no matter where you go, there you are

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

nymphenburg palace and Cece's Advice #6

The summer residence for the kings and queens of Bavaria, Nymphenburg Palace is located towards the outskirts of Munich. Reachable by trolley, the palace is still completely in tact though only a few rooms are furnished and open to the public. However, there is an extensive carriage museum and a few outbuildings that are open for visitors.

I begin my self-guided tour in the center of the main palace, and though I don't remember having an audio guide, I can't help but feel that one was included with my ticket. The upstairs of the center room was open and spacious with gorgeous paintings adorning the white and gold walls. Gold and crystal chandeliers hung from the lovely frescoed-ceiling and the sunlight cast a glow throughout. 

To the left there were a bedroom and accompanying study, I think. In the journal I kept I wrote that I liked the beds, so in addition to the Queen's bedroom I definitely remember, this other bedroom had a cool bed. It was all original furniture, mainly baroque, from the olden days which made each room even more unique. The other small wing of the palace that is open to the public includes the Gallery of Beauties. 36 portraits of women from all ranks of Munich society hang here thanks for King Ludwig I. I found each one to be special and I enjoyed spending the time observing each one individually. The queen's bedroom (though I can't remember which Queen is belonged to) is off the Gallery of Beauties and I thought the style of cloth on the walls was pretty neat. The green color scheme was a bit overwhelming but everything did tie together quite nicely.

The Marstallmuseum (Carriage Museum) was in two long narrow rooms on the first floor of the South Wing of the palace. There were tons of carriages for all seasons and occasions...winter, summer, funerals, long-term travel...and I was shocked by the detail carved into each and every one of them. There were even teeny little steps leading into some of the large ones which I found too be really awesome. The collection of sleighs and sleds were also really, really cool. 

Upstairs in the Marstallmuseum was the porcelain collection. Porcelain is porcelain so the painted designs were amazing but it was all just the same for the most part.

The Amalienburg is a 5-7 minute walk from the center of the palace and is a former hunting lodge on the grounds, most famous for its "Hall of Mirrors." Not what I was expecting, the hall is just a large room but it does have mirrors on all the walls. But they're not floor to ceiling so not overpowering. The side bedroom was really cute and the kitchen had some interesting tile work as well.

Walking back to the main palace I got a good look at the central grounds with its large ponds and what I call "European Geese." The "European Geese" look eerily simialr to Canadian geese but they're a lil smaller, light brown and have orange feet coloring.

After Nymphenburg I spent the rest of the afternoon browsing the other various Christmas Markets in Munich. On my way to Tollwood, the sight of Oktoberfest, I passed a small but nothing special about it market and then walked through the market at Tollwood. Tollwood was highly unimpressive and way too commerical. All the items for purchase were not seasonal in the least and could have been bought any time of the year. The sun set once more and it was early to bed for me, as usual.

Cece's Advice #6: If you have the option for an all-female room without spending any more money, take it. Boys snore. Loudly.

This advice is straightforward. No explanation needed. All my immediate family members, male and female snore, so I'm used to it. But that doesn't mean I want to deal with it on my vacation. Therefore I was not excited when at least 2 of my 3 male roommates in Munich snored so loudly, it took a lot of music to drown it out. How I wished I'd gotten an all-female room (as long as it wasn't going to cost me an arm and a leg) where the chances of this happening were slim. When I tell people that I stayed in hostel rooms with only men, many think I'm crazy and insane and that its dangerous etc. Well, to that I will say the only danger was that of sleep deprivation.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

if you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home - james michener

Olympiapark was constructed for the 1972 summer Olympics in the northern section of the city. Since then, it has become a popular venue for cultural and social events and some facilities are also used for sports training. The park is a popular tourist destination and has "commercialized" itself by offering a variety of tours as well as the chance to walk on the tent-like roof during the spring and summer seasons. The tower also serves as an attraction as it provides a wonderful view of the Alps and the expanse of the city. It was still quite early when I arrived to the park and no one except some runners were around. For something that seemed like it was theme-park-esque there was no one around which made it very eery. Passing by the swimming hall I could hear people gliding through the water so there was some form of life. The tower opened at 9am and even though it was later than that, the lack of people made me think it may have been closed. Nope, just very empty; the atmosphere I would normally enjoy very much but it somehow ended up feeling a little creepy.

At the top of the tower, only the indoor observation deck was open which was bumming to hear since I prefer looking out over cities without glass and walls obstructing the view. The sun was still on the rise, reflecting against the glass, and off the clouds. I was able to see the Alps which floated along the horizon, blending beautifully into the clouds. The city however, was much harder to distinguish. The refracting light of the sun made it hard to pick out the major sights of downtown Munich and much of the city was a blur. To the west however, I was able to view Nymphemburg Palace, one of my stops later on in the day. Overall the tower was a semi-good investment. Had I known that I would get a much better view of downtown later I might have opted to save the cash on this tower. The Alps in the distance were certainly the best part, but even they could have been better had I been allowed in the outdoor deck or had I visited the park later in the day.

Back to downtown Munich...and into the Hunting and Fishing Museum aka Deutches Jagd- und Fischereimuseum. Containing a variety of hunting and fishing weapons in addition to stuffed animals and crazy looking fish skulls, this museum was fascinating. It started off like a natural history museum with two long hallways with different displays featuring a number of hunted and stuffed animals. Hawks, deer, seals, bear, wolves...all sorts of creatures. However, upstairs contained a very cool weapons exhibit, world's largest fish hook collection, a narwal skull and even a 12,000 year old skeleton of a deer or moose-like ancestor.
Although there was almost no English to read, there was a vast amount of artifacts to look at and visually learn from such as fish traps, fish hooks, guns, hunting sleds, paintings, and blades of all shapes and sizes. A very cool place to see and it was inexpensive so if you're like me and don't have the time or money to go to the infamous Deutches Museum, here's a wonderful small place to whet your appetite.

Only a few blocks away from the museum is Frauenkirche, the "Notre Dame" of Munich. It's domed towers are a symbol of recognition for the city. Due to construction height restrictions, it remains to be the tallest building around and towers over it's city.

Inside, I got my first impression of Central European churches and took note of how different the style is compared to the grandness of Parisian cathedrals or Italian masterpieces. Just as tall as the other massive cathedrals, Frauenkirche is fairly narrow and its columns are straight white all the way to the top, no stone or carvings. The ceiling is white with brown wood highlighting all it's crevices.
The side chapels are small and do not house as many large, elegant paintings but do have wonderful altars highlighted with gold. The crucifix hangs in the middle of the sanctuary and even the organ isn't as lavish as others I'd seen. In not being so covered with wonderful things to look at, the church may originally be perceived as uninteresting, but it definitely still has charm. A fun fact I learned while eavesdropping on a small English tour group was that despite the heavy, heavy, heavy bombing that occurred during World War II, the towers were never hit even though they were prime targets. US and British armies ordered pilots not to hit the tower and instead, used them as a landmark to aim for other things.

After the Frauenkirche it was back to Marienplatz for a daytime look inside Peterskirche as well as a climb to the top of the tower for a wonderful overlook of the city and the one of the daily Glockenspiel shows. The Neues Rathaus was spectacular since it wasn't raining and the background of clear blue skies and white, wispy clouds was breathtaking.

With a plain exterior I didn't know what to expect in Peterskirche, but it reminded me greatly of the extravagant Italian churches. Much more than Frauenkirche had.
There was a large and gorgeous, gold-decorated altar, a fantastic pulpit, and ceiling adorning frescoes. My favorite part however was a skeleton dressed in jewels and a crown inside a glass coffin in one of the side chapels. Although probably meant to be serious, the skeleton was smiling at me so there was nothing to do but love him. The climb to the top of the tower in Peterskirche was, like all other climbs, strenuous on the legs. But by that point I'd done so many I would say I was actually in some shape to be able to climb all those stairs.

At the top there was full access to all sides of the tower, therefore a view of the city from every angle possible. I found this overlook to be more interesting than the Olympia Tower, as I said above, because it was from downtown and gave a great view of how the city is structured and all the landmarks I'd just seen earlier that day are really visible from this point. The sun had now risen so the lighting was much better and evenly spread across the buildings.

Before heading back down, I was treated to the Glockenspiel on the City Hall which performs at least once, daily. I had a much different image in my head about how the Glockenspiel would go and even though I didn't understand the story which was being told, it was a cute but lengthy show.
What I liked observing from the tower most was the gathering of people in Marienplatz below. Once the Glockenspiel began, a small crowd formed in the center and by the end there was a fairly large crowd. With the Christmas Market stalls all set up, there really wasn't much room for the people so they squished together.

Now past mid-day I departed Marienplatz and strolled toward the trolley lines which would take me out to Nymphemburg Palace.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Munchin' in Munchen

When I got back to downtown Munich, in the Marienplatz, (city center) it was much colder and the rain drizzled away. Among all the buildings there, Marienplatz houses the famed Frauenkirche, Peterskirche as well as the old and new city halls. And since it was late November, Marienplatz was home to one of the many Christmas markets central Europe offered. Inside a small tower in the Altes Rathaus ("old city hall") is the Spiegelzmuseum. A cute toy musuem, it contains a variety of toys and dolls, old and new, from all over the world. I recognized some of the toys such as Barbie but there were many famous foreign ones too. There wasn't much by way of English information, but I spent a good deal of time soaking in all the toys' details. The elaborate train tracks were quite fascinating.

Braving the rain once again, I decided to browse the Christmas market. It was pretty busy yet not too busy that I felt claustrophobic and annoyed by all the people surrounding me. Taking my time, I browsed all the stands, taking in all the trinkets, ornaments, and decorations. Since I eventually visited at least 15 of these markets, I will save my discussion on them for it's own post. In short, they're really cute.

By the time I'd circled the market once, bought a cookie and a couple of gifts, I was freezing and ready to return to my hostel. I checked in, dropped my bag and departed one final time because I really wanted to see what the Munich "Medieval Christmas Market" was all about. Turns out, "Medieval Christmas Market" is a pretty self-explanatory title. Much smaller than the market at Marienplatz, and with much fewer people, the Medieval market seemed to be the hotspot for food. I can't read German so I have no idea what was being cooked but it was definitely meat. The non-food items for sale consisted of various Middle Ages themed products such as bow and arrows and dresses and robes all with a medieval flair. All the workers were dressed in Medeival appropriate garb which made it all the more cuter.
Though I don't think it was really worth the time I'd spent traveling to the market and walking in the rain, it was definitely interesting to see. There was nothing particularly "Christmas-y" and I felt it could have taken place anytime of year. Back at the Wombats hostel, I used my free drink on a cranberry juice (so wild, I know), took a hot shower, bundled myself for sleep since the room was freezing and passed out. I was exhausted and when you're traveling so much, sleep=heaven.

The next morning was an early one, but I'd gone to bed so early that I woke up after 10 hours of sleep. My first stop of the day was Odeonsplatz, home of Theatinkirche, Ludwigkirche, Feldernhalle, Residenz, Hofgarten and only a short walk from the Siegestor. In short, there was lots to see. The sun was still rising so the light cast on the mustard yellow of the Theatinkirche was gorgeous especially since the bright blue skies provided such a beautiful backdrop.
The Feldernhalle sits across fromt the Theatinkirche and is a monumental loggia honoring the Bavarian army. Stone lions guard the entranceways to the space under the arches were soldier statues stand.
West of the Feldernhalle is the east side of the Residenz, the former royal palace of the Bavarian monarchs and the largest palace in Germany. On the backside of the Residenz is the Hofgarten so though I decided not to go inside, I was able to see it's north side which was quite large.

The Hofgarten, built in the early 17th century, was quite nice and as it was still so early the only people were a few bikers and joggers passing through. Being in one of the biggest German cities, the stillness and peacefulness was much appreciated. In the center of the garden was a pavillion for the goddess Diana; inside, I really liked the fish fountains decorated entirely from mosaic.

Back at Odeonsplatz I walked north towards Ludwigkirche whose exterior architecture was very simple compared to the massive Italian churches, but nevertheless was still pretty in its own right.
Continuing north is the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and plenty of students were passing in and out of buildings. My last stop on this road was the Siegestor ("Victory Gate") at the north end of the University's main buildings. Munich's version of the Arc de Triomphe, the Siegestor is not as large but it is certainly glorious in its own right. Its carvings are just as detailed as the others I'd seen before, and the Siegestor has a chariot and horses sitting up on top. Originally built to honor the army, it is now a reminder of of peace.

Next... I head into the U-Bahn, the Munich metro which is lovely and very easy to use, and take the short train ride to Olympiapark.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

dachau concencration camp

Munich is a large city on the southeast edge of Germany, a mountains climb away from Austria. It is the 3rd largest city in Germany and the capital of Bavaria. I stepped off the train at Munich's Haubtbahnhof in the early morning hours, the sun still hidden behind the horizon. My hostel was only a short distance away and though still too early to check in to my room, they had a nice luggage room to store bags in. And since it was very early, I wandered the streets surrounding the hostel for a little while and picked up a tasty cinnamon roll-like pastry for breakfast. Looping back around to the train station, I passed St. Paul's a church that sits on the edge of Theresienwiesen, the park home to Oktoberfest.

Back at the train station, I purchased a 2-day unlimited travel pass for all local transportation and set off to the town of Dachau, a suburb of Munich and home to one of the first concentration camps of the Nazis. Dachau was first built in 1933 and was an active camp until its liberation by the Americans in 1945. Its design and layout was the first of its kind and the basis for all other camps. Originally used as a prison for Germans who were detained for political reasons, Dachau administration records state only 206,000 prisoners entered its gates throughout its 12 years as a concentration camp.

When I arrive at Dachau, it's cloudy and rain falls as a light drizzle. The visitor center is a short walk away and I'm early for the tour so they tell me I can go into the camp and begin looking at the exhibit. The main camp building is a huge, a wide and giant U-shape. As well as 2 watch towers, the main entrance gate and 2 of the 34 barracks are still standing.

The museum is really wonderful and informative and I get through most of it before I must turn back to the visitor center for the guided tour. However, the tour guide is late so after 15 minutes they send us over to the exhibit to watch the movie first instead, and then our guide will meet up with us there.

After finishing the film, which gave a very good history of Dachau, and finally meeting our guide, we start back at the beginning of the museum and he takes us through all the rooms, explaining the main displays. The rooms are still original in appearance; nothing has been done to the walls so they are still stone, and while the exhibit is displayed throughout, you still get a very good understanding of how the camp worked back in the 1930s and 40s. The main room in the center of the U-shape is spacious and large. Used for torture, there is a whipping table and the remnants of wooden beams where they would hang and beat prisoners is a highlight.
Next stop are the barracks. Long, narrow, wooden buildings, the barracks were the living quarters for the prisoners. In the early years, these quarters were obviously not ideal living spaces, but the living situations in them only got worse as the years passed. The common room of the barrack is empty except for a couple of benches in the corner. It's not large, comfortable for 30-50 people probably. The next room houses the first design of bunks that the camp used. Throughout its 12 years as a concentration camp, the Nazis used 3 different designs, each progressively worse as they were made to fit more people in the same, small spaces. The first design was 3 levels and each prisoner had his or her own space so the level was divided into bunk segments. The entire unit could hold about 60 prisoners.
The far side of the room had the 2nd design of the bunks and instead of one giant sleeping unit, these were smaller, each designed for holding 12 prisoners. There was no division between the 2 beds on each level so when space was limited it became easier to cram multiple people in. At this point, our guide told us it was best to have the top bunk because that meant you were the healthiest and could climb up. If you were healthy you would live longer. 
The next few rooms were all small. One a locker room, one a narrow room with 2 large, round sinks and the last, a bathroom with 10 toilets along the walls and nothing dividing them. There was no such thing as privacy.
A piece I found very interesting was on the wall in the corridor where the bathroom was hung a board which kept track of how many prisoners were being held in each barrack. As the war raged on in the 1940s, Dachau became extremely overcrowded and each barrack was holding at times, 7000 people, an amount greatly surpassing the capacity it was built for. 
Finally, our group entered the final room which housed the 3rd and far worse design of bunks. With the appearance of the 1st design, the main difference was that there were no dividers so the prisoners were forced to share a 15-20 foot long space, all sleeping on their sides like sardines. I can sleep in some pretty uncomfortable looking positions, but those bunks looked like absolute hell.
Where the rest of the barracks used to be are now concrete & gravel pads with a number designating which barrack used to be there. It is simple and looks like a large gravesite, which for people who lost family members in Dachau, it is. The far side of the barrack "graves" are 3 large memorials, one Jewish, one Catholic and one I didn't hear the name of. There is also a Russian Orthodox memorial that we pass on the way to see the crematoriums. 
Because Dachau wasn't used as a killing center the way Auschwitz was, the crematoriums were used for the bodies of the prisoners who had died mainly of disease and starvation in the camp. Therefore, the original crematorium which is known to be the one used for the majority of the camp's life was small, with only 2 ovens. 
The 2nd, and much larger crematorium, had the declothing and decontaminating room, the "Brausebad"(shower room), the body storage room, and the burning room which held about 6 or 8 ovens. One tidbit we learned was that "Brausebad," the original German word for "shower" is no longer used in the language because of its negative connotations so "douche" is now used instead.
After the crematoriums, we were done with the tour. As I still wanted to see some things in Munich, and it was getting on to be late afternoon, I departed Dachau, but not without making one last stop at the memorial in the center of the camp. A metal "statue," the memorial displays stick-like representations of humans in the midst of great pain. Although they don't look like humans, and more like aliens, they represent all the inmates of Dachau and the tortures they endured while imprisoned. 
Though I wish I could have finished the museum portion, I did get to see most of it, but a heads up to anyone planning on visiting Dachau; if you plan on the guided tour, its great for understanding the buildings but you don't get to learn any of what you can if you get to explore the exhibit. So allow time for both.

Like any Holocaust memorial or museum, you come out of it feeling fortunate that you haven't had to endure anything like that in your life, but you're also still trying to comprehend everything you've just seen and learned. This was the most up close and personal I'd come to Holocaust memorials and museums and though I'd seen footage of the liberation in high school, it was different seeing it through my older eyes and scraping the surface of how awful the living conditions of the camp must have been. So much of the atrocities the Nazis performed is hard to wrap your head around and seeing Dachau didn't make it any easier. If you would like to see a concentration camp I would definitely recommend Dachau, though smaller and not as well known than Auschwitz, it is not as remote so if you're in Western Europe, Munich and Dachau are great and easily accessible stops.