To Munich and back for $273 | February 29, 2008 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

Column - February 29, 2008

To Munich and back for $273

by Jeb Bing

I'm just back from a six-day "long weekend" trip to Munich, a quick turn-around visit with some of my family that included stops at a fairy-tale castle, a fortress overlooking Salzburg, the huge Deutsch Museum and a sobering visit to the Dachau concentration camp memorial just 20 minutes from Munich. The trip meant sitting for about 26 hours on planes--14 going over and 12 coming back, but at a total round-trip fare of $273, it was worth it. It was one of those "grab-quickly" specials that my son Chris occasionally finds in Flyer Talk, an online blog for recreational pilots. Joining us for this trip were two of his friends and my daughter Kerry Nally, who lives in Pleasanton, and two of her children: Jordan, a seventh grader at Harvest Park, and Christopher, who's in first grade at Walnut Grove. Her husband Jack stayed here to care for 2-year-old Katherine. Most of our frequent family get-togethers are for a week or longer, but--price-wise--this was a trip to take even just for a few days. Actually, we found that by going only to Munich, with a one-day side trip to nearby Salzburg in Austria, we were able to discover more of the city and its highlights than had we just passed through.

Kerry and I were designated drivers so we both had a chance to keep up with traffic on the autobahn at speeds of 90-100 mph. Even so, we were often passed in the no-speed-limit zones by cars going much faster. Frankly, there's nothing more intimidating than to see bright lights coming at you from behind at a high rate of speed. It keeps the more sane (and scared) motorists like us hugging the far right lanes. Both of us had English-speaking GPS systems in our cars, which is a technology that now makes traveling in other countries with unfamiliar rules much easier. Kerry's was a portable device that could be carried on walking tours. Her first big problem though came when she forgot to switch it off its pedestrian mode and ended up driving a short distance on a cobblestone sidewalk, realizing her mistake just short of a wide down stairway. Chris also had a mishap when, while riding on one of the downtown trams, he reached for a straphanger on the bumpy ride only to grab the emergency stop strap. The driver and fellow passengers were not amused.

Munich was Hitler's favorite city and the birthplace of his Nazi movement in the 1920s. The Hofbrauhaus is where he supposedly rallied his troops. But since 70 percent of Munich was destroyed by allied bombs in 1944, few of the original buildings exist and much of the city's history is now folklore. Still, Munich "looks" historical, with the post-war leaders choosing to restore the central city, unlike Frankfurt, which rebuilt to look much like Los Angeles, skyscrapers and all. Munich's painstaking restoration process continues today, particularly at the three famous churches around New Town Hall, known for its rebuilt glockenspiel, which now "jousts" again several times each day. We learned that the Nazis, having learned of the massive allied bombing raids being planned, hired top professionals to carefully photograph the Town Hall and other 16th-, 17th- and 18th century buildings so that some day they could be restored.

As cities go in Germany, Munich is the wealthiest, the most expensive and the most desirable place in the country. That makes hotels pricey, although, using Priceline, we found comfortable rooms for 60-75 euros a night, about $90-$100. There are an abundance of good restaurants with reasonably priced meals and, of course, bakeries with diet-breaking sumptuous pastries at every corner. Most attractions, including the huge Deutsch Museum in Munich and the mountaintop fortress in Salzburg are reasonably priced with a funicular that whisks up the mountainside for a spectacular view of the Austrian Alps. Our last stop was at a castle King Ludwig II built in the Alps two hours from Munich. Colorful, immense, it's what Walt Disney used to model his Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty castles, though Ludwig's has 230 stairs up and another 230 down, making our visit there memorable indeed. After that, the thought of sitting on the plane for 12 hours didn't seem so bad.


Posted by frank, a resident of Pleasanton Heights
on Feb 29, 2008 at 11:10 pm

Wonderful trip you had, for sure. I wish I could have gone along. My previous trips to Germany have been equally as fascinating. Therefore I have some "two cents" to add.

Autobahn: "autobahn at speeds of 90-100 mph. Even so, we were often passed in the no-speed-limit zones by cars going much faster. " When those big Mercedes and BMW's zipped by you at 200-240 kph they were going 124-150 mph. No kidding.... Germans love their big cars and the Autobahn. I've wound up much lesser rental vehicles on parts of the Autobahn to over the 200 kph mark, so I'm sure you definitely kept in the right-hand lanes. Not like here on 580 or 680 where everybody going 50 mph is in the left hand lane.

Munich is a beautiful city and region, but so are others in Germany. I don't know if it really is the wealthiest because Germany is rich with economically wealthy regions, mostly in the former West Germany but eastern areas are growing, such as Dresden where, for example, AMD has a significant semiconductor plant. I have visited many parts and found all fascinating and beautiful... Heidelberg, Stuttgart, Munich, locations south such as Garmisch in the Alps, northern Germany including Hamburg, Hannover, Schwerin, Dresden, Gottingen, Bremerhaven, and regions such as Brocken in the Harz mountains, Die Sachsiche Schweis which is north of Dresden, Eisenach (Martin Luther's home), the Wattenmeer, etc.

At Dachau did you buy the museum book that chronicles the concentration camp's history including examples of the records of it atrocities? Perhaps the most cynical phrase of the twentieth century is found embedded in Dachau's iron gates (also at Auschwitz): "Arbeit macht frei". Originally it was the site of a munition factory and thereafter a practice range for the SchutzStaffel (the SS, who were very infamous). At first they killed prisoners by shooting them, but this was inefficient so eventually they built gas chambers for efficient mass killing and ovens to get rid of the bodies. Jews, communists, Roma, homosexuals, and sometimes Catholics, war prisoners, and other political undesirables.

Munich - recommended to go during Octoberfest (which occurs in September and ends the first Sunday in October). One of the world's greatest parties that ranks with Carnevale (each night get a seat inside one of the big beer tents early before they close the doors due to full capacity - learn to sing "ein prosen ein prosen gemutlichkiet").

Besides the nearby Dachau site, Munich and it's Marienplatz was Hitler's launching platform, and later was the site of some other infamous history, like the White Rose.

So, after sitting at an outdoor restaurant on the Marienplatz downing an "ein mas" and watching the Glockenspiel in the Rathaus play together with some other American tourists who are happen to be there on a tour schedule, you will have the freedom to stroll north up the Louisenstrasse toward the University of Munchen. As you walk you will see there are university buildings on both the right and left sides of the street. You will encounter a library building on the left that houses a small museum, whose entire collection is dedicated to the White Rose.

In 1943 the six core members of this non-violent resistance group to the Nazis were beheaded within hours after an infamous trial run by Hitler's "blood judge", Roland Freisler, who sent at least 3000 people to their death in similar trials. Five were students including Hans Scholl and his sister Sophie Scholl. Their guilt was handing out anti-Hitler leaflets at the University. Go here to listen to how he shouted at various defendants who trembled as he sent them to their death. Web Link

And go here to read about the White Rose: Web Link

Munich is a beautiful place to visit but we sometimes forget its horror.

Posted by I was there too, a resident of Pleasanton Heights
on Mar 1, 2008 at 7:15 pm

I highly recommend this film "Sophie Scholl: Die letzten Tagen" Web Link if interested in the White Rose. The movie is very true to what happened to them.
Actually, the Sachsische Schweiz is east of Dresden, as one makes his way towards the Czech Republic. It is a very beautiful river valley with sandstone cliffs lush with vegetation, carved out by the river Elbe Web Link. And if anyone does go to Dresden, be sure to check out the Church of our Lady, which was completely destroyed by the firebombing of Dresden on February 12/13, 1945.

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