After reuniting with my best friend in the Madrid airport, our next stop was Munich, Germany! We arrived at our (amazing!) hostel late in the evening, and spent our first night with our dormmates roaming through the Christmas market at Theresienwiese around the corner! (Fun fact: Oktoberfest is held there every year!). I don’t think I will ever be able to explain the content-ness of walking around an unfamiliar city with strangers (who became fast friends), drinking hot wine and talking about all of our travels.
The following morning was our first full day, out of three, to explore around town. We had our sights on an excursion outside of the city (either a castle or a concentration camp), a day trip to Salzburg (more on that later!) and a full day to explore Munich. Within 20 minutes of waking up, we decided (on a whim) to visit Dachau, the first and the longest-lasting concentration camp used during WWII. It was a sobering experience, walking on the same grounds as victims of the Holocaust did many years ago. After walking down the path to the camp, we reached the gate; every camp has the same inscription on the entrance: “work sets you free”. Walking through the gates felt so surreal.
The museum exhibition was inside the former maintenance building, every room about a different part of the the war. I saw registration cards for prisoners, original belongings from around the camp, Nazi propaganda, and forms of punishment. Working our way from the front of the camp, we went through the museum, the camp prison, and prisoner dormitories. I was able to catch an English guide talking about how prisoners spot cleaned the rooms to avoid being punished. Only foundations remain where most of the buildings would be, due to the camp’s destruction at the end of the war.
At the end of the grounds, there are three buildings to pay respects: the Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish memorials. Hidden behind tall trees, a narrow path off to the side led us to the crematorium. Unknowingly, we entered at the end of the building, seeing the brick ovens first. We continued to a dark, sunken room with bare walls and short ceilings; I still remember stepping inside and immediately feeling uneasy, even though I didn’t know what it was used for. Afterwards, I discovered that it was a gas chamber. It was unused during the war, but the feeling of the room itself was so heavy that I know I will never be able to forget it.
Visiting a concentration camp is, in my opinion, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I didn’t take many pictures, and for good reason. The day wasn’t full of giggles and sunshine; it was difficult and emotional and powerful. If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend visiting a concentration camp. It reminds us that we must never forget the past, as well as looking forward to making a better future.