Munich and the indelible horrors of war

(Munich) Munich is a very beautiful city, pleasant to walk around, clean and cosmopolitan, rich in about twenty museums and a multitude of sights to visit – in particular one of the largest city parks in the world – but that’s what it is Cradle of National Socialism and the inexorable rise of Adolf Hitler, the worst tyrant in history. A memory we learned to cultivate because we didn’t want it to repeat itself, and yet…

Posted at 11:30am

Jean Philippe Decarie

Jean Philippe Decarie
The press

For more than three months, Russia’s brutal and absurd military intervention in Ukraine has continued to sow horror and dismay. Especially since the civilized world was convinced that the planning of such a destruction of human life belonged to another age, a past that was believed to be sealed forever with the end of the Second World War and the destruction in 1945 of the IIIe German Reich and Nazi barbarism.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has therefore revived some of the images we no longer thought we would see again in Europe and brings us back to the horrors of the two great wars of the last century.

Photo ODD ANDERSEN, Agence France-Presse archives

The Nazis set up their first concentration camp in Dachau.

A visit to Munich, the bastion of Adolf Hitler’s German National Socialist Party, immerses us in the dark and surreal world of World War II.

If the German people tried to forget this episode of tyranny, which has never existed in human history, it was only in Munich in 1965 that we committed ourselves to definitively restoring the history of the Nazi movement, in order to remind us what the horrors are nourished by .

Camp Dachau

From Munich Central Station, a train takes us to Dachau, a small town about twenty kilometers north-west of the Bavarian capital. Here the NSDAP set up their first concentration camp in a disused former World War I weapons factory far outside the city.

Photo GÜNTER SCHIFFMANN, archive Agence France-Presse

The gate of the Dachau concentration camp and its motto “Work sets you free”

Adolf Hitler’s party took power in January 1933 and the Dachau camp was inaugurated three months later, in April 1933, to receive first political opponents, then systematically Jews, Roma, homosexuals and all other “deviants” and finally prisoners of all nationalities themselves in the war against Germany.

During the train journey, one can only think of the 200,000 prisoners who probably had to make the same journey between 1933 and 1945, but under completely different conditions and sensitivities.

Before arriving at the edge of the camp, we see the homes of the SS officers who had their headquarters and training camp just west of Dachau Prison, originally designed for 7,000 prisoners but at the height of the horror will house more than 60,000…

The guided tour of the Dachau camp lasts five hours, a five-hour journey through time and horror, where we cross the gates of the high-strength camp, which welcome us with the famous motto engraved in wrought iron: “Work sets you free”.

This is where the SS will conduct their dirtiest experiments, testing human abilities for torture, and it is here that the first gas chamber will be built to experiment with Zyklon B, which is to be used on a large scale in death camps – particularly that of Auschwitz, where up to 6,000 Jews were gassed.

Photo TOBIAS HASE, Agence France-Presse archive

The tour of the camp lasts five hours. A pilgrimage to the heart of human hell.

The crematorium ovens of the Dachau camp will burn tens of thousands of prisoners, just as the execution court will dispose of thousands of prisoners summarily slaughtered for no other reason than unreason, fueled by hatred and Aryan superiority.

Everything is still there, with a crushing reality, although monuments have been erected to commemorate the suffering of the Jews, Christians or Russians who had to go through this hell on earth. The barracks that housed the prisoners were demolished after the war, but some barracks were reconstructed to show the evolution of the horror.

Initially, the rooms in the barracks offered space for 50 prisoners, then there were 100, then 200 and up to 250 prisoners per room, who slept on top of each other.

At the end of this pilgrimage to the heart of human hell, we return to Munich, where we can join one of the many guided city tours that trace the genesis of the emergence of the National Socialist Party of Germany and Adolf Hitler’s crusade, restoring all their glory to the German people wanted to.

We have to admit that we come back shaken from such a trip. Overwhelmed by such an application of hate and violence that is as unrelenting as it is baseless. But strangely enough, we come out of it strengthened by the conviction that such aberrations can no longer be repeated. A belief, however, that is being brutally undermined by the daily images that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is sending us.

thousands of drinkers

Photo from the Hirschgarten website

Hirschgarten, Munich’s largest beer garden

Beer’s reputation is hard to resist when visiting Munich, so it would have been futile and even unproductive not to take advantage of a brief stay in the Bavarian capital to take a stroll through the large beer gardens and taverns characteristic of this Mecca the brewing culture. Don’t get me wrong, the plan wasn’t to kick one out in Munich, but to take a trip to some of the famous breweries.

A week before I was told that I would be reporting in Munich, the news came: After a two-year absence due to the Corona pandemic and the ban on mass demonstrations in Germany, Oktoberfest would finally resume operations and actually take place that year, from April 17th to 19th. September to October 3rd.

A good reason, then, to be interested in this special feature that makes Munich famous. With this annual leading event, the Bavarian state capital has also become the world capital of beer.

Photo Matthias Schrader, Associated Press Archives

Opening of the 186the Edition of the Oktoberfest, in September 2019

Oktoberfest is the world’s largest fairground, and the festival draws more than 5 million visitors each year during the last two weeks of September to a city-centre solitude dedicated to this event, which has been held there for more than 210 years. A third of the 5 million visitors are tourists from abroad, including many from the United States, Australia and Canada, where beer is also very popular.

Photo CHRISTOF STACHE, Agence France-Presse archive

One of 14 giant tents under construction, 19

When I visited in mid-May, there was no talk of Oktoberfest, and the public square where 14 giant tents are set up during the celebrations – the largest holds more than 10,000 people – was deserted, but the beer is still flowing in Munich, and there are plenty of places and drinking opportunities.

beer gardens and pubs

You cannot visit Munich without having a seat in one of the city’s beer gardens at least once. We’re talking about real open-air taverns, where customers can bring their own food on condition that they consume the beer served by the establishment.

The decor is sober, made up of mature trees and picnic tables as far as the eye can see, mobbed by hordes of customers who huddle in order to quickly strike up a conversation.

There are around a hundred beer gardens in Munich, which vary in size but can often accommodate several thousand people at the same time.

On a Thursday evening, which ended the most beautiful spring day, I found myself in the heart of Munich in the Hirschgarten, the largest beer garden in the city, which could welcome up to 8,000 guests at the same time.

I got there at the beginning of the evening, it was full and the people of Munich had obviously decided to celebrate this first beautiful warm day of spring. Couldn’t order a half or a pint. Here, as in most beer gardens, the 1-litre jug is the legislator and a truck picks up corpses throughout the evening.

Some sections of the Hirschgarten allow self-service so as not to have to wait for busy waiters or waitresses, all dressed in Bavarian costume, who can haul up to 10 1-litre jugs at a time. I counted more than 150 customers queuing to access the self-service kegs, since thirst can overcome any obstacle, even while waiting.

More than 200 employees still work hard all evening to serve and feed the 8,000 enthusiastic and noisy customers who populate this vast urban garden.

Speaking of gardens, when you are in Munich you must visit the Englischer Garten, the English Garden, one of the largest city parks in the world, even larger than Central Park in New York.

Photo Getty Images

The English Garden in Munich

A veritable oasis of greenery and waters fed by various branches of the Isar (closer to a river by our Quebec standards by our standards) the English Garden allows you to take a break after long days in the bustling downtown of Munich.

The grounds are also home to two magnificent beer gardens, that of the Chinese Tower, which can seat more than 7,000 thirsty people at its hundreds of picnic tables in an entirely rural setting, and that of the even more idyllic Lake House, which sprawls on the lakefront in the park all around the very chic restaurant, which also bears the name Seehaus.

But you can’t take a decent trip to Munich without stopping at the Hofbräuhaus in the heart of downtown. Founded in 1654 by the Hofbräu Munich brewery, which today sells its beers all over the world, the Hobräuhaus is considered one of the most famous in the world.

Photo from the Hofbräuhaus Munich Facebook page

The inner courtyard of the Hofbräu Munich brewery

Spread over four floors, it can accommodate up to 20,000 customers in a single day in its 20 different rooms. Stopping there, I chose the courtyard, which seats 400+ guests and has all the attributes of a beer garden, as it’s decorated with trees and communal tables.

Despite the density of the crowd, it was considerably quieter than the main hall, which had more than 1500 customers, but both here and there, labor shortages strike and you have to be patient to hope for a menu and ultimately a 1-litre mug. .. well deserved when he finally arrives.

beer everywhere

The first observation, which may surprise the tourist who has just arrived in Munich: The consumption of beer in public places and on public transport is permitted without restrictions from the age of 16.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise if you meet a passer-by on the train, bus or on the sidewalk who, without any embarrassment, opens a can of beer and toasts it solo. And we start drinking beer early, as I noticed one morning while walking through the food market in downtown Munich.

At 8:30 a.m., on the terrace of a café, two of the five customers scattered across the square were sitting in front of an already worn-out half-blonde, including a chic 70-year-old lady, well made up and well dressed, who was enjoying her “first” (?) morning beer with a huge pretzel enjoyed. I don’t even dare to imagine the composition of the menu for his dinner.

All that to say that beer is ubiquitous in Munich, so much so that my hotel room might not have come with a corkscrew, but a bottle opener did feature prominently on the bedside table.

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