Once of the first things that Tom pointed out to me on my trip to Munich, the capital of Bavaria, is that it is the region of Germany where most Americans get their German stereotypes. Bavaria is known for Octoberfest, Oompah bands, pretzels (some come covered in cheese), beer gardens, mountains (Bavarian Alps), and of course traditional formal dress of Altbayern Lederhosen for males and Dirndl for females. Apparently even thirty years ago, you could see German couples leaving the Munich Opera House in Lederhosen and Dirndl’s because it was the most formal attire.

Munich, the third largest city in Germany located in the southeastern corner, is definitely worth a visit. Our first stop was the Englischer Garten (English garden), one of the world’s largest parks that even has an area where surfers enjoy River Isar in addition to a beer garden around the Chinese pavilion. The northern part of the garden feels like you are completely outside the city and has fewer people. The only drawback on a beautiful spring day is feeling that you need to leave to see the rest of the city.

Then we ran to Marienplatz in time to see the Rathaus Gockenspiel. This clever 15 minute show happens daily at 11 AM and 5 PM. Nearby is the Viktualienmarkt, a continuing farmer’s market from the early 1800s. We managed to get our tickets to climb up the tower of St. Peter’s just five minutes before they closed. Those 229 steps felt like a lot but the views of the city from the top were simply stunning!

This trip was not long enough to enjoy the many great museums that Munich has to offer or to catch an opera at the beautiful National Theatre next to the former royal residence. We did manage to pop into several churches from St. Peter’s to the very Rococo Asamkirche to St. Michael’s. They are all Catholic; Bavaria tends to be Catholic.

I was happy to also enjoy the gardens of Nymphenburg Palace. We arrived too late to get a tour of the palace or the other interesting side buildings, but the gardens themselves were worth a visit.

A Dark Side

It is so easy to spend time in Munich’s gardens and Marienplatz and completely miss that this is a place that was significant to Hitler and the Nazi Party. Hitler staged the attempted coup d’etat Beer Hall Putsch in 1923 here, which landed him in jail where he wrote Mein Kampf. Germans want to make sure everyone understands how Hitler came to power and what atrocities that brought. This is not something that happened once but could never happen again. Therefore, its very affordable (only 5 Euros) to explore an excellent museum of the National Socialist movement.

If you have the time, I recommend taking public transportation out to Dachau, a “working camp” run by the SS from 1933 to 1945. It was the first of the concentration camps and where new tactics to brutalize and humiliate prisoners were “tried out” and where most SS officers who went on to run other camps were trained. Anyone could be sent to Dachau; it didn’t matter if you were Aryan, Communist, Jewish, Polish, clergy, or a criminal. That fear kept many people in check. Your uniform had a triangle on it with a color indicating which type of prisoner group you belonged to. The horrors of this place were hard to fully fathom on the warm sunny day I toured.

Guided tours in English happen every day at 11 AM and 1 PM; they last about 2.5 hours. I had a really wonderful guide whose grandfather had been sent to the camp in the 1930s for saying “this idiotic war should end.” He was very lucky to be released because his boss pushed hard to get his engineer back. Few were so lucky. There was only one successful escape from the camp and it happened in the early years of the camp. What camp prisoners had to endure was beyond words. Sites like these are difficult to visit, but we all need to confront the evil that humans are capable of so that we will resist and fight in small and large ways if we are ever challenged.

I would recommend planning to take some time after the tour to go back through certain sites to process at your own pace.