Out of all of my friends that I have made while in Cork, I've discovered that I'm the only one who isn't Irish so it was nice to be able to explore my heritage while in Germany. We took a train from Zurich to Munich which lasted about 4 hours and was actually very comfortable and easy to sleep on. After checking into our hostel, we headed to the Hofbrauhaus Brewery and indulged in traditional German pretzels and steins of beer. Everyone who went to Oktoberfest spent their weekend in the Hofbrauhaus tent so we knew that was the brewery that we wanted to go to. We walked around the Marienplatz square and the Christkindle Christmas Market for a couple hours that night before heading back to the hostel to get some sleep.
We woke up early the next morning and caught a train to the nearby town of Dachau where the Dachau Concentration Camp was ran during World War II. The concentration camp was actually started for political prisoners who went against Hitler and then held Jews and others deemed unacceptable by Hitler when he started invading countries. There were over 40,000 known murders, but they expect that there were thousands more due to so many people dying on arrival before they were able to be registered into the camp. The entrance gate into the camp has "Work sets you free" inscribed, but our guide said that most prisoners knew that this was the Nazis mocking them and that their death was considered their "freedom". There is a strip of grass that runs along the edge of the camp separating the prisoners from the barbed wire. The prisoners were told that the grass was a neutral zone, but if they were to step one foot on the grass a guard would shoot them from the guard tower. Our guide told us that oftentimes a guard would throw their hat into the grass and tell a prisoner they would be shot if they didn't get it for them, but when they would step into the grass to get it a guard would shoot them anyways. Only one person ever escaped from the camp in all of the years that it was a working camp and he says that he just got lucky. The Dachau camp was the first concentration camp of its kind and was used as a model for all camps to follow. Even though more than 40,000 people died there, it wasn't considered a death camp because they didn't "intentionally" kill the prisoners or use the gas chamber. Our guide told us that the only known time the gas chamber was used was when the camp Doctor wanted to test it out to see how it works, but no one knows how many lives were lost in the chamber at the expense of his curiosity. We were able to see the original crematorium and then saw all of the newer furnaces that were added when the original furnace wasn't able to keep up with the amount of dead bodies that needed to be cremated. It is an incredibly sad and humbling tour, but I would definitely recommend it to anyone. It is unimaginable how something so horrible happened only 20 minutes outside of such an industrialized city like Munich.
The next morning we took the metro to another side of the city and toured the 1972 Summer Olympic Stadium. We were able to see the swimming pool and the stadium where all the track and field events took place. We also were able to learn about the terrorist hostage attack by the Palestinians kidnapping 11 Israeli athletes who all died in a rescue mission gone wrong. After the stadium, we toured the BMW museum. It was a really cool and innovative museum, but definitely would have been more interesting if I knew anything about cars. We ended the night walking around the Christmas market more and trying the traditional German bratwursts before heading back to our hostel to get some sleep before we left early the next morning for Prague.
The morning after Thanksgiving, Bridget and I left for our 9 day study week trip. First stop: Zurich, Switzerland. It is no secret that Switzerland is extremely expensive, and we were told by our friends that had traveled there previously this semester that it's very difficult to get a meal in a restaurant for under 40 francs, basically the equivalent to $40. A cheeseburger meal at McDonalds cost 12 franks and a smallest drink at Starbucks cost 7 francs. We were prepared going into the trip that we would need to buy groceries and make most of our meals because there was no way that we could afford to eat out. Our flight landed during the evening and we struggled with figuring out the public transportation, but we eventually made it to our hostel. It was an apartment style hostel with two bedrooms, and the man who owned it was super nice and said that he would make sure we had our own room during our time in Zurich.
The next morning we woke up early and headed to the grocery store down the street to get food. As soon as we stepped outside we definitely weren't in Ireland anymore. There was so much heavy snow falling and even though I hate the snow, it made the city that much more beautiful than it already was. We took a train up to Uetliburg, the mountain range that surrounds Zurich. We were planning on hiking and seeing some cool observation point areas, but the snow and fog was so heavy that you couldn't see 10 feet in front of you. We took the train back down and walked around Alstadt, the Old Town of the city. We climbed to the top of the Grossmunster Church and saw panoramic views of the city and Lake Zurich. We knew that the one meal we wanted to eat out for while in Switzerland was for cheese fondue. All of the study abroad students rave about it and say it's the food that you have to splurge on while in Switzerland. We found a restaurant for lunch and both ordered a plate of bread and fondue. The restaurants smell terrible because of all of the cheese, but it is SO GOOD. Definitely worth spending money on, however 25 francs for cheese and bread seems a little steep. I'm glad I did it though. It gets dark pretty early in Switzerland and a lot of shops close up around 6 so we found it difficult to find things to do during the night to do. We walked around a Christmas Market for a little bit and were attracted to a huge Christmas tree in the middle of a square. We waited around to see why there was a crowd and eventually a group of little kids climbed into the tree and sang Christmas carols in German and it was the cutest thing. Zurich is very close to Germany so most of people in the city speak Swiss German.
The next morning it was raining so we decided to tour the Swiss National Museum that was recommended to us by my roommate Jennifer. The museum is massive and contains 4 floors filled with history of the country. The coolest part was seeing the original Swiss flag that flew at the country's embassy in Berlin, Germany during World War II. The embassy came under fire and someone managed to save the flag, but not without it receiving tears from the bullets and burn marks. After the museum, we caught a train to a surrounding small town of Adliswil where we were able to catch a cable car to the top of the mountain. The views were phenomenal with the freshly fallen snow and we hiked around for a bit before we were able to catch the sunset at the top of the mountain. We headed back into the city and did some shopping for some famous Swiss chocolates before heading back to our apartment to finish packing for our train to Munich, Germany early the next morning.