Previously...we were in France. In this, the second installment of the trip, we fly over the Alps to Munich.
First, let me say that Munich is the most accessible city I've ever found outside of America. It's even more accessible than many American cities, and that includes my hometown of Los Angeles. Railed transit goes everywhere here and it's all accessible to wheelchairs...granted in some of the larger stations it may take a little while to locate an elevator, but they're there. The only non-accessible transit we encountered is that some trams are not accessible but they seem to have a policy that if a non-accessible tram shows up, the next one (usually within 10 minutes) will be accessible. Munich is a wonderfully accessible city. In fact, it would be easily doable in a power chair.
An early morning flight from Nice has us at our hotel in Munich at 9:00 in the morning. There are two trains from the airport into town, the S-Bahn lines S1 and S8. Our hotel is the Vi Vadi which is one block north of the main train station, the Hauptbahnhof. The station is huge (larger than Grand Central) and it takes us a little while to find our way out and to get our bearings for the hotel.
We left the stadium and a short walk later ended up at the Schwimhalle, the indoor pool where Mark Spitz won his then record of 7 gold medals. It is hot inside the pool area…like a sauna…so it felt very good to get out. These days, you can pay a small fee to go swimming and use the diving pool. The day we were there, the big pool was drained but the diving pool was more than big enough for the crowd.
Outside, the former Olympic area is now a rather large park where locals go to relax, have fun, and get some sunshine. There’s a nice lake loaded with swans, ducks, and geese; a large hill to climb; an even bigger tower to ride the elevator up to; and a walk of fame around the lake where celebrities have left their handprints and signatures in the cement, a la Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood.
Still having some time to kill, we walked back to the U-Bahn and caught a train back to the heart of town, Marienplatz. The elevator out of the station deposits you directly on the main plaza, saving you a lot of walking that you do at other stations.
Marienplatz is your typical, medieval style European town square with its many ornate buildings, churches, and street performers except this time, not much of it is ancient. Most of this area was bombed into oblivion during World War II and what you see is a very good recreation of what was here before. We’ll return to the plaza later in the trip, today we want to go to the local market, the Viktualienmarkt, located a couple of blocks away from the plaza behind Sankt Peter Kirche (Saint Peter’s Church).
Our first trip to a real German beer garden is initially intimidating…we are rookies on protocol…but we soon get the gist. A stand at one end sells food. We get some big red sausages, served with your choice of sauerkraut or roasted and pickled potatoes. We get one of each. You can also get the sausage served on a roll or with a pretzel.
The beer stand next door has big mugs of cold brew on the counter. Take as many as you like, pay the guy on the way out, and make your way back to your table. Now eat, drink, and start talking to the friendly locals sitting around you.
It helps to at least have some basic phrases learned in the local language before you go, such as greetings, asking for directions, or ordering food. You’ll find that this breaks the ice and that once you open up, many Muncheners also speak English. They’re very friendly here in the beer garden and we have a great time hanging out with them.
We walk back to our hotel, taking in our first, major glimpses of the city before settling down for the night. It’s only a 10 minute walk back, or two stops on the underground.
It’s less than half an hour by S-Bahn to Dachau…which is a lovely little village…and then about a kilometer bus ride to the memorial which was Hitler’s first concentration camp, now a memorial to Nazi Germany’s victims.
Entrance is free but there is a charge for the audio tour. The entire site is wheelchair accessible save for the re-created barracks.
The infamous gate has those German words telling you your work would set you free. The big building by the entrance served as a processing center for newly arrived prisoners. Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and Catholic priests made up most of the population at this camp. It was not an extermination center like Auschwitz, but over 30,000 prisoners died here during its operation.
A graphic and brutal documentary starts off the tour (note – the museum is not recommended for children under 12 years old) and there is an eerie silence, although that is much more appreciated than it would be if smiling, laughing tourists were milling about.
It’s an overwhelming place, also noting that disabled people were also on the list of victims. A lot here is hard to stomach…
The barracks which held up to 5,000 prisoners each while only having 11 toilets installed; the “kill zone”…a strip of green grass before the fence where guards had free reign to shoot on sight; the wall where prisoners were executed by firing squad with a little ditch dug in front to catch the blood; the mass graves.
The worst, however, are the crematoria. First, a small building with two ovens for body disposal. When that proved unable to cope with the demand, a second larger facility was built next door.
Incongruously, the area around the camp is beautiful making the shock even more disturbing. Perhaps in an effort to cleanse the awful spirit of the camp, there are four religious chapels and a convent now on the grounds.
In need of some serious cheering up, we skipped the next train out that carried most of the hundreds of visitors in our group and stayed behind in the village for some coffee and dessert. It was quiet, the sweets delicious, and the friendly people of the café eased our disquiet somewhat over what we had just experienced.
Back in Munich, we have dinner at the Augustiner Kellar biergarden, which is a two-block walk from our hotel. Munich has around 400 beer gardens and halls and it is our intention to make a big as dent possible on this number!
The Augustiner, a few acres behind a stone wall, has both. The garden is like a nice park that happens to serve beer and food. There’s even a playground here.
Next, you can get those great, big German ham hocks with their delicious crackly skin and juicy meat; a variety of sausages; cheeses; salads; soft drinks; light beer; and then the last stand with the cold, Augustiner brew being poured out of a wooden keg into liter sized glasses. A basket of fresh, large pretzels completes the menu. This, and the Viktualienmarkt, turned out to be our favorite places to eat here.
Our hotel features a big, bountiful and hot breakfast buffet at their Italian restaurant next door. That’s one thing I like about German hotels, breakfast is almost always included in the rate..if you find a hotel that doesn’t, skip it and keep looking.
We're heading down to the wire as we have another bountiful breakfast at the Vi Vadi Italian restaurant, which just happens to be attached to our nice Vi Vadi Hotel in Munich.
We purchase Salzburg Card at the Tourist Information office at the Salzburg Hauptbanhof. This gets us admission to most sites along with rides on the public transportation. It’s a short bus ride from there to the old city. A note: most of the buses are accessible but no driver we saw would move a muscle to help.
After the ride, we make our way to the Mozart Plaza near the main cathedral, which has a ramp for accessibility. Inside is a huge sanctuary filled with priceless artwork with four organs surrounding the altar. As Mozart was the organist here for two years, his fingers have graced those keys. A brass baptismal near the entrance is where the baby Wolfgang Amadeus was baptized.
Before you go on, there is an accessible restroom in the marketplace, ask one of the workers in the restaurant next door for the key. The last thing we see here is Mozart’s birthplace, which is not accessible. Back across the river is Mozart’s family house that is accessible but by the time we got here, we only had 15 minutes to see inside before closing. That’s ok because it was very hot in there.
It’s a quick bus ride from here back to the station and then back to Munich.
In the morning, I pick up a station wagon from the Hertz desk at the Haupbanhof. The destination for today is Neuschwanstein, King Ludwig II’s fairy tale castle near the border of Austria. Think of Cinderella’s castle at Disneyland, it was modeled after this castle.
Although I don’t like or understand the restrictions set in place for disabled visitors, one benefit is that disabled visitors are the only people allowed to drive their car up to the castle. We park within 10 feet of the meeting place for the disabled tour. Since three of us cannot go on that tour, the ticket office down below books us on the last mainstream tour of the day. My mom, finding out that there are over 300 stairs on the tour, volunteers to go on the step-free tour with Tim.
We wait in the castle courtyard for our appointed time, while Tim and my mom wait by the car.
Each room is lavish. The throne room has a golden brass chandelier with inlaid Bavarian glass jewels with an empty spot for the throne that was never delivered. A theater/ballroom leads to a faux cave, complete with stalagmites and stalagtites. In the king’s bedroom, a porcelain swan faucet pours water from a spring 150 feet up the mountainside.
The two tours are identical, with the exception that the normal tour also gets to see the kitchen and is routed through two(!) gift shops on the way out.
We get a bit lost on the way back and end up back in Munich well after dark.
Since we have the car till the end of the trip, the next day is another day trip, this time to the northern Italian town of Bolzano for lunch and to see Otzi.
It’s around a two hour drive on the autobahn...which turns into the autostrada in Italy...over the Brenner pass through the alps. Into the center of Bolzano, we turn into an underground car park and make our way to the central plaza where we dine on pasta, pizza, and shrimp.
Today, the museum focuses on different types of mummies, with its main attraction being that 5,300 year old found in the mountains...Otzi.
There are many human and animal remains on display here with various types of mummification methods. It is completely wheelchair accessible and there is even an in-floor lift that raises you and your chair up so you can see into the vault where Otzi’s body is stored. If this all sounds a bit morbid, it’s not. It’s just another very interesting museum that lacks any sense of the macabre at all.
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