. The museum also displays original items and objects that were archaeological findings from in and around the lake area.  A designated UNESCO world heritage site.  Quite fascinating and worth a daytrip visit if you’re into history and archaeology.