Thursday, 27 November 2014

Tourist Destination Number One in Germany

We had spent the last weekend in Munich in order to celebrate Roland's birthday. It was a special birthday, one of those ending in a big zero, and it had to be celebrated royally.

It was all fogged up when we started our journey, however with the ascent into the mountains the view became clearer. Our short trip took us through the Bavarian hinterland towards one of the most popular tourist destinations of Germany, if not Europe.

By the time we arrived in Hohenschwangau the weather was stunning, although quite nippy. We were obviously here for one main reason: Insert 'royal' here! Because here is where you will find Disney's inspiration for the Sleeping Beauty Castle: The famous Castle Neuschwanstein, the refuge of King Ludwig II of Bavaria.

An annual 1.4 million visitors from all over the world come to see German Kitsch at its best. Even on this November day, the place was packed with tourist crowds.

In order to get our 'money shot' we decided to hike up the hill while most tourists take a tour bus or a horse carriage. It was the best way to enjoy the various vistas on the castle.

The ideal photo op is undeniably from Marienbr├╝cke (Mary's bridge) for the panoramic shot of the castle and the lakes. Picture perfect!

After the hike down we had definitely earned some refreshments at lake Alpsee. Bavaria doesn't get better than this: Yes, it was November (!), and we were sitting outside (!) in a beer garden (!) enjoying an alcoholic beverage (!) in public (!).

Later back in Munich we strolled around in the park of Nymphenburg Palace, a five minutes walk from our hotel. The palace and the surrounding park area are a very crowded refuge for the locals, full with runners, photographers, lovers, dog walkers, wedding parties and - of course - tourists. The evening sky was just fantastic, and we enjoyed the beautiful light.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

A Dark Lesson in History

Located about 20km northwest of Munich lies the former concentration camp of Dachau. Established by the Nazis in 1933 the camp served to imprison people of different political stance (communists, social democrats, trade unionists), or anybody of different beliefs (jews, catholics, Jehovah's witnesses) as well as repeat criminal offenders, male homosexuals, gypsies, homeless, disabled, prisoners of war, and basically anybody else who did not fit the Aryan profile.

KZ Dachau was the first camp of its kind and its set up became a prototype for all later concentration camps. Also, it served as training facility for the SS guards. Here they learned their "tools of the trade".

Death toll was high. Many people suffered and died during its twelve (!!!) years of operation through forced labour, torture, execution, malnutrition, disease, suicide and medical experiments.

The camp was surrounded by barbed wire fence, a double ditch, a wall and several guard towers which made it impossible to escape. 32 barracks housed ten thousands of prisoners, and two crematories were built to dispose of the countless bodies.

Liberation of the few survivors came with the American allies in 1945.

In 1965 the memorial site was founded through the initiative of former inmates, which got supported and financed by the Bavarian state government.

Although the sun was out, its rays didn't really enlighten the place. The atmosphere was somber. We walked the walk of the prisoners. When we entered through the gate we fell silent, we walked past the gathering place, and along the foundations of the barracks.

The barbed wire fence is rusty but very much intact, the watch towers must have provided an excellent overview for the snipers.

The crematories left us with a lump in our throats. First, people would have to undress, and get rid of their few belongings, then they were sent into the "showers" (Brausebad), in order to be gassed. Actually in Dachau the gas chambers were never used for mass killings, but the set up had been designed and invented here.

Another way of mass killing was the shooting area, a special area with a "blood ditch". 

Why could this happen, and how? We never got a satisfying answer out of our grandparents to these burning questions. "We didn't know." or "It wasn't us." were the stereotype responses.

There is nothing we can do to make this undone but it is up to all generations to follow keeping this memory alive, and to never let this happen again.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Last Rays of the Year

Sonja occupies the sofa at home with a flu, but these are probably the last sunny hours of the year, so I grab my camera and go for a little walk around our village. Just a few hundred meters away from our house nature starts (or what we grew used to calling 'nature' in Western Europe), so right away I dive into a world of falling leaves, color and tranquility!

What could be more beautiful than sunshine reflected in colorful leaves?

I am not the only one enjoying the last warm rays of the year...

Blue skies look different in autumn...

Playing with the zoom... I always wanted to do this!

Enough firewood for a hard winter that will likely never come!

As soon as the sun is gone the temperature falls perceptibly!

This one would have liked to join me!