A morbid compulsion

Trip Start Dec 20, 2010
Trip End Jan 01, 2011

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Flag of Germany  , Bavaria,
Thursday, December 23, 2010

Concentration camps.  Even the words create images of death and torture.  As a young child I remember learning about the holocaust during ww2.  But I never in my wildest imagination could fathom the depth of human suffering that could occur at the hands of other men.  In many ways it is my morbid compulsion.  Like a car crash, i can't pass up gaining information, viewing images and finding ways to understand the experience of this human horror story.  

So, when I got here to Munich, I had only made a definite plan to see the castle of "Mad King Ludwig ll" but then I saw some travel brochures at my hotel with some other interesting things around Munich.  Well one of the tours was a surprize to me as I had no idea about the close connection with the rise of Hitler and the first concentration camp put in to use, Dachau.  

 Well, today, quite unexpectedly,  I had the opportunity to take a very informative and excellently done tour of the FIRST concentration camp to function under Adolf Hitler.  When I had first read about the tour, it seemed as though it would not be available for me during my stay due to time constraints, but, after some investigation, I found that it was indeed happening.  
In fact, as i found out in munich,  many of the tours seem to be directed by seperate companies but indeed end up at with the same guide.  This was like that as we met at the tourist office at  the main train station where I bonded with 2 couples from the United states and a marine stationed in Italy.  we took a 5 minute walk into the center where we joined an already assembled group of about 3 couples more and one family of 4.  One of the couples was a girl from New Zealand and her beaux from Western England.  The family seemed to be from the UK.

The tour began from this location under the famous glockenspeil, with a short walk to the metro station and then on to the train station, a quick transfer and off we went.  Coming from San Francisco and even Rome, I have often seen those tours going on the subway and thought..."why would anyone take a tour like that?"  "How cheap!" But I was wrong.  Taking this method was very cool and gave a strong sense of the distance to the camp which was of importance to the overall experience.  I was curious about how the camp could be so close to the city and yet the people supposedly didn't know what was happening.  Turns out that the people did know to some extent and the city grew closer over time.

The train ride was about 20 minutes and went direct from Munich banhoff to Dachau where there was a shuttle bus right to the camp. The transport prices were included in the tour price but the guide did teach me and some of the others how to buy tickets... for later.
   The guide, Eric, was well informed and loved to share his knowledge.  He seemed to understand my need to understand this part of history.  An American who has lived in Munich for 20something years ("for the beer", he says).  

The camp is perfectly preserved with a fantastic library/bookstore filled with WWII history.  Basically the tour took you through the footsteps of an incoming prisoner. Beginning at the front gate and continuing directly to gestapo torture rooms for interrogating the incoming. I had so many questions and Eric was very patient and did a very good job answering them. In addition was a 2o minute film explaining the rise of the third reich and giving some history about how it all came about.  The other tourists were a varied mix which surprised me.  i expected a preponderance of jews.

The tour was admittedly grim but it painted a very clear picture of one of the darkest blemishes on recent history.  Obviously it would take all day and even longer to explain it all and what I saw and learned.  There was a book available at the library/gift shop that I chose to purchase that basically contains all of the information in the museum.  The cost of the book also helps pay for the museum to run.

The most important part of this tour for me was to be aware of what is indeed possible under human behavior and to be vigilant against a repeat of this tragedy and also that it is so accurately preserved and presented that it is a palpable experience that will last.

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