Local Munich Transportation Tip: if you take the local train, you can buy two XXL tickets for 4.50 or a day pass for 8.60 – I’d recommend the day pass!
Best Hotel of My Trip
On my way from Berlin to Stuttgart, I decided to stop off for a day in Dachau. It was less expensive to stay in Munich (aka München in German) and buy a local day pass for the round trip to Dachau and I’d recommend doing the same to others. While I don’t normally get into my hotels much outside reviews, this hotel deserves special mention! The rooms all had unusual names – mine was called “fear” online, but “angst” at the hotel. I arrived late and called for the key code, then let myself into a dark hall. When I found the light button for the stairwell, I was confronted with a black hall festooned with creepy old religious icons stuck to the walls. I had a moment of hesitation wondering if I should leave as quickly as possible, but the second floor switched to black and white photos. I was a little concerned about my room decor at this point!
I was pleasantly surprised when the room was bright and cheerful – I didn’t even realize the wall painting was a knife-wielding plant trying to eat me until I turned the lights off and noticed it glowed in the dark.
Best room I’ve had my whole trip though! It was clean, everything was comfortable and and I liked that the color theme continued through the bathroom even. I completely recommend the Hotel Achterbahn if you’re in Munich.
You can wander around Dachau with a map for free, pay 3.50 Euro for an hour audio guide or 3.00 Euro for a 2.5 hour guided tour. I’d suggest coming early as it was already crowded at the 11 AM tour and, by 2 PM, it was positively crawling with groups of teenagers.
While at first I found it encouraging that German teens are taught this part of their history, the number of them laughing and goofing off casts serious doubt on whether they really absorbed the gravity of what they were seeing.
I went with the English guided tour and it was quite good. While I’d thought the 2.5 hour tour would cover everything, it really went in depth on a few key parts of the history, but I don’t think I allowed enough time for everything because I ran out of time to read more about the conditions there and to view the different displays in more detail. The original main entry is gone, but the inside entry remains. The gate reads, “Arbeit Macht Frei” or “work makes you free,” but the prisoners knew it was untrue. It was actually Nazi propaganda used to support their news reports that the camp had been opened for the re-education of terrorists, criminals and troublemakers. In reality, Dachau was the only camp open all 12 years of the war and all the original prisoners were German political opponents.
When you first enter, you can see 2 barracks; however, our guide told us they were reconstructions because the originals were used for refugees after the war, so they had been improved and changed so they could house families. The survivors thought having replicas more accurate to wartime conditions was better.
This is another propaganda photo. The healthiest prisoners were used and they were all fully shaved and shot from above to make them appear more criminal.
Contrary to what I’d thought, Dachau was not an extermination camp. Germany largely built those in Eastern Europe and kept the real “dirty work” out of their own backyard. While you can see many types of camps in Germany, the triangles for death camps are to the East.
In the early years, people were sometimes released from the camps. The man who painted this was one of them and was lucky enough to get a visa to immigrate to China after. The painting shows what the conditions were really like. It’s difficult to see at the top, but he painted the eye of God . . . closed.
When you enter the bunker area of cells, the guide pointed out that some had a radiator or a toilet and others didn’t, so if you were being punished here, it was up to the SS whether you had a “good” cell or not. This was also done to encourage a lack of unity amongst the prisoners by giving some benefits that others didn’t have.
Photos of the grounds:
These gravel beds each show where a barrack stood when the Nazis were running the camp:
Only one man escaped from within Dachau. This photo shows the difficulty – if you even stepped on the grass, you were shot at. If you made it over the grass, you had to get into the ditch and back out, then over the electrified barb wire fence.
A plaque on the wall of the crematorium from 1955 talking about the liberation of the camp:
The gas chambers also did not start with the Jews. Starting in 1939, they were originally used for the “euthanasia” of those who were physically or mentally ill and unable to work. The propaganda suggested this was the humane thing to do for these “poor people.” The gas chamber at Dachau is believed to have only been used once (about 70 people killed for an experiment) as the Germans realized they had a free labor force in the imprisoned Germans and many were dying due to the poor conditions anyway. Here, as in other places, the gas chamber was designed to look like showers.
By 1940, the original crematorium was too small and a larger one was built. Cremation was not common then, but the Nazis had been questioned once about the very poor condition of bodies returned to families, so they stopped returning them at all.
There’s an International memorial here and the anniversary of the liberation was recent, so the flowers were still present. Dachau was made a memorial as a reminder that humanity is capable of this. Hitler rose to power by promising to return Germany to greatness and his Antisemitism was originally not as popular as he’d hoped. It was only after a Jewish boy walked into an embassy and killed someone that Hitler was able to turn Jews into the common enemy for Germany to rally around. It’s also important to note that the other popular parties, due to the economic conditions, were Socialist and Communist, leading some business men to give Hitler funds and support, even though he eventually jailed at least one of them.
An interesting thing to note about the below part of the memorial is that it excludes the pink (homosexual), green (career criminal) & black (gypsy/prostitute/other undesirable) triangles. These groups were also excluded from reparations after the war as they were judged as criminals who likely would have been in prison anyway. This happened despite the fact that nobody in Dachau had a trial nor proof they were guilty of what they were accused of (it is believed that many weren’t), but also shows that prejudice and judgment of whole groups continued even after the war ended.
In the reconstructed barracks, the three styles of beds show how the beds started, with more space, and how they ended, due to overcrowding, when over 500 men were in a space intended for 54.
It’s hard to fathom the sheer number of people who were imprisoned and died here. It had a different emotional impact on me than seeing Oradour-Sur-Glane did, but the actual footage of what the American soldiers found here was horrifying. It’s certainly worth a visit, if only to see how large it was and to grasp that this was far from the largest or worst of the camps.