Munich on Christmas Eve

24/12/14

It was a sunny day with temperatures warmer than what Kenzy and I had been experiencing for a while in St. Petersburg and warmer than Nuremberg had been. We did not hurry to get out of bed, but the fact that breakfast closed at a certain time probably helped motivate us to get up. However, breakfast closed later than usual because it was Christmas Eve, which is considered a holiday, so it was still a late morning. Since the planning for the days in Munich had happened the night before, we already had an idea of what we planned to accomplish that day, but we never try to stick to a specific time schedule unless it includes our train from one city to another, or the breakfast that won’t wait for us to roll out of bed at whatever time we please.

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(I felt the need to take a picture of my shadow to prove and remember that it was actually a sunny day).

When we finally walked out the door to start our day, I decided not to where my long, warm, purple coat because of the difference in temperature, hoping that it would stay how it was and not become any colder or windier. As we got on the tram to take us in the direction of our first destination, we noticed that everything was closed. Christmas Eve is apparently a big holiday in this part of the world, bigger I would say than Christmas itself, unlike in the United States where stores are still open until probably the early afternoon on Christmas Eve for last minute shoppers. However, we did not completely find this out until later. It made sense that some places would be closed the day before Christmas, but how many places would be closed?

The previous day when we arrived in Munich we had also purchased transportation passes that were valid for three days. We left on the fourth day, at which point the passes would be expired, but we would deal with that when the time came because the deal had been for three days. These passes were valid for any form of basic city transportation, so we were able to take a local train over to Dachau because our first plan was to see the Dachau Concentration Camp. Although it is one of the lesser known ones left from World War II, it was the one we were going to come closest to on this trip, and since we had missed out on the Nuremberg Court House where the trials took place and the Nazi parade grounds (which we had wanted and planned to visit) due to transportation costs, we decided this was something we both wanted and needed to do.

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(The entrance to Dachau)

From the train we took a bus to the entrance of the camp. We had planned to take a tour, but despite what had been written online, the tour that was supposed to run even on Christmas Eve, was not running. Instead we led ourselves around the camp grounds and took away from it as much as we could from what information was offered on posters placed throughout the area.

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(The building into which we could not go)

From what I have heard about other Nazi Concentration Camps, many of the buildings are still standing and there is almost no need for the imagination to picture what horrors took place there. With Dachau, this was not the case. The grounds left where the camp was located was a field and trees for the most part. There were signs pointing you to where buildings used to stand and what had taken place there while the camp was active, but to really feel the impact of the camp, the imagination was much needed in forming the pictures painted by the words that we read.

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(On The Path of Remembrance)

In reality, we only got to see a very small part of what was left of the camp. There was at least one building left standing that was the entrance to another part of the camp, but the gates were closed firmly in front of it. We stood by the gate for a short while to look through it at the area we could not enter and in that short time a man walked up and asked us brusquely what we wanted, (to which we replied that we were just looking) then informed us that the buildings were closed so we could not enter (which we had deduced from the locked gates), but if we came back tomorrow, they would be open. Open on Christmas. Thus the comment I made about Christmas Eve as opposed to Christmas Day earlier.

Even though so much of the camp was closed, we only saw two or three other people there, so it was nice to try to be able to understand what happened in relative silence. We made our way into an area of the camp called The Path of Remembrance. I thought initially this path would lead to a bus station where we would take the bus back to the train station, but I was very wrong. The path started in the camp area that was open on Christmas Eve, but soon we walked out of that area and next to an area that the sign told us used to be the SS training center for this camp, but now served as offices of some sort for current riot police in the city and could not be entered because it was private property. We thought it odd that these riot police would continue to use buildings with a history as awful as that that comes from World War II and the concentration camps, but they must have had some reason for doing so. The Path of Remembrance led us from sign to sign and finally back to the train station. I don’t remember how many signs there were, but we skipped two of them because we could not find them.

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(I can’t forget to include the Dalmatian at the train station. Usually I think Dalmatians are a rather ugly breed of dog, but this one was beautiful).

I can’t say it was a good first time going to a concentration camp because what is good about a concentration camp, but I do know that in the future I will definitely have to visit others to better understand the horror and pain of these places. I have always had an interest in the history of World War II, but reading about what happened during the war, and visiting the sites where these events occurred as well as being able to couple the information I read about them with the experience of visiting the place, are definitely different experiences.

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(Down at the old town)

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After visiting the concentration camp, our next stop was the old town. In the old town we spent more time seeing sights. Really it was buildings and architecture in this part that caught our interest, as it will continue to in many of the countries we will visit. We could tell that there had been Christmas Markets here since the stalls were still up, but they were all closed and some were in the process of being packed up. Since we had already enjoyed the markets in Nuremberg, we didn’t mind that the markets here were already closed. In every city we go to we seem to find a Starbucks, unintentionally, but we find them. In Nuremberg we found it in the old town. Since it was Christmas Eve we decided we would all treat ourselves to a Starbucks. Kenzy and Ali wanted peppermint mochas on their search for peppermint that Nuremberg had denied them and now Munich. Of course, Starbucks was out of peppermint syrup, so Ali and I ordered white mochas while Kenzy ordered a toffee-nut latte.

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(I have no idea what many of these buildings were)

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(But they were pretty and the sky was blue, so I took pictures)

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(Some of the are obviously churches or clock towers, but others are just buildings with shops renting space in them).

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(Then the clouds started moving in)

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It was a cold and windy day by this time and all indoor seating areas of the Starbucks were full, so we went out by a restaurant (which was closed) and enjoyed our Starbucks being sheltered by the building from the wind. Unfortunately, although I had one or two drinks from Starbucks in St. Petersburg, I had not had a white mocha. Although I love white mochas, the amount of milk in them makes my stomach turn, so I sat there after finishing my Starbucks with pain twisting my insides.

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(Eventually came the adventure of strange things)

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(And just another random and pretty building I wanted to include, but didn’t know where to put it. There will be many of these because I am interested in buildings and architecture and art).

Eventually I convinced myself to get up because I thought walking around might help and at first it was very painful, but the pain subsided as we walked to see more of the old town. We probably stayed out for another hour because it was already getting dark and by the end of that hour my stomach felt almost normal again.

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(I don’t know who this was, but it looked so strange I had to touch it to understand the texture).

On this last hour of exploration of the old town we found a few strange things. The first was a monument to someone; I am not really sure who. The important part of this strange finding was the base of this monument. The base was covered, and I mean completely covered on all four sides, in pictures and other objects of or relating to Michael Jackson. We could not figure out why it was there, but for some reason it was.

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(Here is a picture of the front of the Micheal Jackson… thing).

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(But there were also cool light spheres hanging in the trees)

The next strange thing we happened across was a small shop. The inside of the shop was illuminated even though the shop itself was closed. Inside the shop were pictures drawn and painted of Donald Duck with money. I can’t really explain the pictures, they were all different, but they all followed the same theme of having both Donald Duck and something relating to money. It was so strange, especially since this was a shop and people buy items from shops, but we didn’t know who would buy something so specific, so, why Donald Duck and money?

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(Unfortunately this picture turned out to be a little bit blurry. I had forgotten about it when I was initially writing the post, but I feel the need to include this. I am completely supportive of the idea of creative license and I understand the aesthetic appeal of having more than just a plain, white building, but in what world would anyone or anything want their legs or fins twisted like that? It is very strange to me).

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From this point we soon decided to go back to the hostel and eat dinner. We had bought cans of soup at the grocery store the day before, which was good since it was now closed. When we had first gone up to our room the night before, we noticed a pizza machine on the way up. This was a machine that stated hot pizza could be ready in 15 minutes. We decided that because it was Christmas Eve and because we were just curious about the pizza machine, that we would have pizza around an hour after dinner as our late night snack. The pizza actually wasn’t bad, although it was small (not that we paid much for it), it was just strange that it came from a machine.

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(Oh, and I can’t forget these lit up people that were above a store front).

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Indian Food and a Prison

I don’t think I ever reread this post, so please excuse any awkward sentences, or areas that don’t quite flow.

I decided that this post needed to go up before it became irrelevant, so I am posting it now.  

29/08/14

I have to add a little bit more to what I said about the differences between service in restaurants in an earlier post. At times I really like the service in Lithuania. I was misguided by the service at chain restaurants. I went to the small Chinese restaurant, and I am currently at an Indian restaurant that is situated halfway underground. The service at places like this has been great. The waiters and waitresses don’t seem to come until you are really ready to order. This particular restaurant is not the most noticeable from the outside. It has some dishes posted outside the door on a poster that is lower than eye level because one must walk down steps to get to the door. I passed this restaurant many times and could never tell whether or not it was popular enough for me to try it. I was not disappointed. I think that this restaurant is vegetarian restaurant too because I don’t remember seeing any meat on the menu. It is a very nice place with the deep oranges purples and blues of Indian decorations and subtle background music that matches the theme. The waitresses are dressed in Indian saris, adding further to the atmosphere.

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Whenever I go to a restaurant in Lithuania, I have noticed that their translations into English are not great, but they are understandable. The dish I ordered was called something like “soy in tomato sauce.” The “soy” in this case means tofu, which many of the dishes had instead of meat. No, it was not just tofu in tomato sauce. Maybe the sauce had tomatoes in it, but it tasted like the nicely spiced sauces that go over many Indian dishes. Basmati rice and a side salad came with the main dish, which I was very happy about because I love basmati rice. I ordered some “spicy sauces” to go with my dish; it was really only one sauce. The sauce was a transparent, light amber color, sort of like the color of oil. At first I wasn’t sure if it would be spicy at all, but I was not disappointed. The sauce went nicely with the food, not smothering the flavor, but serving to enhance it.

The whole restaurant was very decently priced so I decided to order a drink to go with my meal. They had a selection of fresh juices, so I asked for carrot juice. I know that sounds strange to some people, but I love carrot juice. Carrots are naturally so sweet that carrot juice doesn’t need any added ingredients to make it delicious. I remember in Kazan’ during the first week I was there, many of the students in the program and I went to the mall to look for things like dictionaries and internet sticks. While we were waiting for some of the people to finish making their purchases, my friend Katie and I found a juice stand. We didn’t know all of the names of fruits and vegetables but I ended up ordering apple-carrot juice. They made the juice right in front of us and the combination turned out to be some of the best juice I have ever had.

Can I just say, I hate jeans. I know, “hate” is a strong word, but I’m serious, I really don’t like jeans. Especially jeans they make for girls today, how can anyone stand wearing them. To me jeans are not very useful, they are too hot in the summer and too cold when it is cold out, so when are people ever comfortable wearing them? They are also really constricting, like you can barely stretch your legs in them. I don’t like the feeling of being constricted, I like to be able to have free movement of my legs since I am an ex gymnast. I mean I can barely do a handstand in jeans, how awful is that? That’s probably why leggings are becoming so popular these days. I don’t really wear leggings because I have been perfectly comfortable in skirts and dresses and leggings look a little bit strange to me. This thought of jeans came about because today I am wearing jeans. I was thinking of climbing this bell tower they have outside the big white church on Cathedral Square. I don’t know for sure, but I heard that it’s a bunch of steps to get up to the top, and I love climbing stairs. I decided I would wait until another day when I am wearing clothes that are more comfortable to me.

I walked around for a bit and ended up going to a café instead. While I was walking around I noticed a few interesting things. First, I saw a group of guys wearing coffee colored pants. I don’t mean coffee colored like black coffee; I mean the lighter, almost caramel color that it turns when you add a tiny bit of milk or cream to it. I wondered why so many people wanted this color of pants, and now in front of me sits a guy wearing a jacket that is the same color. It hasn’t just been these few people though, because the more I took notice of this particular color, the more people I saw wearing it. The second thing I noticed was a girl with bright violet hair, and when I say “bright,” I am not exaggerating. It was like her hair had something shining on it to make it so vibrantly violet. I have never seen violet or purple hair die that works that well. This reminded me of when I was staying with my first host and we were walking through Cathedral Square and we saw a guy with blue hair. If you decide to dye your hair blue or green, please be careful. When the color fades, the dye job looks terrible. Instead of looking like you died your hair, you end up looking like you swam too much and the chlorine stained your hair. As I was walking back to the apartment today, I saw someone with exactly this effect occurring to her hair and it was not pretty. I don’t often see people with hair dyed strange colors here, so it is very memorable when I do.

Sitting in a coffee shop today I noticed that there always seems to be a group of people in a coffee shop that speak a little too loudly or laugh too crazily for the general coffee shop atmosphere, disturbing everyone else’s enjoyable coffee drinking experience. If you buy coffee from a coffee shop, you probably want to take the time to enjoy it because it’s more expensive than putting a pot on at home. Well sorry you can’t, there are people here to disturb you.

I remember the disturbing group when I was in a coffee shop here before writing. It could almost be told as the beginning of a joke. Once there was an American, an Irishman and a local… the American was really loud like Americans often are, but he was so audible over the rest of the chatter that I just wanted to tell him how rude he was being and to shut up.

On a brighter or darker note, depending on how you choose to look at it, I went to another museum yesterday. Yes, it was another holocaust museum. I liked this one better than the last, probably because my experience excluded the two boys practicing a tour. Although, there was one unfortunately memorable incident in this museum, with an old man who kept showing up in the same room as me, chewing his gum really loudy. It was awful, and the sound drove me crazy.

Again, I spent over an hour in this museum, and I really enjoyed it. Any Holocaust museum or history of the Holocaust taught in the United States doesn’t take into account small countries like Lithuania. The history is always about how terrible Auschwitz was, and Nazi Germany. I am not saying those weren’t terrible, they were, but after spending some of my time in Lithuania in these museums, I see how much history our educational facilities and museums leave out. The Lithuanian people suffered from the Holocaust plowing right into them, and the Soviet Union claiming the country as its own, all in the space of a few years. People from Lithuania ended up all over the place, and over 90% of the Lithuanian-Jewish population was wiped out during the course of the Holocaust. The only reason those other people were left behind were because they were skilled laborers and it was decided that they were needed. There were plans to wipe them all out in the end, but thankfully someone stepped in and said that these people were still useful. The “cleanse” of Jews from Lithuania was considered the most successful to the Nazi’s.

In the prison:

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(This is the first room one encounters as they descend into the prison. They had two of these rooms next to each other that were used to hold new prisoners for up to three hours while their paperwork was being processed. Originally the cells didn’t have seats so the people had to stand. The seats were added later). 

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(This is the strip room. It is pretty self descriptive, but it is where prisoners had to strip down to make sure they had nothing that wasn’t allowed on them. Originally prisoners were than only given one set of clothes that they wore both during waking and sleeping hours. Later this changed).

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(There are a few of these rooms open for viewers as they make their ways down the long hallway. This is what a prison cell with basic furnishings looked like. The furnishings only came later though. Originally the cells that they held prisoners in had no furniture, so the prisoners would sit on the floors of the very damp cells, crammed together with many other prisoners. This room has four beds, but I remember reading that before there was furniture, I think somewhere between 20 and 30 people would be held in one room).

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(While walking down the hall, there are comforting signs that lead the viewer into another hall to view the execution chamber).

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(This is descending even further down than the prison, I think, into the execution chamber. The execution chamber is interesting, but also unfortunately, very redone to be more of an exhibit than what it used to be. The whole floor is glass and it has little remains – maybe a comb, maybe a nail, etc. – of people who had been executed, placed under the glass).

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(This is a room that has bags of shredded paper. The shredded paper is some of the remains of thousands of documents that the KGB attempted to destroy before they were forced to stop operations in the country).

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(This is a picture of the hallway. It is underground so it is cold, and the colors obviously don’t make it very inviting).

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(This is a padded room with a straight jacket against the back wall. Sometimes prisoners would be held here after “active interrogations,” one of the terms they used to refer to torture, because the prisoners mental states were not always in tact).

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(This is the door to the padded room. I took it so that people could see how thick the padding is).

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(I think this is a room they used to hold people in before interrogations so that they could not communicate with other prisoners. I think that the placard said that sometimes they would be held here for up to ten days, just being fed bread and warm water. There is a toilet of sorts in another corner of the room). 

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(This is a chamber where they put people who wouldn’t cooperate during interrogations, to make them cooperate. The floor would be filled with water up to the white line, so thee prisoner could either stand directly in the water, or they could stand on the circular plate in the middle of the floor that was raised above the water, and every time they fell off, they would have to get back on).

I am not going to go on about the museum and the Holocaust in Lithuania because there was too much information to recount. I will just say that one of my favorite parts of the museum (the building was a center for KGB agents with a very active prison underneath it during the Soviet Union) was being able to go down to the prison, and basically explore. It wasn’t like a maze or anything, it was a straight hallway, but to me, being able to walk in a place like that without a tour guide, and read the signs and experiences of people down there for myself, and just take the time to image it without having my thoughts interrupted, is one of the most memorable ways to experience something.