I’m on a plane out of Munich bringing me back to Greece.
|Flag of Bavaria|
I’ve just spent a week touring Bavaria with one of the nicest, most gracious, and hospitable couples I know. Let’s call them Chris and Nolan. We’re all about the same age and share a deep love for Greece. In fact, we met on Mykonos. Chris was born in Germany but is well acquainted with living in the United States and Nolan was born in the U.S. but lived most of his life in Europe. They are an insightful pair of internationalists with countless mesmerizing stories to match, and a willingness to share their knowledge on so many things Bavarian.
|Bavaria in dark green|
I’ve never been to Bavaria before. It’s in southeast Germany bordering the Czech Republic, Austria, and Switzerland (across Lake Constance). It is a unique place, idiosyncratic some might say vis a vis the rest of Germany, for it still regards itself as independent, the “Free State of Bavaria” to be precise. It is Germany’s wealthiest and second most populous state and at the risk of incurring the ire of the other fifteen states, from what I’ve seen it just might be the most beautiful.
There’s no escaping the magic of its landscape: verdant farmland neatly peppered with houses of the sort you expect to see under a Christmas tree, fawn-color dairy cows with doe-like eyes grazing amid waves of green, locals in lederhosen and dirndl, all set against the sharp, white-topped, gray-green Bavarian Alps.
|Ludwig II und Neuschwanstein|
Even Bavaria’s most heavily trafficked tourist attractions maintain the integrity of what makes them so popular. For example the castles of King Ludwig II (1845-1886) still take your breath away (and not just because of long walks up a hill from the parking lot). My favorite was not the one Disney ripped off (Schloss Neuschwanstein), but the smallest of his palaces, Linderhof, inspired by the French Sun-King Louis XIV’s Versailles. It comes complete with his own private underground grotto—think Phantom of the Opera, but grander.
|Grotto at Linderhof|
And Munich, Bavaria’s capital, is as cosmopolitan and vibrant a city as any in the world, filled with world-class shopping and a thriving economy driven by such industries as BMW (yes, I slipped that one in), film production, and publishing.
Bavarians have rebuilt their capital in a first class way; one that integrates what remains of its past with what it has become. Heavily bombed by the Allies in World War II, Munich does not attempt to hide from its part in those horrific times. Nor does it forget the eleven Israeli athletes who perished at the Olympic Games it hosted in 1972. It has accepted responsibility and grown wiser from it. More so than many places in the world.
|Munich Memorial to Israeli Olympic Athletes|
I also visited Dachau just outside of Munich. It was the first Nazi concentration camp created after Adolph Hitler’s appointment as German chancellor in I933. I’m not showing any pictures of that. Nor am I showing any I took from the top of The Eagles Nest, a retreat built for Hitler on the border with Austria. Both are places not to be missed on any trip to Bavaria for they represent something never to be forgotten by Germans, Jews, Greeks or anyone on this planet.
But I prefer not to use photographs to make that point. Instead, let me quote from something I read at the Dachau museum. It describes how Adolph Hitler managed to take a radical, marginal political party he helped form when he was thirty-one—the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (“NSDAP”)—and within a dozen years emerge as Germany’s all-powerful Fuhrer.
[T]he NSDAP remained a peripheral political force during the stable years of the Weimar Republic. This changed dramatically with the onset of the world economic crisis. In the [Parliamentary] elections of September 1930, the NSDAP succeeded in increasing its share of the vote from 2.6 per cent to 18.3 per cent; in the [Parliamentary] elections of July 1932, the NSDAP emerged as the strongest party with 37.3 per cent of the vote.
The party made use of both brutal violence against its opponents as well as modern propaganda methods and tactics. The party succeeded in evoking the impression that it alone was capable of meeting the divergent interests of a number of social groups. By mobilizing resentment and exploiting images of threatening enemies, the National Socialists were able to conceal the internal contradictions riddling their political demands.—The Dachau Concentration Camp, 1933-1945
[Ed. Note: The Nazis were the prime instigators of the very violence they decried and used it to gain support among a demoralized middle-class by making them believe they alone could restore law and order. Among Hitler’s promises were vows to revive the economy by unstated methods, restore German greatness, and overturn the Treaty of Versailles. The two 1932 elections had confirmed that NSDAP was Germany’s strongest political party, and as the country had been unable to form a majority in Parliament since 1930, political pressure ultimately led to Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor of Germany]
The Germans understand “Never Again.” Let us hope the rest of the world doesn’t forget.
|Mayor Christian Ude|
To end on as happy a note as every moment I spent with my friends in wonderful Bavaria, I must add that Munich’s mayor, Christian Ude, is a lover of Mykonos. It is my honor to return the compliment to his glorious city.