Munich was a day trip by DB train from Nuremberg on Saturday the 19th. Temperatures hovered in the low 20s and snow was abundant, as it has been for the past few days. In past Januarys we lodged in Munich, but this year a construction industry convention was in town taking up most of the hotel rooms. Gunther, a lifelong resident of Munich, or as he was proud to note, of Bavaria, was our guide for a four-hour stroll through the history and sights around the town.
We began with statistics: Munich has between 1.4 and 1.5 million people; there is a low birth rate, but the city is growing in population for the first time in years; 35% of its people are immigrants from Greece, Spain, and many other countries; the unemployment rate is 4.8% in Munich, 3.4% in Bavaria as a whole.
College is free for students throughout most of Germany, but there is a fee to attend in Bavaria, and there is a student movement afoot to have the fee abolished. We saw posters declaring the rate too high and urging the government to make higher education free again. The current tuition? About 500 Euros per semester, which is around $650, or $1,300 a year. Elon students groaned when they heard the amount, saying that would almost cover their books.
One of the first buildings we passed had a conspicuous series of concrete patches visible on its facade. Something had been removed, Gunther said. Could we guess what it was? The students were able to guess – the Nazi symbol of the eagle and swastika. Munich was the birthplace of the Nazi party, and it’s where the beer hall putsch sessions of the 1920s were held that determined the course of the party, including the “final solution” for extermination of Jews. This is an illustration of the symbol that adorned many Hitler-approved buildings:
As we crossed the street we spotted Jason, our guide from the previous two days at both Nuremberg and Dachau, leading a separate tour of Munich. The Elon students cheered and waved, accusing him of cheating on us with another tour group.
After seeing more historical buildings, Gunther (who we liked, too) led us through a huge park in central Munich. The park was magical in the snow, and boasted a 400-year-old English style garden. There were dog walkers, kids on sleds, and surfers. Yes, surfers. A strong flow of water from a tributary that runs through the park is a favorite spot for year round surfing.
The temperature in Frankfurt was in the low 20s with a mild wind. Students forgot the cold as they drank in the history and the beauty of the park. Well, not really, but they endured the weather pretty well.
Germans are a hardy people. They barely slow down when it snows, sleets, rains, or hails, which it has done ever since we got here. No one panics, and the stores continue to have plenty of milk and bread when snow is predicted. And we are constantly amazed by the people of all ages who navigate the icy streets on bicycles.
There was an interesting incident that almost escalated to an altercation when we came upon a group of right wing protestors. The group was protesting the building of a mosque in the center of the old town, although Gunther assured us no such mosque was even being planned. It was simply a hate group preaching against Muslims. There was a counter-protest, with opponents marching up and down in front of the right wingers yelling “Blah, blah, blah.”
I took a photo of one of the counter protestors, a woman with a British accent, who then approached me and demanded I delete the photo I took of her. “I know my rights,” she said. “You can’t take my picture without my permission. Delete my photograph.”
I said no. You’re in a public square protesting for all the world to see, so I can take your picture. “No you can’t,” she argued. “Delete my picture.” I told her I would do no such thing, reiterating her very public presence. She then said the laws are different in Germany, and that she would get a policeman. There were several standing by in case violence broke out. “Come with me,” she said, “and we’ll talk to a policeman.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” I told her. “You can talk to the police all you want. I’m not going anywhere with you, and I’m not deleting my picture.”
Eventually, Gunther intervened and I deferred to his judgment, and deleted the photo of her. As I walked away, she asked me, “Where are you from?”
“The United States,” I replied, “where there is a lot more freedom of speech than you have.”
The funny thing is, as I was arguing with the woman, our students took a hundred pictures of her.
Below are some of the more pleasant highlights of our tour of Munich: