My last trip was to Munich, Germany. I went with five other people just for a quick weekend trip, but it ended up being one of the best trips I went on. Our group was fantastic–we had so much fun together–and Germany was gorgeous! It was full of rolling dandelion fields, beautiful mountains, and so much history.
First of all, Munich was HOT…I’m talking 70s and even 80s, which is completely unheard of in Oxford that time of year. We hadn’t felt a temperature over 70 since Spain and over 80 since leaving Dallas. Needless to say, it was wonderful.
The weather was perfect for our first adventure in Germany, the castle at Neuschwanstein. We took a train to a nearby town and then went on a fifteen minute hike up to the castle. It was tiring in the heat but so worth it to see the beautiful castle that inspired Walt Disney’s at Disney World. We spent a lot of time taking pictures on a bridge that overlooked the castle and loved soaking in the beautiful, scenic Germany landscape all around us. Let me tell you, the countryside is stunning.
The following day, we set out to take a tour of the concentration camp at Dachau. We went to the train station, following the directions in a pamphlet that told us to meet our tour guide there, but there was no guide at the meeting spot. We ended up talking to another guide at a different location who told us that some tours weren’t running that day because it was Dachau’s liberation day. ….WHAT. Out of the 365 days in a year, we picked the one day that was the anniversary of Dachau’s liberation to visit. Insane. And because it was liberation day, we were able to witness a beautiful ceremony in the camp and see row after row of flowered wreaths dedicated to the former prisoners. It was beautiful and such an honor to get to visit on that day.
The camp itself was amazing to see. While incredibly sobering and bleak, it was so eye-opening to actually see firsthand what a WWII concentration camp looked like. The clouds were even low and gray while we were there, creating a very somber atmosphere that actually put me in a better frame of mind for grasping the reality of the dark place.
We first went through a museum that gave us more information about Dachau and the war and helped us understand what we were seeing–the statistics were shocking, and the pictures were graphic. We then moved on to the prison bunkers, which were freezing inside in 85 degree outdoor weather, making me wonder how frigid they were during the winter. We also got to see the regular bunkers, the trenches and gates that encircled the camp’s perimeter, and the monuments set up to the fallen prisoners. Throughout my tour of all these places, I was fine. Of course they were very serious, but they didn’t really affect me much. It wasn’t until I stepped into one of the crematorium buildings that I really felt something. I was a little behind the rest of the group and turned into a different room by myself. I looked at the pale walls and ugly ground for a moment, wondering what was so significant about this room, and then noticed a plaque on the wall next to me. I read that it was in the room I was standing in that deceased prisoners’ bodies were stored. I looked back at the room around me, standing there by myself, and it was then that I truly felt the horror of that place. I didn’t break down and cry or anything dramatic like that, but just imagining piles and piles of innocent men in that room right underneath my feet just hit me hard. Because we learn about the Holocaust throughout our entire education careers…we’re fed statistics and shown pictures. But the demented, devastating reality of what was actually conducted during WWII doesn’t always strike home. It didn’t for me, at least, until I stepped foot into the dull, desolate place where it actually happened. I can’t say that I’m “forever changed” by my experience at Dachau, but I can say that I feel like I understand the horror of the Holocaust so much more now and have a greater reverence for it. Dachau is definitely one of the places I’m incredibly glad I went to this semester and feel as though I took something away from it.
Germany as a whole was wonderful, enlightening, and so much fun. As we were leaving, I couldn’t believe it was our last trip across Europe, and now as I look back, I’m so thankful I made the decision to go at the last minute!