Our seventh day of sightseeing started on a somber note. A short drive from Munich is the World War II concentration camp of Dachau. It was a last-minute addition to our itinerary.
As sobering and humbling as our visit was there, I am glad we stopped. Everyone must visit at least one of these sights where the worst imaginable human behavior occurred to innocent people.
It wasn’t easy to experience where these unfortunate folks had walked, slept, were tortured, and killed. But it’s a walk that we all should make. We cannot forget what brutal fascism did to millions of people.
We saw the reconstructed barracks, the crude toilet facilities, showers, and the furnaces. We saw where thousands were lined up and shot to death in a ditch designed to channel the blood away from the corpses.
Reading about the Holocaust is one thing. Observing its horrors first-hand is something else altogether. Such atrocities must never happen again. And yet, they have, and they are, perhaps in not the exact numbers, but global peoples are suffering at the hands of tyrants even today.
Dachau is a stark, loathsome place, full of the horrible treatment of human-to-human history. Only a few of the barracks that housed the prisoners were reconstructed. The officers’ quarters remain today, serving as a museum to the dark deeds done there.
I was surprised to learn that Jews were not the only group of people persecuted during the 12 years Dachau existed. Any individuals and congregations of people who did not follow the Nazi line were imprisoned at Dachau, located just a short distance from Munich, where the Nazi regime had its headquarters.
More Jehovah Witnesses per capita were murdered at Dachau than any other religion. Even prisoners of war from other countries were detained there.
The various memorials to those who died and suffered at Dachau.
Different memorials have been constructed to honor those who died and suffered there. The monument to the Russians who died there is actually built outside the camp’s parameters. So infuriated were the Russians at the atrocities they brought soil from Russia on which the memorial is built.
We left there in a somber mood. That changed as we drove on the Romantic Road to where it turns off to Hohenschwangau in southwest Bavaria, Germany. There, Mad King Ludwig built the Neuschwanstein Castle, so unique and dreamy that Disney used it as the model for their theme park castles.
On the way into the village, we stopped at a rural church surrounded by hayfields and croplands. In fact, farmers were cutting and raking hay as we disembarked the bus. Of course, we had to explore the church before heading to Hohenschwangau.
We could only view the castle from afar, but Ludwig had built another less opulent one overlooking the village. It’s appropriately named Hohenschwangau Castle.
It was on to a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Church of Wies, designed in the late 1740s. Ornate couldn’t begin to describe the beauty we saw. Designed by Dominikus Zimmerman, the work is a masterpiece of Bavarian Rocco.
I wasn’t nearly sophisticated enough to fully appreciate what I was seeing. I just know it was magnificent. One fact I do know. Though the ceiling looks domelike, it is actually flat.
Our final destination for the day was Oberammergau, where we had just enough time to check in at our hotel, have dinner, and walk around the inviting town. The next morning we would discover just how lovely the town and its people were.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2022
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