By Chrissy Zopf
On June 30, the American GAPP students and myself settled into our final youth hostel in Munich, Germany. Our tour bus left us, and we now had to brave the German public transportation system. We were all given maps of the subway, but I don’t think I ever opened mine and I eventually discarded it. After settling into our rooms, we met in the lobby of the hostel and headed into the city to find dinner and go shopping. Finding dinner was a challenge itself. Using a map of the city we found, we tried to find an Italian restaurant, but in the end we could not navigate the map. A woman nearby saw us struggle and tried to help us, but we still could not follow her directions, so we set off in search of something else. While there were many restaurants, most were not in the price range of my group of friends. When we did find an inexpensive restaurant, nothing on the menu appealed to me, and I ate dessert for dinner. Afterward, when we tried to find stores we could afford to shop at, we realized that all shops close at 8 p.m. on a Saturday. We wandered around the city until we found other people we knew, and then continued to wander, adding more people to our group as we went along.
When we returned to the hostel we had little time before we had to be in our rooms before lights out at 10 p.m. When I did return to my room, there was a swarm of moths and mosquitoes hovering near the ceiling. The hostels we had stayed at, including this one, were not air conditioned, so my room mates and I had opened every window. That is until our room became the dwelling place for the bugs that had been attracted by the greenery outside the windows. We chose to close all the windows; we would rather be hot than bitten by bugs while we slept.
The next morning when I woke up, I already knew it was going to be a long day. Our group would be going to Dachau, the concentration camp where countless victims lost their lives during the second World War. We entered the camp under the phrase most camps held above their gate, Arbeit Macht Frei, or work will make you free. What lay beyond was desolate; a work yard, stone walkways, and the barracks lay before us. We walked towards a building, which now served as a memorial museum for a short movie on Hitler’s rein and Nazism. Afterward we were free to walk the camp, going through the buildings and viewing the memorials that had been erected. Although there were many people touring Dachau that day, it was eerily silent. As I walked I couldn’t help but think that at the very spot I was standing, someone had been tortured, someone had lost their life, and it was all out of hatred and a struggle for a fantasized “superior race.” My friends and I walked through the barracks, the churches, and finally the gas chambers. It was sobering to stand in a room where the dead were stored until they could be cremated, and also disturbing. I quickly realized it is much different to learn about the holocaust than to actually be walking where the victims had walked, seeing what they saw. I realized the horror of it while there, walking through a gas chamber where men, women, and children had been tricked, believing they would be bathed, only to die by the hands of Zyklon B and the Nazis. Back at the center of Dachau a memorial stood with the words, “May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1933-1945 because they resisted Nazism help to unite the living for the defence of peace and freedom and in respect for their fellow man.” The words spoke to me. Standing in Dachau, I was oppressed by an overwhelming sadness for the victims who had lost their lives, and their surviving descendants who would never forget the force of Nazism. I hope that history never repeats itself.
After leaving Dachau our group took a bus to the Olympic Stadium, where we ascended to the top of the nearby tower. Being so high up was not my forte, and I immediately sat down so I did not have to see the way we were towering over the surrounding city. After five minutes my friends and I were back safely on the ground, enjoying the weather outside of the tower, waiting for the rest of our group.
Our day ended with time to explore BMW World. I lack an interest in cars, so instead of walking around and admiring various BMWs, my friend Jenna and I chose to talk instead. Dachau had been a sobering experience that weighed on me for most of the day. I doubt I will ever forget Dachau for as long as I live. Although it left me feeling somber, I knew I only had one day left in Germany, and I would make the most of it. The group headed back to the youth hostel to see what the night had in store.