Munich

  
- darkometer rating:  4 -
 
MunichCapital city of Bavaria, which was once a kingdom of its own and is now the largest of the Federal Republic of Germany's constituent regions/states (Länder). These days, Munich is more famous for beer festivals with oompah music and lederhosen, but the city also earns its place on the dark tourism map, mostly through having been the "capital of the movement", i.e. that of the Nazis from the early 1920s through to the end of WWII

>More background info

>What there is to see

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More background info: Munich was in fact "officially" declared the "capital of the movement" ('Hauptstadt der Bewegung') by Adolf Hitler himself. It was here that his Nazi party (NSDAP) was founded in 1920, here that the first attempt at seizing power took place in the "Hitler Putsch" of 1923. It failed and Hitler was "imprisoned" (comfortably) near Munich nominally for five years, but only did nine months' time. During that time he wrote, or rather dictated to his secretary Rudolf Hess, his infamous manifesto "Mein Kampf", It is, by the way, an exceptionally shoddy piece of near unreadable writing – not even counting its abominable contents.
 
Later, after Hitler had successfully come to power in 1933, Munich became a kind of headquarters for the Nazis, even though the official government of the country as such took place from Berlin, of course. But the party HQ remained in Munich, and it was also in Munich that the Nazis had their first "shrines" to their "heroes", i.e. those killed in the failed putsch of 1923. Here they would hold their pompous ceremonies involving torches, guidons, goose-stepping and all … the sort of stuff that was later put to even greater effect in Nuremberg.
 
The first examples of Nazi architecture were also erected here – and older architecture was misused for Nazi ceremonial purposes, especially at what today is Königsplatz. Hitler himself made many appearances in Munich's big beer cellars giving his typically invective speeches.
 
Munich also gave its name to the Munich Agreements, or 'Munich Accords', of 1938, when the French and British prime ministers meekly allowed Hitler to annex the Czech Sudetenland in a misguided and mistaken effort of "appeasement" in order to secure "peace for our time" (Chamberlain) – which instead, of course, as soon after became only too clear, made Hitler only stronger and more determined to go for all-out war.
 
It was also here in Munich, however, that significant internal resistance against the Nazis was mounted: the famous White Rose movement, associated mainly with Hans and Sophie Scholl, operated at Munich University (see White Rose Memorial Museum).
 
One of the nearly successful assassination attempts on Hitler's life was made in Munich too, in November 1939, when the lone assassin Georg Elser planted a bomb in the Bürgerbräukeller beer cellar next to Hitler's lectern. Hitler only escaped the blast because he left prematurely – the bomb went off minutes after Hitler had hastily left to carry on organizing his war on France. Had he continued delivering his speech for the usual length of time he would almost certainly have been blown to smithereens and Europe would most probably have been spared its greatest catastrophe … Elser, however, was quickly captured and imprisoned (at first) in Sachsenhausen concentration camp and was later executed at Dachau.
 
It was in Dachau, a small town some 10 miles (16 km) outside Munich, that the very first of the Nazi concentration camps was in fact set up – it therefore has is own full-length entry here.
 
As if all this heavy load of Nazi legacy wasn't enough Munich also has another couple of significant dark blots in its (post-war) 20th century history: during the 1972 Olympics, a number of Israeli athletes were taken hostage by a Palestinian terrorist organization, and in a botched attempt by German police forces at freeing them all hostages, a police officer and five of the kidnappers were killed at Fürstenfeldbruck airforce base near Munich. It was one of the early and darkest chapters in Germany's prolonged period of terrorism in the 1970s. It also triggered one of Israel's secret service Mossad's infamous retaliation operations, provocatively named "Operation Wrath of God".  Both also featured in Steven Spielberg’s much-discussed 2005 movie "Munich".
 
It was however the bombing attack on the Oktoberfest of 1980, in which 13 people were killed and over 200 injured, many of them seriously, that stands as the worst terrorist attack within Germany. The alleged perpetrator, who had extreme right-wing connections, was killed in the blast too – whether he had indeed been the lone villain as was officially concluded, has however always remained controversial ... more or less wild conspiracy theories included. Anyway, several requests to have the case reopened were rejected even in recent years. The current memorial at the site of the bombing was inaugurated as late as in 2008.
 
Overall, though, Munich today caters less for the dark tourist than you might expect given all this dark legacy. Dachau is without any doubt the biggest draw. Within Munich itself, you can go on guided history walks that take in Nazi-related sites. But often these are really just sites of something – with little to see. Munich was also heavily bombed in the latter years of WWII, which destroyed much of the city, other former Nazi-related sites were removed/demolished after the war. Yet others still stand, but no more than that – i.e. there's little commodification beyond just silent buildings' facades, monuments and a few commemoration plaques or such like.
 
But that is about to change: a new documentation centre about Munich's Nazi past is now being planned at the original site of the (destroyed) Nazi HQ building. It will be a few years until this large-scale project delivers a visitable museum to the (dark) tourist. Of course, I will follow the developments and report back here. Officially the deadline for completion is 2013; but there had been delays already before this date was set, so we'll have to see …
 
 
What there is to see (and where): Not that much that really is particularly dark. Of the Nazi legacy only a few architectural vestiges can still be seen. In particular the "Feldherrnhalle" on Odeonsplatz, the place where the Nazis worshipped their "heroes" (those killed in the unsuccessful 1923 Hitler Putsch), though today nothing at all reminds the uninitiated passer-by of the fact this place once served such a function. Back then, citizens passing by were required to salute the building with the usual right-hand salute. A side street nearby, Viscardigasse, was the only way for people to get past the Feldherrnhalle without directly passing it so that they could proceed without the Nazi salute. This street, then called "cop-out alley", is now marked by bronze cobblestones snaking along the first 20 yards or so of the street from the corner facing the Feldherrnhalle.
 
Google maps locator:[48.1414,11.5772]
 
 
More Nazi-related stuff is to be found at Königsplatz and around, especially on Arcisstraße and Briennerstraße – this is also where the new Documentation Centre of Munich's Nazi past will be that is currently under construction. Last time I was there, there was only a set of text plaques on the corner announcing the plans and quoting newspaper reports.
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UPDATE: the documentation centre has meanwhile opened, but I haven't yet had a chance to go and see it. It's high on my list, though. And once I've visited it, it will probably be given its own full chapter here. Please bear with me ...
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Google maps locator:[48.1455,11.5669]
 
 
Along Arcisstraße a monument of a man and a horse bears witness to WWII by way of being riddled with bullet holes. A plaque points this out. It's called "Wounds of Remembrance Memorial". A similarly marked plain brick wall with bullet holes can also be found at the university on the corner of Ludwigstraße and Schellingstraße.
 
Also located at the university is the White Rose Memorial Museum, which chronicles this movement's resistance against the Nazis and is given a separate entry here:
 
 
  
For those into technical museums, the gigantic Deutsches Museum, located on an island in the river south of the old city centre, must not be missed! It is one of the largest institutions of its kind worldwide – you can spend days here exploring it all. For the dark tourist it has various war-related bits and pieces, including a V2-rocket in the stairwell(!), as well as sections on e.g. nuclear energy.
 
In the old city centre, the City Museum on St-Jakobs-Platz has a section about Munich's Nazi past – and opposite a more recent Jewish museum is to be found.
 
Of the many beer halls that the Nazis used for their rallies and propaganda events in Munich, many have been destroyed; a simple plaque at Rosenheimer Straße identifies the former site of the Bürgerbräukeller, for instance, where Georg Elser's failed assassination attempt on Hitler took place (near the corner with Schleibingerstraße).
 
One of Munich's premier tourist spots, however, the famous and immensely popular Hofbräuhaus, not only still stands and does good business, there's even a trace of its Nazi past (the Nazi party was formed here): namely in the form of a kind-of stylized swastika shape that now is part of the somewhat remodelled ceiling paintings, in the typical Bavarian blue-and-white chequered pattern .. but look up closely and you can still make out the basic swastika shape all the same.
 
These and various other Nazi-related buildings/sites, including the apartment houses where Hitler himself used to live, are dotted around and many are part of the thematic guided walks offered by various local operators, called "(Hitler and the) Third Reich Tours" or something like this. You'll find leaflets in practically every hotel or tourist information centre.
 
Those who are really into that sort of thing, and would prefer to trace Hitler's and the Nazis' steps independently, can refer to the Munich chapter in Chuck Thompson's "World War II Sites – European Theater", or Maik Kopleck's "Munich 1933-1945" edition of the German PastFinder series published by Ch.Links Verlag.
 
By far the darkest and most significant site of that sort that Munich has to offer, if, however, not actually in Munich itself, but east of a small town some 10 miles / 15 km north of the city: Dachau. There are tours departing from Munich to the site, but you can just as well get there independently. Check the extensive separate entry for this major dark tourism destination:
 
Dachau concentration camp memorial site
 
 
Of Munich's dark sites that are not in any way Nazi or WWII related, in particular the sites of the 1972 Olympics terrorist hostage drama and massacre, only a couple of memorial plaques can be found: One is located in the Olympiapark itself, ca. three and a half miles (6km) to the north of the city centre (easily reached by the metro).  The other, also complemented by a memorial, is to be found at the former Fürstenfeldbruck air base, which is now decommissioned and has provisionally been turned into a small-scale civilian airfield. It lies some 15 miles (25 km) west of Munich. This is where the deadly shoot-out finale of the drama took place. The town can be reached by regional metro train, S 8, from Munich.
 
The memorial to the victims of the Oktoberfest bombing in 1980 is to be found at the northern entrance to the "Wies'n", as the Oktoberfest and its venue are locally known. The memorial consists of a semi-circular rusty iron wall with holes in it that are made to look like they're the result of a bomb blast. At the centre point of the monument stands a column marker with the names of the dead engraved on the sides. It's a place for a moment of quiet contemplation before indulging in the beery madness of the funfair/festival beyond the entrance ….
Google maps locator:[48.1359,11.5497]
  
 
Location: in the south of Germany, near the foothills of the Alps.
 
Google maps locator:[48.14,11.56]
  
 
Access and costs: easy and not necessarily expensive.
 
Details: getting to Munich is easy, by air, rail, or road. It is the hub in southern Germany, so in a way all roads lead to Munich down there. Regular scheduled as well as budget airlines serve Munich's Franz-Josef-Strauss Airport (named after Bavaria's former prime minister, who was quintessentially Bavarian and as charismatic as he was controversial).
 
Road access is excellent too and as are train connections from practically all major cities in Germany and beyond (e.g. Basel or Vienna). Booking train tickets early can pay off.
 
Accommodation-wise, Munich covers the whole range, including some surprisingly affordable options in quite central locations; e.g. there are several inexpensive but perfectly adequate hotels in the area south of the main train station (which may be a somewhat grotty part of town, but is very conveniently located).
 
Getting around in Munich is facilitated by an excellent network of public transport, esp. a metro (U-Bahn) system, and regional metro trains (S-Bahn), which make a wide range of places outside Munich easily accessible too (e.g. Dachau). The city centre is perfectly walkable, parts of the historic centre are even pedestrianized.
 
   
Time required: to see the Nazi-related sites you currently need a day at most – but that will change once the new NS-Documentation Centre is finished. The other dark or dark-ish bits can be covered in another half day or so, although a thorough visit to the Deutsches Museum may require (at least) a whole day in itself. The same is true for Munich's premier dark attraction: Dachau. All in all, also allowing time for some of the non-dark bits, a long weekend or short week should be adequate.
 
 
Combinations with other dark destinations: in general see Germany – Dachau, 10 miles (15 km) out of Munich, is the most obvious dark combination, in fact for many die-hard dark tourists it will be the main reason for coming to Munich in the first place, as the city is the perfect base for the day trip out to Dachau.
 
Further afield, the Eagle's Nest at Obersalzberg has proven to have a great allure esp. for transatlantic tourists on Hitler-related history tours.
 
There are also some less well-known dark sites from that period elsewhere, such as the massive bunker remains in the forest near Mühldorf east of Munich, which were intended for a massive underground arms production facility, but were never completed.
 
Various less spectacular and/or less accessible WWII relics can also be found in the vicinity of Munich – those interested can consult Maik Kopleck's "Munich 1933-1945", published in the German PastFinder series (Ch.Links Verlag).
 
Still in Bavaria, but at its other, north-eastern end the memorial site of the former Flossenbürg concentration camp is administered under the same umbrella as Dachau.
 
An easier train ride away from Munich, Nuremberg picks up the Nazi theme again, and how. Here the remains of the massive party rallying grounds can be seen, and Nuremberg already has its Nazi documentation centre that Munich is only now beginning to develop.
 
 
Combinations with non-dark destinations: Munich is one of Germany's top tourism draws generally. In late September/early October in particular the city's famous (or infamous?) Oktoberfest attracts heavy throngs. But also year round, Munich is prized for its characteristic beer gardens/halls, although, frankly, the beers are typically not all that spectacular, it's more about the atmosphere – for those who like that sort of thing … it can get quite rowdy indeed … The year-round most popular beer hall is certainly the Hofbräuhaus, one of the city's main landmarks.
 
There's also plenty of grand architecture (much of it reconstructed after WWII), especially from the days under Ludwig I, when Bavaria was a kingdom of its own.
 
The Englischer Garten, modelled as the name suggests on an English landscape garden, is one of the world's largest city parks.
   
The surroundings of Munich also attract lots of visitors, the more so the closer you get to the Alps, with its mountain scenery and castles. The one castle that is by far the most popular, again esp. with Americans, is Neuschwanstein castle. Even though it's actually just a dreamy folly, and in no way whatsoever representative of any architectural style of castles anywhere else at any time before, it somehow became the model for the archetypical Disney castle. So even though it is a real castle, it uncannily has this Disneyland look about it which makes it look fake to those who know what castles otherwise look like in Europe. That doesn't deter the transatlantic visitors, though; on the contrary … they probably find their expectations about quaint old Europe fulfilled here much more than at any older and more typical edifice in Germany.
 
   
 
  • Munich 01 - FeldherrnhalleMunich 01 - Feldherrnhalle
  • Munich 02 - Feldherrnhalle with statuesMunich 02 - Feldherrnhalle with statues
  • Munich 03 - cop-out alleyMunich 03 - cop-out alley
  • Munich 04 - memorial squareMunich 04 - memorial square
  • Munich 05 - site of future documentation centreMunich 05 - site of future documentation centre
  • Munich 06 - information panelMunich 06 - information panel
  • Munich 07 - FührerbauMunich 07 - Führerbau
  • Munich 08 - Wounds of Remembrance MemorialMunich 08 - Wounds of Remembrance Memorial
  • Munich 09 - KönigsplatzMunich 09 - Königsplatz
  • Munich 10 - HofbräuhausMunich 10 - Hofbräuhaus
  • Munich 11 - beer brewingMunich 11 - beer brewing
  • Munich 12 - gargoyleMunich 12 - gargoyle
  • Munich 13 - OktoberfestMunich 13 - Oktoberfest
  • Munich 14 - Oktoberfest bombing memorialMunich 14 - Oktoberfest bombing memorial
  • MunichMunich
 
 

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