May 9, 2019
When I walked into my hostel in Munich, I felt oddly nervous. I wasn’t sure why. I’ve walked into countless hostels before, but this felt like the first time you shoot a basketball after not playing for a few months, when enough time has passed that a motion you’ve replicated time after time feels foreign.
In an attempt to make some friends, I stored my stuff in a stale smelling locker and walked out into the hostel bar. Everyone seemed to already have a group, and no one appeared particularly inviting, so I decided to get some sleep.
When I woke up, I laced my shoes, took one last sip of water, and headed for the door of my hostel to go for a nice run. As I passed through the lobby, I heard someone call after me, “Are you here for the free walking tour?”
I’m a big proponent of free walking tours, so naturally I changed my mind and my plans. As we walked down to Marienplatz, I met a guy from Victoria B.C., two Australian dudes, and an Italian woman. All of a sudden, I had friends and remembered how much fun traveling can be.
As we strolled around old town, I learned that nearly 90% of Munich was destroyed in WWII, thus most of the city is a reconstruction of what used to be. In fact, the city painted lines onto many buildings to disguise the smooth concrete as rustic stone, blending old and new worlds together.
When the tour concluded, my new friends and I walked over to English Gardens, a massive green space larger than Central Park. Perhaps the most unique aspect of the park is The Einsbach, a legitimately surfable wave in the park’s small river. The first successful attempt to surf the wave occurred on an ironing board, but today a half dozen surfers were clad in full body wetsuits, toting modern shortboards. Surfing the wave is certainly dangerous, as the river is narrow and each side is a cement wall. There’s not a lot of room for error, but everyone we watched surf knew what they were doing. A few of the surfers would crouch down, and spin 360s on the crest of the wave.
We eventually found a beer garden and some German food, which consists of a lot of meat and potatoes. When I ordered my chicken, I asked if I could have a scoop of vegetables from the tray as well, which prompted a laugh, “those are just decorations,” the man said in a deep voice. When he realized I was serious, he stopped laughing, shrugged, and scooped some bell peppers, cucumbers, and eggplant onto my plate.
The next morning, something caught my eye at breakfast. “Do you go to UW?” I asked, the tall, blonde kid wearing a throwback Husky hat.
“Yeah, we do!”, all three tables around me said in unison. They are all in town for Frühlingfest (aka “Springfest”), which as it turns out, is essentially a mini Octoberfest, held on the same grounds and everything.
I definitely needed to check out Frühlingfest, but first I wanted to visit Dachau.
I took the train about 30 minutes north of Munich, hopped on a bus for a few stops, and then stepped out in front of a modern building. I put the warm plastic audioguide to my right ear, while my left ear listened to the birds sing sweet songs from the leafy canopy above. Today the tidy gravel path from the visitors’ center to the main gate feels eerily like a park. However, once you step through the gate, the hallow vastness of the space consumes you—it weighs on you. My head, my heart, and my whole body felt heavy, as if the thumb of gravity was pushing down a little harder inside those walls.
The space was huge, and with most of the barracks reduced to their foundations, felt rather empty. Despite the open space, the stillness, and the soft drizzle of rain, I could feel the injustice of a place scarred by such torture, suffering, and death.
As I walked around the grounds and through the museum, I learned a lot. Dachau was the first concentration camp established by the Nazi government in March 1933. Over the years, Dachau housed approximately 200,000 prisoners from over 30 countries. I learned about how horribly those 200,000 human beings were treated. I learned about how the Nazis used propaganda to manipulate the press. I wandered by myself for several hours in solemn silence. One question refused to leave my head—how could human beings do what they did to other human beings? Innocent human beings.
Unfortunately, I feel like I ask myself that question far too often these days.
After a pretty intense day, I was exhausted, but I decided that shouldn’t miss out on Frühlingfest so I wandered over to the grounds by myself. Intent on making new friends, I randomly ran into a few Canadian guys from my hostel.
The next thing I know we were in a full on beer hall tent (complete with a live band and thousands of strangers from all over the world) drinking, singing, standing on tables, chanting, and drinking more. Eventually we found a friendly group of Norwegians who let us join their table and do all of the aforementioned activities. It was awesome.
It’s funny how life works out. I planned to go straight to Budapest from Croatia, but rerouted to Munich because it was much cheaper and more efficient to go there first. Due to my change of plans, I incidentally timed my trip to Munich perfectly. I got to experience Frühlingfest, randomly meet some cool UW students, and, last but not least, see Bayern Munich play in person.
As I peered out the window of yet another train, I anxiously awaited the next stop as it began to drizzle and gusts of strong icy wind shook the tree leaves. “I hope my seat is under cover,” I thought to myself.
I found my seat, perched in the corner of the upper deck (and tucked away from the rain) as a deep, booming voice announced the starting lineup for Bayern Munich. Once the game started, it was easy to recognize why Bayern Munich truly is one of the best teams in the world.
Bayern’s passes looked a little more crisp. Formations ebbed and flowed effortlessly. And the players moved as if they were being controlled by joysticks, as if two friends were playing a real life game of FIFA.
Minus the flag waving fanatics behind one of the goals, the majority of the crowd fell silent, carefully analyzing each detail of the game and every touch on the ball. The game felt much less of a social event, and more like a religious service. Well it did, until Lewandowski scored, at which point the crowd erupted into a synchronized chant that was joyful, intimidating, and energizing all at the same time.
Goretzka scored, but Hanover 96 converted a PK to make the game 2-1. Bayern brought on Franck Ribéry, a crafty attacking French player, who scored minutes later. The place went nuts, and the same synchronized chant morphed into another, specifically celebrating Ribéry. Bayern was dominating the game, possessing the ball and rarely coughing it up. I knew they were good, but the fact that they bring Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry off the bench is pretty incredible.
I spent my last day in Munich relaxing, partly because I wanted some solitude, and partly because it was snowing outside.
When I was traveling on the Bonderman Fellowship, I had the luxury of time (and money), meaning that I could plan less and go with the flow. Going into this trip, I was curious how I would feel when I had to leave a place. Would I be sad? Would I be excited to see what’s next? Would that “it’s time to move on” instinct coincide with my next bus ticket?
I’m sure each move will be different, but at this moment in time, I was ready to go. Next stop: Vienna.
[note: I’m currently in London, enjoying the last bit of my trip. However, I’ll continue to post new content from my adventures over the coming weeks. Thanks for reading!]