Joe and Tawny's Excellent Adventures

Monday, March 20, 2006

Castles, Churches & Concentration Camps

I thought I would tell you all about our latest adventure. Joe had a 3-day weekend over St. Patricks Day, so we decided we wanted to get away from the military area and head out to see some of what Germany has to offer - in hopes that we can find a few good reasons to like Germany. We decided we wanted to stay within a 4 hour radius of Hutchenhausen (where we live) and thought that going to Bavaria would be pretty neat. We did a little research online before we headed out and decided on two major things we wanted to see: Neuschwanstein Castle and Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site.

We left about 11 a.m. on Friday and got to the town of Hohenschwagau at about 6 p.m. We found a great little (cheap) hotel and settled in for the night. We had a great view of the castle and the next morning we headed out for two tours.

The Neuschwanstein Castle was the real-life model for the Walt Disney Castle. It is considered the most famous castle in all of Europe. It was build by Mad King Ludwig II and is built on a cliff above the small town of Hohenschwagau. Neuschwanstein is on the South side of the town and the Hohenschwagau Castle (Ludwig's child hood home and his parent's home) is built on hills above the town on the north side. The tours were pretty cool and I have never seen anything quite so colorful. The interiors of the castles are completely covered in murals. The H-castle's murals tell the story of the history of Prussia and Bavaria while the N-Castle was dedicated to a famous opera writer named Wagner. Every room is dedicated to his operas and the murals depict those operas. The H-castle was built in the 1500s then destroyed by Napoleon in the early 1800s and then rebuilt. The N-Castle was started in the 1860s and work ended when the king mysteriously died in the 1880s. Only 1/3 of the castle was ever completed. It is amazing though. Reminds me a lot of the Salt Lake Temple. The workmanship and the murals.

The only problem with the Neuschwanstein castle is you have to hike up a pretty steep road for about a mile - and in our case we hiked up on ice. It is beautiful though. Ceilidha calls it the princess castle. We spent all day Saturday hiking around the castle on closed trails in 2-4 feet of snow. Ceilidha road in Joe's ruck sack and I hung on to Joe as he pulled both of us up the mountain. Thanks to that little trip, I am so sore I can barely move. My calves ache and my ankles can hardly hold me up.

On Sunday we left the hotel around 8:30 a.m. and stopped by the little town of Weis. It has a church there "Weiskirche" that is unbelievable. It is considered the "finest Rococo church in the world," and UNESCO listed it as a World Heritage Site in 1983. We got there right before a church service so we stayed. It was so amazing. The workmanship and craftsmanship was overwhelming. It reminded both Joe and I of a Celestial room - except that hundreds of disrespectful tourists had engraved their names in the back of the 250 year old church pews and others were taking photos during the mass. Joe reminded me that is precisely one of the reasons why visitors are not allowed in our temple.

Minus the rude tourists, the mass was wonderful and the spirit was so strong in what is known as "The Lord God's Ballroom." A name you will understand once you see the interior of this beautiful building. I don't have any photos to show you, because I felt in inappropriate to photograph the interior of a church such as this (especially on Sunday while other are trying to worship).

After church we went to Dachau - north of Munich - where we spent the next 5-6 hours at the Concentration Camp Memorial Site. It is interesting because Joe and I had two completely different experiences. While at the Weiskirche I had prayed and asked my Father to help me have an experience that day that would be uplifting and memorable. At Dachau Joe said he felt the darkness of the building and the feeling of doom and gloom. I felt something quite the opposite. I felt the power of the human spirit, the ability of one person to affect so many lives and the faith people have in something greater than their circumstance. Every story told was one of a survivor. Someone who wouldn't give in or give up. The Survivors beat all odds and not only saved themselves but in many instances saved many around them.

We walked through the 4x4 foot "Special Prisoner" cells - where hundreds of clergy men were held for various amounts of times. These cells were used for executions and solitary confinement. Afterwards we went into the museum portion which was the matineance building, where every prisoner sent through Dachau had to pass through. They told the history of concentrations camps and about how Dachau was the first concentration camp build and how 300,000 people stayed there. After the museum we walked around the memorials to the survivors and those who didn't make it to see liberation day. We walked around the barbed wire fence line, dotted with watch towers. We went through reconstructed barracks and saw the deplorable conditions so many lived through. Then we went to the crematorium and gas chambers. Walking through these concrete rooms, void of everything, and reading signs that spoke of where prisoners entered the building and then disrobed. Walking into the gas chamber was a very humbling and pensive moment. Then you crossed into a room that almost brought tears to your eyes. It was a room that had many times been piled from floor to ceiling with naked, dead, bodies - waiting to be cremated. The last room was the crematorioum, where four large oven stood with doors wide open, awaiting their next meal. The irony if it was that in the back was sink with a sign over it reminding workers to "wash your hands" an to remember that cleanliness is next to godliness.

The redeeming grace was that that particular crematorium was never in full operation. However, just across the way was the original crematorium, where more than 100,000 bodies were cremated. You can still see the ashes in the oven. It is a sombering experience.

Joe told Ceilidha that the ovens were used to burn people. Ceilidha's eyes got big as she looked inside and she said, "Oh, no." At one point while we were walking through the museum they had a video of the liberation and showed footage taken by US Soldiers as they first walked into the camp and subsequent days. Joe was watching it, and after a while Ceilidha said, "Daddy, we can't see this any more, lets go. Please?"

It was a remarkable experience and something that made me ever more proud of Joe. It was the members of the US Military that liberated this and dozens of other camps, Soldiers just like Joe who left home for a year or two to fight for something they believed in, and in doing so saved thousands of lives.

Anyway, I just thought I would share our weekend. Someday I will send photos. Until then, if you wanna see what we saw, go to:

Tawny Archibald Campbell, "Fair Winds to You."


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