Thursday, 27 March 2008


I spent quite a few days in Munich over Easter, it is pretty popular with Aussies after all, particularly in October. It was an odd town, this was were I found the most old people and got yelled at the most, and yet it seems to be one of the more popular tourist destinations in Germany. I was constantly amazed by how well people spoke English throughout Germany, I was having lunch in a restaurant in Munich when this 90 year old woman came and sat down at my table (I found that a little strange, but I think that is just how it is done in Munich) and she could still speak a surprising amount of English, much more than most French people, and she learnt it in school which must have been a looooong time ago.

Munich sure is a big drinking city, that 90 year old woman who had lunch with me ordered herself a beer, and there were other really old women with the full on 0.5L mugs of beer in front of them. I was amazed, they could drink more than I could! Throughout Europe there is no law against drinking alcohol in the streets, which always startles me when I first see it. Having grown up in Darwin, the city of hard drinkers in a hard drinking nation, alcohol is most definitely banned from public places (too many fights), so whenever I see people drinking on the trains or in parks I always expect fights to break out. I've got used to it now, and I can certainly see the attraction, but perhaps in Munich they should ban it from public, or at least from the train stations. You already have quite strange people hanging around public transport and when you introduce alcohol things can get a little messy, there were people passing out in the stations at 10:30am and the others who could handle their alcohol a little better were staggering around hassling people.

Once I had dodged the drunks and made it into the train station I set off on my first tour of the weekend, out to Neuschwanstein castle. It is a 2 hour train ride from Munich, near the town of Fussen (which is the town in the photo to the left) and 3km from the Austrian border, set in the German Alps. As you can imagine the setting was suitably amazing, and since it was only just spring there was snow all over the place. Even though there was snow all around this was the warmest I was all weekend, the sun was shining, there was no wind and just generally it was a fantastic day.

Neuschwanstein castle was built by "mad" king Ludwig II in 1869and is the inspiration for the disney castles in Snow White and Cinderalla. Now whilst King Ludwig II of Bavaria was known as the "mad" king, I'm not really sure if he was, there is certainly intrigue surrounding this diagnosis and his death. King Ludwig was taken from Neuschwanstein to a different castle after a psychiatrist had decided he may be insane after speaking to his family (he had never actually met King Ludwig himsefl). He was taken to this castle so the psychiatrist could determine for himself whether he was sane or not, but very soon after he arrived the King and his psychiatrist were both found drowned in the lake after heading off for a walk. No-one knows how they died, both the King and the psychiatrist were strong swimmers and neither had been dressed for swimming when they headed out, so who knows what really happened.

Whilst King Ludwig may not have been clinically insane, he was certainly a bit strange. He built the entire Neuschwanstein as a homage to Richard Wagner and so throughout the whole castle there is only one very passing mention to King Ludwig, whilst every room is decorated with scenes from different Wagner operas. This King really did have a thing for Wagner, apparently he also had a cave renovated as an opera theatre, but with only two seats, one for him and one for Wagner, funnily enough Wagner never saw a performance in the cave. He also only visited Neuschwanstein for a total of one night, I'm guessing Ludwig creeped him out, sounds a bit like Johnny Howard and the Australian cricket team. Unfortunately we couldn't take any photos inside the castle, copyright reasons, but I sure got heaps of the outside. Can you see the people in the photo to the left?

I haven't decided if the tour was a good idea or not, I think if I went again, or if I was advising anyone else, I would say just go by yourself. All the tour guide really did was make sure we got on the right train and bus (it was all via public transport) so there was certainly nothing I couldn't have managed by myself. Because I was on this tour it also meant that there was a bit of time waiting around and then a big rush at the end when it would have been good to have spaced the time out a bit more.

What I did really enjoy about the tour was chatting to the tour guide on the train ride home, he was an American, and I've never really had a chance to chat to an American about politics and history and everything, mainly because I haven't met many Americans and those I have I didn't really want to speak to, college students on "Spring Break" are the ones I generally come across. I did feel a little bad at the end though as perhaps I was making him talk about things he didn't really want to, since I was the "customer" and maybe he felt like he had to answer all my questions. Still I found it enlightening.
Me in the snow, I think spring was the best time to see this castle, the crowds weren't too massive and it just felt like a winter wonderland, awesome!

This photo is of Maximillius' castle (Ludwig's father) this castle is literally 20 minutes walk from Neuschwanstein, but this was apparently not good enough for Ludwig, he wanted his Wagner castle.

The next day it was a tour out to Dachau concentration camp, which is in a suburb of Munich, with the same tour company. This one was an awesome tour, the guide took us throughout the entire camp, describing what happened here, the conditions for the prisoners and the history of the camp. It must be really hard to be the tour guide though, going out to the camp a couple of times a week, no guide does it every day, and being surrounded by all this death and degradation.

In the photo to the left are shown all the camps in Germany, the death camps are not in this photo they are more to the right, in Poland. Every grey square is another camp, so there were an awful lot during the second world war. Dachau was the first concentration camp and was the prototype for all other camps that followed. This one was actually a concentration camp, and not a death camp like Auschwitz and the others. Even though it wasn't a death camp it did still have a gas chamber (never used) and at least 32000 recorded deaths occured there in its 12 years of operation and there were probably at least another 20000 unrecorded deaths. There were also the Nazi medical experiments occuring on the prisoners as well as torture and hard labour. Overcrowding was a serious problem, it was built to house 5000 people and yet when the Americans arrived they found 32000 people living there.

It was really quite amazing to visit there and see what people are capable of and it is good that the Germans do remember what happened during the war as there are quite a lot of other government brutalities around the world which have just been forgotten.

Dachau concentration camp, it was a really bleak day with snow every now and again, fairly appropriate for visiting a concentration camp I feel. The sculpture is called Bodies on the Wire and depicts prisoners who have thrown themselves onto the electrified barbed wire rather than spend another day in the camp.

After that rather sobering day I had one last morning in Munich before flying back to Paris. I tried to do as much sightseeing as I could in the town centre, but it was difficult when I could only last about 40 minutes outside before I really had to find a warm coffee shop and wrap my hands around a cup of tea until the feeling returned. I did manage to see a lot of churches, Munich is apparently one of the most religious cities in Germany, very catholic, which meant that as it was Easter I couldn't actually see inside any of the massive churches. The bells were certainly going off though. I really liked the centre of Munich, it had the same feel as Heidelberg, all pedestrianised with alley ways and churches tucked in corners. I got to see the Munich Residence, which is where the Bavarian kings lived in Munich, as well as their crown jewels. Looks like the English monarchs are a hell of a lot richer than the Bavarian kings were. And to finish off I got to see the world's largest glockenspiel going off at midday (in the photo to the left), so all in all a nice way to spend the Easter, though sadly lacking in chocolate.

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