Category Archives: Germany

Murderous Dachau

 

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This is a replica gate. The original was stolen, but was recovered and now is on display in the museum.

Two of my sons are big history buffs. When we travel, more often than not, we visit places steeped in history, particularly 20th century wars. Our most recent trip earlier this month continued that tradition and we took in some intense WW II history in (or near) each city we visited. It’s always a speech robbing experience, which is why I’m only finding the words two weeks after we paid our respects at the first of our stops, Dachau.

483AEA12-9529-487E-A133-4501599FE841I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Normandy, the Ardennes Forest, Nuremberg and Anne Frank’s house and have seen things that are beyond my comprehension in terms of hatred and heroism. Dachau, though, was a whole nother level, as it was designed to be as the first and model example of a concentration camp. 

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One of the watchtowers.

Visiting Dachau is really easy, in terms of transportation, from Munich. It was a train and a bus all on the same ticket. The bus was packed with students and groups, but we wedged our way onto the first one and arrived at the camp in time to get in on one of the day’s English tours, scheduled to last approximately 3 hours.

Our guide was terrific – thorough, knowledgeable and a resident of the area whose own grandfather had been punished with a sentence at Dachau, yet survived to never talk about what he witnessed or was subjected to. He didn’t want to risk going back. Despite his Opa’s reticence about discussing his time imprisoned, our guide’s repeated use of the word “murderous,” revealed his deep understanding of the grounds we walked.

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Smoking forbidden.

The tour physically moved us from where the trains would arrive to the processing building, which offered displays and photographs to visually recreate what occurred in which area. The sleeping barracks were replicas, tidy and clean in a way that they never could have  been with hundreds of humans denied every basic need. It was horrific. The toilet and wash room bearing the load of so many…

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Only the foundations remain of the original barracks.

We toured a building which was the prison within a prison. Individual cells with perhaps a toilet, maybe not, and heavy wooden door with wrought iron bars. I couldn’t decide if it was better or worse than the chaos of the general barracks, but I imagine the lack of nourishment and the addition of regular beatings and other abuses probably swayed things to being worse, if that’s even imaginable.

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Haunted by how those bars may been bent.

It was a heavy day but, just like the large groups of German children who were there as a required component of their curriculum, it felt compulsory to me. If you’re in that area, I recommend a guided tour (minimal cost) and a walk around the small city of Dachau, if you can manage it. We didn’t have time but I would have been interested to see some of the city. It would have been nice to get a different definition for a quaintly pretty city that has been synonymous with death for decades.

 

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Filed under Education, Europe, Germany, Observations, politics, Schools, travel, Uncategorized

Riding that train

Most of my recent trips to Europe have been with my uncle and aunt, which means that I haven’t had to really deal with transportation once I hit the ground. Our primary means of travel has been by auto and I’ve only had to buckle up and sit back. Easy.

This trip has been quite different but surprisingly almost as effortless – Europe knows what they’re doing when it comes to transportation. Aside from our inner city travels, also fairly priced and convenient, we’ve traveled between 4 cities in three countries and it has been a piece of sachertorte.

In an increasingly frequent leap of faith, I opted to not book any tickets in advance. I’m not sure if there were any financial consequences to that decision, but I found the prices for tickets to be reasonable, even a bargain when you factor in the quality of the trains. I’ll get to that, but first the prices: from Munich to Salzburg (for two without any discounts) was 31 euro, from Salzburg to Vienna 53.80e and Vienna to Prague via Linz was a combined total of 68e. I think that converts to about $185 give or take a little, a deal when you consider it would have cost us almost $170 for two to travel from Albany to NYC on Amtrak.

The ticketing process is super simple. I downloaded the Trainline EU app when I was in Munich and set up an account. Searching for tickets is easy and you can choose which criteria is most important to you – time, price or speed. Most of the time I went with what was direct and cheap. There definitely were faster trains at higher prices, but our longest journey was a total of 6 hours when we went from Vienna to Prague. There was a nearly one hour layover in Linz, though, to factor into that. It was actually a welcome bonus for us because we had sufficient time to pick up some food for the trip from the Spar market in the bahnhof.

Other advantages of train travel? Well, there’s the pleasure of stretching one’s legs and walking around rather than being crammed into a car. Pit stops for bathroom breaks are unnecessary since the train has WCs available and speaking bathrooms, the bathrooms on the trains we were on were cleaner than 90% of the bathrooms I encounter at home. Immaculate, well stocked and modern with automatic water, soap dispensers and hand dryers. The contrast with what I’m unfortunately accustomed to on trains in New York, is dramatic. Eating and drinking is also a comfortable option with many of the seats set up in little booth arrangements.

The train stations are so pretty…

In addition to comfort, there are amenities such as power outlets and WiFi on most trains. I was a bit bummed that we didn’t have WiFi on our lengthiest trip, but the friendly guy sitting near us said it was a good introduction to the difference between Austria and the Czech Republic. I can live with that since the ride was scenic, my legs could be extended and I had the cutest little table to eat my grocery store lunch upon.

…and quaint!

One final advantage – I don’t seem to suffer from motion sickness while writing or reading on a train. If I were in a car, I wouldn’t be able to relax and bang out a few posts. Reasonably priced, reliable, clean, comfortable and scenic makes European trains right on track.

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Filed under Austria, beauty, Czech Republic, Europe, family, Germany, Observations, Recommendations, Summer, travel, vacation

Moments in Munich

Spending 48 hours in a city like Munich, especially when the weather is outstanding, is practically criminal. I should be embarrassed by how little I actually learned about the city or how to navigate my way around it. I concluded, though, that I do better with that sort of thing when I travel solo. If I have someone else willing to study maps and figure out directions, then I have more time to sit outside, drink beer and people watch. That’s really what I’m there for anyway.

Without a doubt, the most important part of my stay was the time spent with family and a friend from many years ago. Catching up on the last year or 26, was just awesome. Isn’t it amazing how there are people we don’t see for months or even decades, yet the connection and comfort with one another remains? Life lesson: that soul filling is worth every effort it takes to travel and connect with those kind of people in your life.

We did do a few traditional tourist things beyond consuming beer and pretzels, though, such as…

Lots of walking around the city center. The buildings are beautiful, the streets are cleaner than a New Yorker can imagine and there are bright flowers everywhere you look.

We watched Croatia beat England while we sat at a sidewalk cafe with a television monitor and a diverse and fun group of soccer fans. C0A0E0C4-442D-469F-8620-06E69A883AA3

I ate gelato, more cheese than I typically eat in a month, and a terrific white wurst served with sweet mustard. For the train ride out of town, I picked up a falafel sandwich which was dynamite, if a bit messy. I neglected to eat any pastry or cakes. Personal fail.

We spent a good part of one day visiting Dachau, but that’s another post. After that excursion, I was left wanting little more than warm sunshine and cold beer. My son went to visit Bayern-Munchen’s stadium while I indulged myself and he seemed to really enjoy the tour he received and his independence to go do something of interest to him.

C2D7DD47-A497-44D5-8DDE-19292D6488F9Our last morning and early afternoon was spent hitting a couple of spots – the BMW museum and Olympic Stadium are in the same area and we checked both of them out prior to leaving for Salzburg. For me, one engine looks like another one so I may have under appreciated the more mechanical aspects of the tour, but the cars were pretty and BMW does own Mini these days so I’m practically a shareholder, aren’t I? We didn’t really have the time to commit to a stadium tour, but did walk around the Olympic Park and saw the memorial to the athletes from the ‘72 games.

62DB0B5A-C584-47A8-9041-C49E151DB1CAWe finished with a walk through the Englischer Gardens and a last weisse beer for me. I did no shopping, nor did I splurge on any spectacular food or experiences, but I boarded the train feeling richer from my time spent in Munich and confident that one day I’ll be back.

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Scattered

I’m feeling scattered. The end of the school year brings lots of activities that (often delightfully) disrupt my work days and my personal life has taken a positive turn which has caused unexpected, but very much appreciated reverberations. Summer is looking really good and I’m so ready for it.

My middle son’s upcoming trip to Thailand has been my focus recently and I’ve spent very little time working on my own trip to Europe this summer. Gathering the necessary documents for his required visa has taken some work and I’m constantly checking in with myself and him about what is his responsibility and what I should be taking on on his behalf. It’s a balance that is kind of new – next stage parenting, I suppose.

My oldest son and I will be visiting Munich, Salzburg, Vienna and Prague. Other than Munich, which I visited in 1992, I haven’t been to any of those places before and I’m pretty stoked. The big stuff is done – a plan to meet with family, our accommodations, an outing or two, but I haven’t even looked at details such as transportation or scouting out where we’ll want to eat or what sites we won’t want to miss. I think we’ll be winging it. Suggestions are welcomed.

For a period of time next month, all three of my children will be on different continents. I’ve been trying to process this fact ever since it occurred to me a couple of days ago and I’m still not quite there. Wow. How did I/we ever get lucky enough for this to even possible much less accurate? It’s amazing to me and I don’t take it for granted on any level.

Somehow, I have children who are comfortable and excited by adventure. They are interested and curious about history and people and the world we live in and that prompts me to be so very proud of them. I appreciate that the experiences I’ve cultivated with them have been influential, but it certainly isn’t all due to me. These upcoming trips were inspired by Anthony Bourdain (Thailand) and the Von Trapp family (Austria) and I can’t tell you thrilled I am that my sons are eager to collect their own memories of places around their world and that sometimes I get to be a witness to their wonder.

Scattered isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if you think about stars and seeds. Here’s hoping that summer 2018 brings light and new life to each of us.

 

 

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Filed under aging, Boys, Europe, family, Germany, Summer, travel, vacation

Rise

I’ll never claim to be devoutly religious, but there are things about Catholicism that ring true for me. Over the years I’ve learned to absorb the lessons of my religion in which I find meaning and reject the tenets which I find to be contrary and, while I don’t imagine myself to be a poster child for Catholicism, I do believe I represent some of the finer parts of the religion I was born into.

Easter, the most holy of holidays, has become one of my favorite Sundays. I think my fondness for the day has evolved over the years as I’ve celebrated the day with family, both in Ireland and in Germany. Witnessing the traditions of my religion, in the countries where my family continues to live, provided me with a perspective I may not have had otherwise. It’s taught me a few things, too.

  • Making the effort to put on your good clothes is an exercise in both pride and respect.
  • Believing in miracles can lift the heart and move boulders.
  • There is a season for rebirth and it comes every year. Honor it.
  • Looking for sweetness is an effort that can really pay off.
  • Attending a mass being conducted in a language that is not your own causes one to hear with one’s heart, rather than one’s ears. You don’t really have to leave the country to do that.
  • Flowers provide the most simple of joys.
  • We each have the ability to rise. Believe it.

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Seventeen things I learned in 2017

  • Never regret money spent traveling.
  • I’m not a good boss and have no interest in ever owning a business again.
  • That being said, I did learn how to do payroll and use Quickbooks.
  • The Hudson Valley has no shortage of adorable and fun places for quick getaways.
  • For every $1000 spent on a cosmetic household improvement there will be $3000 spent on necessary home repairs.
  • Running a half marathon in single digit temperatures is possible and even a little fun.
  • Solo travel is indulgent – and exhilarating.
  • U2 live still delivers.
  • Although I love being home, spending time outdoors makes me happy in an entirely different way.
  • Donald Trump is an even worse President than I had ever imagined.
  • Jeter loves a vacation just as much as any of us and the ‘new” house we rented last summer in Wellfleet was ideal for the whole family.
  • Making granola is super easy and it tastes far better than store bought.
  • There’s a lot of good television these days – think Stranger Things, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and This is Us. The jury is still out on Black Mirror.
  • Cookie swaps are best enjoyed retrospectively. Having 8 or 9 dozen cookies is great, but the stress of baking 9 dozen cookies and packaging them beautifully robs the joy from holiday baking.
  • An afternoon ski on New Year’s Eve with your Lunar bitches, your dog and an airplane sized bottle of limencello is a perfect way to spend the year’s last daylight hours.
  • Giving up the scale and eating another cookie might be my best new holiday tradition. I plan to repeat it next year for a full 12 Days of Christmas.
  • Bourbon sours with her favorite fella on December 31st can make a girl forget about Times Square, fireworks and the ball dropping.

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Sweetness

The best honey I’ve ever had.

I made some granola Saturday and used almost the very last drops of a jar of honey that I bought last spring while I was in Germany. I say “almost” because I intentionally saved a teeny bit for a soothing cup or two of tea (with bourbon and lemon) that I will savor during my inevitable and eventual winter cold. I think I’ll need it then.

Honey has kind of become a thing in our house, like refrigerator magnets and miniature models of landmarks. I buy it when I travel and it’s like bringing home a literal sweet reminder of where I was.

Our collection.

The jar that I nearly kicked today was purchased on a drizzly day in April, at the Saturday market in the Munsterplatz in Freiburg. I’ve visited this market a number of times over the years, but, this was the first time my youngest son experienced it. Unimagined by us, it was also the last time I would go there with my uncle.

The beautiful Munster, perpetually wrapped in scaffolding, has stood in that square for centuries providing shelter and comfort to generations. We ate sausages made by the same family who had been selling their delicious wursts in that same spot for decades. The honey, in its squat jar, tasted like pine or cedar and was the best honey I’ve ever eaten. I’m a little embarrassed about how sad I am that it’s nearly gone.

A year ago, my uncle was here, in my home. We visited Olana and attended Oktoberfest.  He, as a consummate German, made himself useful and cleaned my toaster oven.  It was a special time, made even more so retrospectively, after his sudden death.  Like that jar of honey it was sweet and I wish it hadn’t come to an end so damned quickly.

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