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.

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I was excited to be able to attend the Technical Expert Meeting on Adaptation in Bonn, which was a chance to learn more about the adaptation community and also a chance to explore in a very limited time a city with so much importance to German history. While lovers of gummies know Bonn as the home of Haribo candies, it was the “temporary capital” of West Germany after World War II until the reunification in the 1990s.

One of the moments I enjoyed on this trip was being able to have lunch at the top of the Marriott Hotel near the World Conference Center because of its beautiful view of the Rhine and so much of the city.

I was happy to have a little time to explore the city center. Part of the Munsterplatz is Bonner Munster, a former cathedral now a minor basilica that is (sadly for me) currently undergoing renovations. The official Haribo store is almost next door and offers gummies they don’t sell anywhere else like little German flags for the Euro Cup. Just past Haribo and Lindt stores walking away from the Munster, you’ll find some gardens (Kaiserplatz and Hofgarten) that are a great way to enjoy good weather. Then you can walk to Marktplatz to see the Altes Rathaus (old city hall) built in 1737 with a very Rococo style. Next to it is Em Höttche, a German restaurant that has been open since 1389. It is a lovely square to have a nice dinner outside as the sun sets. Just around the corner is Beethoven’s birthplace, which is worth a quick walk-by even if you are downtown after hours.

Having run out of time, which is pretty typical on work trips, here is a site to give you more ideas about what to do in Bonn when you go and also has a tourist map. There are lots of museums to explore and hikes to enjoy in the area…if you’re not working.

Two points as a closing note for those who might travel to Bonn:

  1. I was surprised how much I needed to use cash in Germany compared to other countries in Europe, so do be sure to get Euros at the airport when you land if not before. For example, the machine dispensing bus tickets for the SB60 to go from the Cologne/Bonn Airport to Bonn, only took coins.
  2. When traveling on public transport in Germany, you have to validate the ticket when you get on a bus (if it’s the first time you’re using the ticket) or as you enter the UBahn train area. Your ticket is not legal if it is not validated.