07.01.2020 - 07.01.2020 16 °C
Drove from Amiens toward the German border following the same path the Allies took just on 100 years ago. The many accounts of the battles we had read about at the museum became clearer as we appreciated the actual distance between sites and the changes in the ground levels, seeing the high ground where the Germans had managed to entrench themselves and the line that the Australians followed.
Our first goal was Heidelberg, one of the only German cities to avoid the devastation of bombing during WW2. It was first established in the 12th century and in the 1300's became the home of one of the first European universities, it is still considered a University town. Bavaria was one of the principalities that would, in the late 19th century, form into Germany. Like all the medieval towns we have visited, Heidelberg has a lovely old town with lots of people outside enjoying their beer in the town square, it just creates a very easy going atmosphere. Also just like every old town it has its castle dating back to the original town in the 1100's and then added to every century or so by subsequent princes. A little like a legoland of every significant architectural period for the last 1000 years. It also housed a wonderful museum of apothecary through the ages AND the world's largest wine barrel.
A wander through the old shopping precinct became a little like a strategic plan to distract Sonia when ever we got too close to a shop selling Christmas decorations.
From Heidelberg we travelled to Munich, the mountains continuing to become a more prominent feature of the landscape as we travelled south, the houses and villages were all exactly in the style I had imagined, but which I thought might have been disappearing but it all looks just like a set for a movie about 'Heidi'. Munich was heavily bombed during WW2, it was also the birthplace of Hitler's 3rd Reich.
As we travelled the weather really set in and it rained almost non-stop. Stayed in another Air B&B with Sonia and Peter and whilst it was very nice it was seriously underequipped, no kettle, crockery etc.... We had to buy plastic plates and bowls.
We agreed on a compromise about visiting German castles, of which there are many, I said I would be happy with one really good one, so we agreed on Neuschwanstein, the castle which became the inspiration for the disneyland castle. It was built by Prince Ludwig II, who appears to have been an incurable romantic, heavily influenced by the stories and operas of Richard Wagner in the 2nd half of the 1800's . It was built to reflect a medieval style but after having visited many medieval structures it was apparent there was a significant gap between actual medieval design and imagined medieval. The rain poured as we queued for tickets and tried to get up the hill in a horse drawn wagon and, to be fair, if you manage to find a picture of the castle on the internet you will have seen as much of the outside as we have. The entire castle was shrouded in mist and unless you stood no further than about 2 metres from the castle walls it just disappeared into that mist.
We did manage to see inside but it is only on an organised tour, very large, and you race through the few rooms you are allowed to visit fairly hurriedly. It is also forbidden to take photos. We did see Lake Schwansee where allegedly Prince Leopold II (aged 40) and his psychiatrist's bodies were found very shortly after a number of 'officials' had met together to discuss Leopold's fitness to continue in his role. One reason being his excessive building budget! The mystery surrounding their deaths continues to this day.
The following day Sonia and Peter headed back to the Netherlands (and sunnier weather) while we visited Dachau; the first and test design for 100's of concentration and extermination camps during WW2 . Being in the Western part of Germany Dachau was more effectively preserved than the camps that had remained behind the 'Iron Curtain', it was established first in 1933 (just after the Nazis took power in Munich) to house their political prisoners, of whom there were many. It was also a work camp predominately for males, and whilst it did have gas chambers and crematoria, these were for prisoners too ill to work. Even so they were still going constantly, day and night. The treatment was horrendous and it was run by the SS whom our German guide kept reiterating were not the smartest (he was a little ruder).
Whilst the camp housed many guards as well as prisoners there is no focus on the life of the guards as the memorial is for the victims solely.
Since the 1960's there has been an emerging wish to honour the victims which has progressed in stages with the language slowly reflecting the reality of what really happened. Holocaust denial in Germany is a crime taken seriously with average sentences of about 5 years and he told us that this is not just lip-service.
We also went on a walking tour of Munich to see the significant sites in Hitler's rise to power and the events that occurred during that process. Listening to the accounts you could not help but reflect on the politics of fear and how people in power manipulated and limited liberties whilst protecting a 'more comfortable' life for them. It is not the big grabs for power, but the gradual increase in regulations, fuelled by emotional rhetoric that gave the Nazis such power.