08 July 2007

Day 11: Munich

It was a gorgeous day for a Nazi tour: warm and bright, Bavarian clouds drifting through an azure sky. Then around 4:00 p.m. it started to rain. Weather in Bavaria is just plain weird.

It is fascinating to see the way that the two most important men in Bavaria's history, King Ludwig II and Adolf Hitler, are treated so differently. Ludwig's name and visage appear everywhere. Hitler seems non-existent. You might expect reluctance to show photos of him (and display of swastikas are illegal, as is the "Hitler Salute"), but there are almost no signs or markings to indicate places of Nazi importance. Taking the walking tour was therefore a crucial way to get an understanding of one of the most important phases in the city's history that the city itself feels reluctant to tell you.

Our tour guide was an Englishman who had immense amounts of information to impart. We started at Marienplatz, and as we moved around the city he narrated Hitler's life up through the end of his Munich period (after 1938 and the Munich Accord he spent most of his time in Berlin). The guide took us to a courtyard where Hitler used to paint (the Monkey Tower in Alter Hof), to the upper level of Hofbräuhaus where Hitler gave some of his earliest fiery speeches, along the path of the Beer Hall Putsch to where it was stopped in Odeonplatz, where he explained how the Feldherrnhalle was turned into a Nazi monument to the failed Putsch after Hitler came to power. Passer-bys had to salute the Nazi eternal flame; the street behind it became known as the "Street of Dodgers" since people who did not want to salute would duck down it to avoid the SS guards at the monument. The tour then passed through the Hofgarten before the Residenz and over to the Bavarian State Chancellery, of which only the center survived the Allied bombing; the two wings are modern glass and steel. Our guide had us descend into "The Tomb of the Unknown Bavarian," a sunken chamber with a sarcophagus in memory of the Bavarians who died in both World Wars. We then passed Karolinenplatz (where an obelisk commemorates the Bavarians who died in service of Napoleon's army) toward the Propyläen, a gate built in 1815 by Ludwig I. This is the old Nazi heart of the city: the SA building still stands, although crumbling, but Hitler's government building, the Füherbau, is still in the same shape it was when he first had it constructed. It is now a music school. We went inside and witnessed firsthand the place where the infamous Munich Accord was signed in 1938:

Amazing to think that Hitler, Mussolini, and Neville Chamberlin walked these very halls in a crucial moment in history. The meeting took place in Room 105, which still has most of the original furnishings, but is now a music practice room and not open to the public. You can see the door to that room in the upper level on the left side of the above photo. The tour concluded here, and it is probably the most education walking tour I've ever gone on. If you want to see an interesting visual comparison of Munich under the Nazis and today, go to this page.

Our family now moved in the direction of the vast Englisher Garten, an enormous park and recreation area. We had refreshments at a biergarten in Hofgarten, then passed into the crowded park. The park got its name because its naturalistic layout is meant to mirror the style of English parks. People were sunbathing and picnicking everywhere, dogs were playing in the river, but the most impressive sight is the Eisbach River where it runs under a bridge and erupts into violent rapids. Surfers can ride this small rapid and they line up for a chance to try it despite the frigid water. Spectators crowd around to watch the display. I caught a good image from the bridge of one of the best of the surfers:

We had a long walk through the park, all the way to a biergarten on the lake, where we had what will probably count as "dinner" (for me, a huge bowl of excellent pommes frites; a.k.a. French fries). Bavarian food is starting to wear me out, I have to admit, but with all the walking we did today I don't think anyone in our family will gain any weight on this trip. We might actually lose weight.

As we ate at the lake, the weather finally turned, so we hoofed it to the U-Bhan, switched to the S-Bahn, and rode back to Starnberg. Tonight will be a low-key, lounge around night. We had a busy day, and we're going to take the time to just relax for a bit.