Dachau

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.

Prepare Yourself:

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.

Facilities:

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.

Notes:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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Munich and Dachau

I slept like the dead last night. It took a while to get used to the heat but my fatigue soon overshadowed my discomfort. I woke up at 6am in surprise not having realised I’d been fast asleep.

An hour later, I was showered and ready to walk around in Munich. The girl at the reception gave me multiple maps and I set out to plan my own itinerary. I was certain that I had to be in Marienplatz at 11am to watch the Glockenspiel. The platz from Meininger is a straight walk past the Hauptbahnhof. I saw a cute Irani cafe-ish place on the way and decided to stop for some breakfast. I haven’t had anything more delicious than Butterwerze. It’s a funny shaped bread with lots of salted butter. I could eat this every day with tea!

By the time I reached the corner of Galeria Kaufhof, the sun was over my head and adding to my discomfort. I craved for an ice cream but it was only 9:30am! I spotted Pimkie on the way but resisted the urge to go in. But instead on the left I saw a super cool shop that made cuckoo clocks and nutcracker dolls. Ok, I bought an Edelweiss musical box. Oh come on!

The Rathaus is the biggest thing you’ll see there. This is the new one. Also the place where you gather to watch the 11am Glockenspiel. Opposite to this building in a narrow lane is Old St. Peter. Service was on when I stepped in. I offered a short prayer and came out. I had gotten used to attending mass in French and Latin. German felt a bit alien despite the familiarity. My stomach was rumbling again. Deli & Joy was pure serendipity. And it was vegan friendly! I grabbed a smoothie and a bottle of water. Made it just in time for the performance of the cuckoo clock. I picked up a copy of Der Kleine Prinz later. If I can read it in French, I can read it in German.

I walked back to the Hbf to catch a train to Dachau. The S2 gets you there and you can purchase the tickets at the machines. A day ticket (Munich XXL) costs €8,30 and covers the bus connection to the sites. The train map is easy to read – I believe every transport map is easy if you have dealt with the Paris metro map. Direction Petershausen / Altomuenster – both work for Dachau and it takes about 25 minutes to get there from Munich Hbf. bus 719 takes you to the Palace and 726 to the Concentration Camp site.

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. I think it was beyond 32 degrees today. 30000 starving, diseased, broken people enduring the sick treatment meted out to them in such weather – I can’t imagine it. The pictures are disturbing. Heaps of corpses lying outside the crematorium, people waiting to be gassed, prisoners being punished for no reason. This one is not for the weak hearted. I offered a prayer before I left.