The German leg of our tour was quite short: we were spending one day in Munich. We had arrived the evening before and by the time we checked into our hotel, it was already getting late.
Our Sunday morning started off on a more somber note. M and I both signed up for the optional excursion to the old Dachau concentration camp, now a memorial site. That was one of the places that I definitely wanted to visit; World War 2 history is a big interest of mine and given everything that happened back then, it’s a reminder of the past that one should never forget.
We spent about an hour and a half at Dachau. Our tour director gave us a brief overview of the camp when we arrived and she added some personal history to it as well; she had relatives who were sent to Dachau but fortunately, they made it out of there alive.
There was supposed to be a sign above the entrance but according to our guide, it had been stolen a month before our visit. (A quick search on Google shows that it has yet to be recovered.)
It’s a bit eerie wandering around what remained of the camp on a quiet Sunday morning; most of the barracks that housed the prisoners were torn down long ago but they rebuilt some so visitors could get a sense of what it must have been like. On the perimeter, several old watchtowers are still standing, and one can even see remnants of the old rail tracks where trains would enter with cars full of prisoners.
I think the most gruesome part of the site was walking inside the buildings that housed the crematoriums. In some of the rooms were signs that would describe the purposes of each and then one would see the ovens and furnaces that would have been used to burn the bodies.
By the time we left, the crowds were beginning to arrive. I’m glad we got there early and were able to take it all in quietly.
From Dachau, we returned to the hotel and picked up the remaining members of our group (I think 2/3 of us went to Dachau) and headed for the city center for our Christmas markets. Unsurprisingly, it seemed most of Munich turned out as well; I had forgotten that half of Europe is closed on Sundays, so there really wasn’t much shopping to be had unless it was at the holiday events.
Most of the Christmas markets were situated around Marienplatz, so that’s where our coach dropped us off for our walking tour. We headed for the very grand New Town Hall where the largest Christmas market was held. Just as in Vienna, there were lots of stalls selling everything from ornaments to food. At the very end, we all stood at the back of the square to watch the stories unfold in the Glockenspiel: a royal marriage celebrated with a tourney in the top tier, and the coopers’ dance to try to help ward off the plague.
There were plenty of other Christmas markets nearby and my favorite one was the Medieval Christmas Fair. It’s definitely a family friendly outing and it was fun to see people dressed in medieval garb and patrons served wine in clay bowls instead of the souvenir mugs seen everywhere else. At one end, a stage was set up for a show and there was even a man with marionettes entertaining children in the middle of the fair.
And back at the main entrance, a crowd gathered to watch a troupe of mummers perform; some of them played musical instruments while one of them danced on stilts.
Once thing that I was a little late to realize was how many buildings were rebuilt after World War 2. At a distance, many of them look like the grand buildings made of marble or thick blocks of stone but on closer inspection, one can see that the facades are actually painted on, mimicing slabs of stones, arches and columns.
When we walked back to the Town Hall, we passed dozens of people—men, women and children alike—dressed in the strangest costumes. Most wore furry costumes but the headpieces were sometimes grotesque, with curly horns and bestial faces; others carried old-fashioned broomsticks with them and there were a lot of bells clanging as they jogged past us. Our guide later explained that it was part of a Krampas run, a holiday tradition where the Krampas, a Christmas devil of sorts, run around chasing people.
The last place we visited in the city center was Hofbräuhaus, one of the most famous and oldest beer halls in the world. M wanted to get a drink there but it was slightly chaotic when we stepped inside. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason on how to get a seat and the wait staff was coming and going with trays of beers and never seeming to stop. So all we did was end up taking a few pictures and inhaling the scent of beer in the air.
There was an optional dinner excursion with the tour that nearly everyone partook in; one couple did not attend because they were meeting up with friends that lived in Munich. We were to have a “Bavarian Dinner” at Gasthof Hinterbrühl, a restaurant near a lake. Inside, we went to a side room and our group was seated at several very long tables.
We were shown a list of menu items the night before and made our choices then so everything would be ready when we arrived. The starter for me was Pfannkuchensuppe, or “pancake soup”, a German/Austrian specialty. The pancake looks and tastes like thick noodles in a sea of beef consommé.
One of the more intriguing and popular entrees were the pork knuckles; the majority of our group ordered that while I went with the duck instead. The pork knuckle (Schweinshaxe) was served in a dark beer sauce with a potato dumpling and sauerkraut.
The duck was also served with a potato dumpling but instead of sauerkraut, there was a side of red cabbage instead.
And dessert was either fresh fruit with Bavarian cream or apple strudel. Having had strudel at our first dinner of the tour, I opted for the fruit this time. There was also coffee and tea and unsurprisingly, I went with a nice cup of the latter.
With full stomachs, we hopped back on the coach and made our way to the hotel. And so ended our brief sojourn into Germany.