After 18+ hours of traveling in coach, Munich was a welcome sight! After a much needed wheat ale and German sausage, we took in our festive surroundings. Christmas is a weeks long celebration and the hot wine and baked goods were plentiful.
We started the academic portion of the trip with an excursion to Austria to see Obersalzburg which served as Hitler’s mountain fortress for much of the Third Reich. Underneath what seemed to be an idyllic ski resort for top Nazi brass, Hitler had a massive system of bunkers constructed. Although he would end his life in his Berlin bunkers, Obersalzburg was used by Nazi officials until the very end. The museum
illuminated the propaganda of Hitler’s personal life that was used to portray him as a likeable god. He was portrayed as serene, quiet, yet in perfect physical and mental health. He was the people’s leader.
We continued our day by lunching at a gorgeous alpine lodge where Hitler himself dined often. It was a little surreal to realize that we were quite literally on the ground that history had happened on. This would be the first of many times where I was struck by the depth of history in the places we visited.
Another notable experience in Munich was visiting Ludwig Maxmillian University, home to the White Rose Resistance movement. In the height of the Third Reich a brave group of university students and one of their professors published several leaflets denouncing the Nazi regime. Among these was Sophie Scholl 21 year old student who would be executed for her part in the resistance. I was captivated by Sophie and the courage it took to face one’s impending death with grace and even beauty. It was a welcome story of bravery and even triumph amidst a narrative of suffering
As we left Munich (and the best beer I’ve ever had in my life) behind, we continued onto Nuremburg for a quick afternoon stop. Infamous for persecutory laws against German Jews, the site of The Triumph of the Will propaganda film, and eventually the location of the court that would sentence many Nazi elites following the war, Nuremburg was steeped in history. Most significant to our theme of propaganda was the half-finished rally ground building that was to become the primary speaking hall for Hitler and other party elite. The sheer size of the building that remains speaks to the Nazi fascination with all things grand and imposing.
Much of our time on this first leg of our trip was spent exploring the Nazi regime’s goals and history. This would prove to be an interesting foundation for the following emphasis on the victims of the Holocaust and WWII. It also set up a nice foundation for comparison with Soviet controlled Germany.