When I told my dad in July that Oktoberfest was #1 on my list of things to do this fall I’m pretty sure that he pretended that he didn’t hear me. Actually, I’m sure he did. “I hate to see you spend your money like this”, “there are so many other things you could do”, and “why not stay in Spain?” were a few of the lectures that I heard on repeat all summer as I pulled out the trusty visa and spent my summer savings on a weekend in Munich.
…. and it was worth it. Munich is a historic, interesting, beautiful city and Oktoberfest was a once in a lifetime experience.
Arriving late after a full day of travels and lay overs, I met my friend Alicia and we went to the famous Hofbräuhaus for a bite to eat. I was warned that this would be an explosion of German culture, but I honestly was not prepared. Walking in we were met with liters of beer, schnitzel, German music, dirndls and lederhosen. The ambiance was completely Bavarian. The Hofbräuhaus is one of Germany’s oldest beer halls, and regulars have included Mozart, Vladimir Lenin, Adolf Hitler. In fact, the National Socialists held their first meeting in the beer hall and was regularly used by the Nazi party.
We woke up bright and early to secure a place in the Hofbräuhaus tent at Oktoberfest, which is the second largest tent with an official capacity of just under 10,000. The festival is so big that the tents are filled to capacity at 9am. Being first come, first serve, some of the smaller tents were filled by 8am. The festival is an expression of Bavarian culture that has run for 200 years. Everywhere German citizens dressed in dirndls and lederhosen sang, conversed, and drank liters of beer to celebrate their culture. I actually looked out of place because 3/4 of the people were wearing traditional Bavarian garb. Thousands of people who had not made it into a tent wandered between the tents where there were carnival rides, food and souvenirs.
Realizing that I had such a short time in the city, I set my alarm at 5:45 am to explore. Yes, I had forgotten that sunrise was at 7:11, people were still wandering around in lederhosen from the previous night, and it was freezing cold, but I only had a small taste of the city and I needed to see more. I walked through the historic center of town, past the Residenz Royal Palace, the Marienplatz, Bayerische Staatsoper Opera House and Frauenkirche Cathedral. Being so early in the morning and with so little time I was unable to go inside, but the edifices were beautiful.
My time in the city was cut short due to my tour of Dachau Concentration Camp which lies just 16 km outside of Munich. It wouldn’t have felt right to leave Munich without seeing it, especially with my area of study. It can’t be something that you read about because that doesn’t make it real.
Dachau was the first concentration camp opened in Germany, on March 22, 1933. In the beginning it was used mainly for political prisoners whom opposed Hitler’s regime. As the war progressed it also became the home of catholic priests, asocials, homosexuals, criminals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Jews. It was a strictly male camp. Dachau served as the model for all other concentration camps. Built for 6,000, by the time of liberation Dachau housed over 32,000. It was liberated by United States Army in 1945. Over 200,000 were incarcerated in Dachau, and there are 43,000 recorded deaths which do not include many of those who perished due to disease.
There was only one way in and out of the camp, and that was through a gate labeled, arbeit macht frei (work will set you free), the area held 69 barracks, two crematoriums and a gas chamber that was never used. After the war, refugees actually modified the barracks and lived there for twenty years before they were demolished. We also learned the interesting story of Johann Georg Elser who attempted to assassinate Adolf Hitler and was later captured and executed in Dachau.
Being at Dachau was an unreal experience and I think it was a really important one. It was awful and horrifying and made the entire situation very real. It also reinforced the reasons I’m studying what I am and gave me a really important perspective to further these studies.
This combination of activities provided the best weekend and the best break that I could have asked for. I can’t wait to return to Germany someday to explore it further.