“Will there be beer in Munich the week before Oktoberfest?”

Posted by jswt | Posted in General, Germany - Munich | Posted on 12-09-2010

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More than the previous couple of weeks in Germany, Munich is more what you imagine: Beer houses, cobblestone streets and unironic laderhosen.

The week was a little askew – we were there the week before Oktoberfest was to begin, so the city felt a little quiet. Our hotel was really nice, and the internet was reliable, so it was a pretty heavy work week for both of us.

We did have Monday afternoon off, and went out in the town to find the legendary Hofbrauhaus. We got caught in a rainstorm, and when we asked a cabbie to take us there, he said “but it is only up left then right!” so we got out of the cab, back into the pouring rain, and spent the next 30 minutes getting soaked to the bone and wandering many different lefts and rights and still not being anywhere near. We did eventually find it, and had a great night drinking litre beers, and Chris getting told he was drinking “girlybeer” by a german girl and her grandmother.

On Friday we booked a tour to the Duchau concentration camp. This is the nasty one that had the SS training grounds attached and was the proving ground for torture and techniques used throughout the camp network across Germany.

I don’t really want to write much, because it can never do justice to the experience, or the horrors that become relevant with the confrontation of experience…

In 10 years, more than 40000 people died in this camp alone, and it wasn’t even an extermination camp – it was a work camp where they were killed by the disease, suffering, conditions and cruelty of the Nazis.

I do remember clearly the moment in the secondary prison-within-the-prison reserved for “special treatment” when I realized that “receiving a beating” meant more than a brief punchup. In this case there was no end to the suffering that was possible and that the echos of cracking bones and bloody wet gasps of suffering hung heavy all around.

Standing in a gas chamber that was built for a horribly specific evil purpose, or staring into the body sized ovens in the creamatorium suddenly makes Hitler jokes a little less funny.

Some accuse Germany of glorifying their role in the war by leaving the camp intact, but I think it’s actually something bigger than that. They could just pull it down, cover it up, and make history fade to dust and reduce the shitstorm of hate that comes at them. Instead, they take the shit that comes along with reminding people of the atrocities of WW2 when they say confidently ‘this needs to be here, and people need to see it, and be reminded of why it never can happen again’… I respect that.

It was a horrible thing to see and think about, but incredibly important to have seen and a highly, highly recommended tour.

Since I hadn’t really seen much of Munich itself aside from a rainy afternoon sprint from the metro to a beerhall on Monday, I decided to try and get a bit more out of Munich and offset the friday grimness with a bike tour around town… The tour guide was a little “aussie-backpacker centric”, but he did a great job of keeping it light and reading what the group was looking for in the end – lots of side tangents and good stories about a city that has some amazing history. We had a great lunch in the giant beer garden in the park, and the second half of the tour was a whole lot of fun getting back on the bikes after a couple litres of beer… Careening past the naked sunbathers in the park, checking out the people surfing on the standing wave, and ringing our bells a lot to make people jump out of our way. I’d met a few guys over lunch who were travelling from Tulsa, and after the bike tour we tumbled over to the Hofbrauhaus to continue drinking. Things were going smoothly until one of the americans decided we needed shots and bought a round of schnapps. I’ll mention here that the beer hall has an old roman vomitorium in the men’s room – not that it’s applicable or at all relevant to this tale…

Anyways – Munich was a nice way to wrap up our weeks in Germany… I’d like to come back to experience the craziness of Oktoberfest one day, but that’s probably the only draw at this point: I’m pretty schnitzel’ed and bratwurst’ed out, and after 3 weeks, I’m really missing a culture that shows it’s emotion…