A lesson learned in Dachau or a look in to the future?

My intention was to post about the second part of my Italy (Feb 2015) trip but I’ve felt rather reflective given recent news so you’ll have to wait a little longer. Instead we’re fast forwarding six months to August 2015 and my trip to Munich!

I decided whilst staying in Munich I’d have a daytrip somewhere and was pretty set on visiting the famous Neuschwanstein Schloss. As it was, at the last minute I changed my mind and did a tour to the nearby Dachau concentration camp.

Dachau’s a little outside of Munich so I decided it’d be better to go as part of a tour but in hindsight I think I’d recommend going solo or as part of your own group. Part of that was my own personal preference, I’d prefer to look around at my own pace and dedicate the right amount of time for my own interests.
I don’t think the tour guide was the greatest either though.

We didn’t get off to the best of starts before the tour. We arrived at Dachau’s main train station and had to get a bus to the site which was no big deal. However there were already a few people waiting at the bus stop and our tour guide took it upon herself to advise THEM that they could catch the next bus!
The Brits hold a reputation for “loving a queue” and I lived up to that stereotype because it did irk me – “they were here first!” I thought to myself.

I was embarrassed by the whole situation because, through association, we came across as really obnoxious tourists that didn’t care of the inconvenience it might cause to the locals. It was a decent group size so I can see the logic behind wanting to get everyone on the same bus but it was just a blunt statement, you figure she could have at least asked if it would be okay and those already waiting probably wouldn’t have had any issue with it.

To add to the obnoxiousness of it all our tour guide had blurted it out in English, I don’t think she was a native German so maybe she couldn’t explain it in German but it just annoyed me further. I figure if you’re going to have the cheek to do something like that at least do so in the local language.

Anyway, I think / hope everyone that wanted to get on the bus did get on. If by chance you’re reading this and still bitter about being late in August 2015 because you missed your bus I’m sorry! The queue-jumping is still haunting me three years later!

After a short bus ride we arrived at the Dachau site and were ready to start the tour properly. It wasn’t a tour I was expecting to enjoy, I wanted to visit but I was expecting an emotional experience. It really is somewhere you should make an effort to visit – not necessarily Dachau because there are others that might suit your location better, Auschwitz perhaps the most well-known of the concentration camps that you can visit.

A lot of the site is a huge open space, much like the photos I’d seen of Auschwitz. It feels very solemn and the enormity of where you are hits you instantly. One of the first things you’ll stumble upon is the gate reading “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work will set you free) which sets the tone for what you’re walking in to.

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Dachau

Our tour started inside in what I suppose is comparable to a museum. They have various educational pieces and collections that educate you and help you envisage what it must have been like within the camp.
The tour guide was explaining various exhibits but I think a few, including myself, couldn’t really keep focused on what our guide was actually saying. Some parts she completely skipped over and others she droned on for too long and in the end I just found myself drowning it out and reading as much as I could as we went along.

I think it’s perhaps just my way of taking in information so I’m not going to name the tour company and be overly critical, it could be a tour you enjoy yourselves but personally I’d reiterate my recommendation to just go solo and take it all in at your own pace. It’s not a day you want to rush.

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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 men. 

Some of the pieces made a bigger impact than others – a lot of the information you read does offer a decent insight in to what it was like and can be emotional. The part that hit me hardest though was seeing the videos of American troops arriving at Dachau for the very first time and making that discovery of the wellbeing of those that were being held captive. The footage was harrowing and seeing the faces of those who’d barely clung on alongside piles of bodies who hadn’t been so fortunate was a difficult watch.

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Get comfy!

Moving out of the exhibition gave us a chance to explore some of the other buildings. This included a long narrow building with cells where people were presumably kept, a building which showcased how squashed in and uncomfortable the living conditions were and lastly the fateful building with its chimney.
The chimney particularly important as it allowed the smoke to rise over the concentration camp and served as a reminder as to what the future had in store for you.

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We reached the end of the tour and my thoughts throughout had been the same – how did this happen? It’s hard to envisage, hard to believe and yet it happened. This is history – relatively recent history at that with Holocaust survivors still living today.

It’s an emotional daytrip but an important one to take and the message you hope to take away with you is “never again”. It’s a simple message but effective and I walked away content that it’d be impossible to replicate, it could never happen again.

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Dachau prisoner numbers by country

Three years have passed since Dachau and I often find myself pondering if it could. Are we too arrogant to assume it could never happen again or that we’d do better?

If we think about the treatment of Jews in this period of history, we know who the “villains” are. We learn that story and Germany more than anyone hold their hands up and don’t shy away from retelling that awful history. I wrote about Budapest a while ago on the blog and it fascinated me learning how complicit Hungary were themselves – it’s not something I remember learning about in school but Hungarians feel their own shame about their role in history but similarly it’s something you learn more when you visit the country. Germany and Hungary both drum it in to you so that you never forget what happened.

So we’ve got our “bad guys” but what of the good guys? At what point did the “heroes” become just that? At what point were Germany, for instance, an ally that we didn’t wish to upset? It makes me wonder. Hitler didn’t wake up one morning and change history overnight – how many warning signs went unnoticed before action was deemed necessary? At what point was it TOO far? Before he came in to power, before the holocaust or millions of deaths later?

It leaves me curious. If an ally was to, I don’t know.. propose a Muslim ban or keep young children captive in crossing the border would we (the UK) step in? Is it even plausible someone like that could rise to power? Surely we’ve learnt from history and past mistakes?

“Of course we have, what silly questions Jason!!”

“Never again” I told myself three years ago as I left Dachau but a lot can change in three years. Political circumstances and agendas change and it’s led to my viewpoint changing too. I left Dachau emotional, it’s not an easy day but I left assured that history would never repeat itself. Can I say the same today?

World War 2 ended 75 years ago, we were the heroes of that time and yet I can’t help but be curious as to what people will be saying about us in 75 years time – never again?

What do you think?

Jason

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The Scottish capital

I find that whenever people from other countries talk about the UK they generally mean England. It’s easy to forget that the UK is actually made up of more than one country. In the same way that America is more than just the USA and Africa is more than South Africa.
It’s no secret that London is my favourite city in the world, so I’m not trying to sway you from visiting London – please do..

However as much as London should be on any travel bucketlist, so should Edinburgh! It’s a must visit on any trip to the UK!
I have been fortunate enough to visit Edinburgh three times now, falling in love on the first visit and moreso on each return. I already have plans to make trip number 4 to celebrate Hogmanay / New Years Eve at the end of 2017.
So what does Edinburgh have to offer and how can you make the most of it?

History 
Edinburgh is divided in to two, similar to Buda and Pest which form the city Budapest. Princes Street gardens splits the city, with the “old town” on one side and the “new town” on the other.
Edinburgh’s city centre is also a UNESCO world heritage site. With its cobbled streets, old buildings and castle overlooking the city it’s pretty easy to see why the old town in particular is held in such high regard.

The city has a fascinating history which dates back hundreds of years and also has some really unique stories throughout that time. One of my favourites and on the more bizarre spectrum was the story of Maggie Dickson. Maggie was sentenced to death and was due to be publicly executed. The execution was carried out and Maggie’s body was ready to be transported for burial. On route there was a little knock on the coffin and out springs Maggie well and alive.  Maggie’s return to Edinburgh caused uproar but logic would suggest you can’t execute somebody twice. In the eyes of the law Maggie’s execution had been carried out and she went on to live for many many years. You’ll now find a pub in her name to preserve her memory as Edinburgh’s luckiest lady.
It’s a favourite of mine but you’ll find Edinburgh is full of interesting stories.

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Edinburgh’s city centre, between the old and new town. 

Food & nightlife
Scotland has a bit of a reputation for being a nation that quite like their drink, so it should perhaps be unsurprising that Edinburgh has a great nightlife with many many pubs around the city. Whether you’re in the new town or the old town, you won’t struggle to find somewhere to spend the evening. For the beer lovers I’d particularly recommend BrewDog who craft their own beers and now have an Edinburgh branch. You’ll find a few of these dotted around the UK but they originate from Scotland and you’ll also find a BrewDog in Aberdeen or Glasgow if extending your Scottish adventure beyond the capital.

Of course it’s not all about alcohol in Scotland. Scotland is almost famous for its haggis, deep fried Mars Bars and Irn Bru. I’d also particularly recommend picking up some Edinburgh rock to take home with you – it’s delicious!

Culture
Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Burns, JK Rowling and many more have lived in Edinburgh so it shouldn’t be too surprising that there is plenty of interesting things to do here. Whether you’re visiting museums, enjoying Edinburgh’s performing arts, going to watch Edinburgh’s sports teams, visiting pandas and koala bears at Edinburgh’s zoo or doing a ghost tour in search of Edinburgh’s poltergeists you’ll find this city has so much to keep you entertained throughout your stay.

Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival and Hogmanay celebrations are world famous and also both personal bucketlist items of mine. These are peak times to visit so you’ll find the city is likely to be more expensive and busier too but both are so highly rated that it’d be a great time to experience the city.
However whatever time of year you visit you’ll find there’s plenty going on in the city.

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Princes Street Gardens, looking up at the castle on the right. 

Scenery
Edinburgh also happens to be a really beautiful city. In its architecture you quickly see why JK Rowling took so much inspiration for Harry Potter here with castle views and beautiful architecture. Princes Street gardens adds a little greenery to the centre of the city and Edinburgh is also right by the coast so if you’re willing to take a short trip away from the city centre you’ll soon find yourself with the luxury of sea views.

Edinburgh’s best views can be found at one of Edinburgh Castle, Calton Hill and Arthur’s Seat. However keep in mind you’ll have to pay for entry in to the castle to reap the benefits of the views. Calton Hill and Arthur’s Seat provide cheaper alternatives but a bit more of a climb to reach them.
You should definitely make time to check out at least one of those. For less of a city view but equally as pretty, Edinburgh zoo also has some great views from the top of the hill.

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The view from the castle – you’d never guess this was in the summer!

The 5 must sees!

Edinburgh Castle 
I personally enjoyed paying to explore it further but even if you just want to admire from the outside, it’s hard to miss this wherever you are in the city. It’ll be one of your first sights arriving in to Edinburgh’s city centre.

The Royal Mile 
The sound of bagpipes, plenty of street performers and a number of shops and restaurants makes no trip to Edinburgh complete without walking along the Royal Mile.

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Sun setting on the Royal Mile and St Giles’ Cathedral

St Giles’ Cathedral
If, like me, you enjoy visiting religious buildings then this is a must. It’s a lot smaller than many cathedrals you’ll see on your travels but it’s still so pretty. Entry is free (donation optional) and it’s right in the heart of the old town so worth checking out.

Greyfriars Cemetary
Perhaps a little morbid but this graveyard is home to some fascinating stories and is also a highly reported spot for poltergeist activity. Starting with the latter, the Bloody Mackenzie is said to haunt this graveyard with hundreds of reported and unexplained symptoms and incidents occurring here. Come to your own conclusions but it’s a fascinating read and if you’ve got time you can even do ghost tours here that have some rather interesting reviews.

Another popular figure that calls this home is Edinburgh’s famous dog, Greyfriar Bobby. After losing his owner it’s said that Bobby sat at his master’s grave until his own death. Such a famed story tourists from all over the world would come to visit and feed Bobby and you’ll even see a statue of him just across the road from the graveyard. Bobby also has his own shiny headstone, usually accompanied with flowers left by Edinburgh’s many visitors.

For the Harry Potter fanatics you’ll also see some interesting names across various headstones. Looking for inspiration, it’s said JK Rowling was advised to visit the local cemetary which was inspiration for a few characters. See if you can find Voldemort, Mad Eye Moody and Professor McGonagall! The latter has his own rather amusing story remembered as “Scotland’s worst ever poet”.

The Grassmarket
A place full of history, in the past people would shop here to pick up their daily needs but would also gather here for any public events and executions.
You’ll still find a market here throughout the day but the rest of the square is surrounded by restaurants and pubs which tend to be highly popular. A good spot to fill your stomach with food and beer!
A lot of the daily & evening tours begin in this area too so a good spot if you’re looking for one of these.

That wraps up my thoughts on Edinburgh. Feel free to ask for any further tips / suggestions, also feel free to comment with your own if you’ve been to Edinburgh. I’m heading back there at the end of the year so would love to hear your recommendations too!

All the best

Jason