My association with German (als Fremdsprache) began at the age of 15. I knew I wanted to travel to Germany to experience the language and the people, but also the history. Most kids in India study about the Second World War in the 9th and 10th grade (ages 13-15), but only from the perspective of India, i.e. the aspects of WW2 are viewed in association with India’s struggle for independence that ultimately reached fruition in 1947. On the contrary, school children – as young as 11 – in Europe, are taken to concentration camps as a part of their history curriculum. Concentration camps, though far from being tourist attractions, remain a grisly reminder of anti-semitism.
A slight departure from my regular travel posts, I would like to bring home the point that this visit is not for the fainthearted. Before you decide to visit a concentration camp, read up on the history surrounding the anti-Jew ideology that led to such atrocities. Watch Schindler’s List, go through the numerous Wikipedia pages on the topic, and understand the events following Kristellnacht. There are countless accounts available and there is more descriptive literature than you wish there ever was. If you are traumatised by the visuals in Schindler’s List or the idea of Dr. Josef Mengele‘s experiments, you might want to consider sitting this one out.
How to get there:
If you’re driving, Dachau is 30 kms away from Munich and takes about 30 minutes via A99. The local trains leave every 10 minutes from the Munich Hbf and you can board the S2 going to either Peterhausen or Altomünster. I recommend buying the München XXL Tageskarte that costs €8,30. This ticket is from the Ring 1-8 and allows you to travel all over Munich for the duration of a day and also covers the bus connection to the CC. It can be bought on the kiosks / machines available at the train station. If you are travelling in a group, partner tickets are also available for groups of up to 5 people. When you reach Dachau, there is a Bushaltestelle (bus stop) right outside the station. Board Bus#726 in the direction of Saubachsiedlung. The entire ride to the camp lasts about 15 minutes.
There is no bus stop as such at the CC. This means that if you end up there on a hot sunny afternoon like I did, you will have to stand in the sun while you wait for your bus. The Information Desk is a short walk inside the site. Audio guides are available in multiple languages at the Visitors’ Center. The guide is accompanied by a map of the site and costs €3,50. There are reduced fares available for groups and students. Remember that you have to deposit your ID (passport or driving license) which will be returned to you at the end of the tour. There is also a bookstore right next to the information center.
- The entrance to the site is a long pebbled walk. This doesn’t get much better further down the road. The entire site has a sand / stone / gravel base. Wear sturdy shoes.
- There is absolutely no shade in the entire area. At the very entrance there is an old construction consisting of a few rooms that have been turned into a museum. It is unusually cold inside, and the pictures are pretty disturbing. When you step outside, there is vast land with no shade until you reach the crematoriums. Unless you want to sit in a gas chamber to catch your breath and cool down, carry a hat and a bottle of water.
- Try and stick to the left side of the site and walk straight till you reach a makeshift bridge over a canal. On the other side are the crematoriums. There are a few benches outside. If you move to the right on the perimeter of the site, instead of crossing the bridge, you will reach the memorial churches. You might want to sit down for a bit.
No amount of literature will prepare you for the actual experience of visiting Dachau CC. The atrocities are beyond imagination. To think that human beings could inflict so much pain on other people – the concept escapes me. That said, Dachau was an unpleasant but informative experience for me. I definitely recommend the visit.