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Visiting Neuschwanstein Castle in Fussen, Germany

By on Jun 12, 2011 in Germany | 0 comments

I woke up early on my final day in Prague and headed to the station to board my train to Munich in Germany. Selecting a seat on board  my carriage, which formed part of my old Russian mule, I was joined by an elderly German lady and her son who was returning from visiting her daughter. After the normal half and hour of the usual quiet tension with the advice from my English family to “never mention the war”, I managed to strike up an eye opening conversation. What was to come was an amazing six hours of history and different perspectives. This elderly lady told me how she fled to America during World War II to hide from the Nazis and how she had made her new home in America. She then went on to explain how a nation has learned to come to grips with a history that was so violent and unjust. A history that even though she was against, she still felt guilty for. The mother was very gracious and offered me a great lunch of cheese and salads. On arriving into Germany I had a whole new perspective and again, which I have stated many times before, my pre conceived perceptions were wrong. I said goodbye to my fantastic German Mother who gave me her address details in case I ran into any trouble during my journey and headed into the mass of Munich’s main station. Instantly the atmosphere of Munich was that of a fun and vibrant city entrusted with German values however with an un-German easy going lifestyle. I strolled out of the main station and headed to the Wombats Hostel just across the road. It was a funky hostel with great facilities, in an excellent location and to my likingm had a fat bottomed Aussie animal for its emblem. I spent the remaining evening chilling out in the big beanbags and soaking up the eclectic atmosphere of the hostel. The next morning I woke up early (not by choice, but from a guy snoring above me who sounded like a launching space shuttle) and headed to the train station to buy a ticket to the Neuschwanstein Castle in Fussen. The train journey took a couple of hours before jumping on board a bus to the village of Hohenschwangau. Once you arrive at this quaint village, head up the hill a short way to buy your ticket for Neuschwanstein. There wasn’t any clear direction to the counter but it’s there. After purchasing my ticket to the castle that inspired Sleeping Beauty’s pad at Disney, I decided in my infinite wisdom to walk to the castle. You’d think I’d learn from my past mistakes wouldn’t you? The hike was great but strenuous and wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who has young kids or to anyone why generally doesn’t like walking. The buses and horse buggies also provide a viable option. My tour of the castle was booked in for a late session, so I continued to hike to the iconic bridge that overlooked this inspiring castle and my breath was taken away. The castle was something out of a fable and I instantly realised that King Ludwig the III really was mad. The castle was whimsical and ornate in detail. The location was set upon a cliff looking over Bavaria with the Alps nestled behind it, reminding me that no matter the splendor of what mankind builds, nature is always superior. Once I got to the suspension bridge I decided I wanted more and again my lack of judgment led  the way. I decided to climb up the side of the cliff, which if I was to fall would certainly mean my death. However the view from the top was nothing like I had even seen. Lakes surrounded by mountains, snow capped peaks, fresh water lakes and distant lands that time had forgotten. I stood upon the cliff’s edge and just shouted till the air left my lungs. It was a moment of realisation that I had finally made it on my journeys. A moment that nothing mattered, not careers, money, war, conflict – just the fact that this was what travelling is all about – that feeling when you get somewhere that is important to you. After this amazing climb I headed for the castle to complete my tour. The interior of the castle itself was impressive, with swan ornaments lining tap handles to opulent artworks lining the castle’s walls. However it was all let down by the tour with the rather lackluster guide droning on, with her spiel sounding like it came straight out of a guide book. Which is a pity because this castle could of been presented in a really exciting manner. I could see in my tour guide’s disdained eyes that she felt it was a sacrilege that tourists were pouncing their way around this cultural and historical wonder. The rest of the afternoon was spent searching the various alleyways of Fussen before boarding my train back to Munich. What an amazing start to my time in Germany and I knew that tomorrow wouldn’t be any different. I woke up early on my final day and headed off to the station to catch my 6-hour train trip to Munich, Germany. I boarded my compartment in my old Russian mule and got comfortable. About 10mins later a German woman and her...

A Raw Truth: Dachau Memorial Camp, Germany

By on Apr 20, 2011 in Germany | 0 comments

This is a day I’ll never forget and it will stay with me till the day I die. I felt like I had never felt before, my soul was ripped apart then put back together in a fashion that is unfavourable. My impression of history was finally given meaning, whilst a raw truth rocked me to the core. Before I continue on, I just want to say that this article may contain information they may disturb some readers (no graphical images),  please read with care.   In my pre-trip plans for visiting Europe I had never intended on visiting the Dachau Memorial Camp however after talking to various people in Prague and Munich, as well as reading many books on WWII, I decided it was something I should experience for myself. Looking back at my studies in school, it was hard to imagine what was happening during World War II in Europe, even though I had grandparents who fought in the war. It was also hard to put feeling and emotion into history when Australia is so young and with history so distorted in the media today.     So when I found myself at the gates reading “Freedom Through Work” at one of the worse (and sadly to say not the worse) concentration camps in Europe’s history, I couldn’t help but feel the sorrow, disbelief and realisation of my history. The memorial camp had a sobering exhibition on the treatment and lives of the prisoners, explaining everything from their day-to-day routines to their living conditions. The museum also explained in graphic detail how the SS troops extracted information from many prisoners as well the processes of the various inhumane “experiments” that were conducted on them.     The Bunker located right of the main camp was one of the most depressing sections of the grounds, with many sobering stories and visual aids to help invoke the utter despair that prisoners faced within those walls. The Bunker was eerily surreal; perhaps as I was the only one in there, but also because it stretched for what seemed an eternity with many rooms leading off the main corridor. It wasn’t hard to imagine what had happened in these rooms during World War II, with telephone aids stuck to the walls providing  the opportunity to listen to the many horrific personal stories relating to the atrocities of war.     The far end of the complex held the “shower blocks” and the various churches and shrines to the people and beliefs that were persecuted here. I don’t really feel comfortable about commenting on the “shower blocks”, except to say that I left the room with tears in my eyes and a deep feeling of pure sorrow. The churches and shrines offered a chance for people from all walks of life to grieve and provided a means for society to move forward and to learn from the past.     Dachau Memorial Camp can be found about 30 minutes from Munich, Germany and is easily accessible by the local train. It’s an emotionally draining experience that I wouldn’t do again, however I would recommend one visit if you have the chance. It’s hard to explain and recreate the atmosphere of this memorial camp and I really don’t want to try. Nevertheless I felt that to truly understand my family’s history and the history of Europe’s’, a trip here is well worth it. As a tourism worker I was worried that this would be a tourist draw card or some gimmick, however I found this not to be the case and it truly reflected a memorial site with donations, rather than admission prices. The various small school groups walking the site made it feel more like a lesson in history than a day at a theme park. The memorial is well worth the visit and as per signs, children under 12 should wait until they are older, as some images and descriptions are highly graphic. This was a day I would never forget and the pages of history would now have a whole new meaning for me. I would never again read history in the same way and I would never again think that history is history and war is just war. Lest we...