My Travel Map

My Travel Map

16 April 2011

Bavaria, Germany

Berchtesgaden: a beautiful resort town in the Bavarian Alps.

It's incredibly pleasant here with incredible views to the high Alps all around the town. Missy and I had lunch at a little cafe on a terrace overlooking the town and mountains. The food was great (tomato and sour cream soup with basil and frankfurters and sour kraut), as was the beer of course (heffeweisen), and you just could not beat the atmosphere!

Bavaria is very picturesque. Bavarian architecture is neat and clean, and the geography is remarkable. It encompassing everything from green rolling hills and bountiful fields, lush forests, and sheer Alpine mountains.

Looking down over part of Berchtesgaden and the Alps in the background. There is a small river/creek running through town that had the clearest water running in it. Based on the bus ride up, this crystal clear water is typical of the region.

Good example of many of those geographical features I mentioned previously.

Despite all this beauty, Berchtesgaden has a truly dark and troubling recent past...

It was home to the southern administrative center of the Nazi empire, including Hitler's Eagle's Nest. Many of the Nazi high command had vacation homes here.

I'm not going to do a thorough history of Adolf Hitler or the top Nazis here. I recommend however that you read up on them. Briefly though, Hitler came to power by taking advantage of WWI-ravaged Germany. He used the general plight of the German people during the 20's and 30's to rise politically and seize totalitarian authority in 1933.

An old (original?) copy of Mein Kampf: Hitler's "My Struggle" written while he was in prison for extreme political activism in the 20's. This book became his "little red book" of sorts, defining his social philosophy. It was something his followers could use as a guide book, to unite them all under one fascist goal.

Hitler was most obviously not a trusting man. This map shows how the policed state of Nazi-Germany was split up into two zones: one overseen by Heinrich Himmler, the other by Hermann Goering. This essentially hedged Hitler's bets; neither man had full control over the Gestapo (secret police) in Germany. Only Hitler himself had that authority. Thus, it would be difficult for either man to organize a coup unless the other was also involved, which would be highly unlikely.

Two of history's most evil men. Himmler, leader of the SS and in charge of all their activity, including the death camps responsible for murdering millions of innocent men, women, and children. Goering, leader of the Nazi Luftwaffe (airforce) and Wehrmacht (army), responsible for much of the military activity during the blitzkrieg and Battle of Britain.

Himmler's SS knife and ring, featuring the SS skull and crossbones, totenkopf emblem. This symbol is a very old German symbol of the deathman's head. It symbolizes human death and the dead themselves. Fitting I think for the SS, which were responsible for bringing death to so very many during the Nazi-era.

It was very unsettling and interesting to see the examples of the various propaganda put out during the Nazi-era. Nazi propaganda like this was organized and overseen by Joseph Goebbels. The Dokumentationszentrum Obersalzburg (the name of the museum where all these pictures were taken) also includes a haunting description of the intricate Nazi "undesirable" classification scheme. This included different symbols to mark Jews, gypsies, Poles, political dissidents, homosexuals, and various other types of people that the Nazis considered sub-human. Goebbels and the Nazi high command all played key roles as architects of this system, which ultimately ended up in the death of around 10 million innocent people.

You can see my blog post on Oswiecim (Auschwitz), Poland here. Note the map in this picture: it shows all the railroad links to the camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau. Throughout the Nazi empire, Jews and other "undesirables", were being rounded up by the SS and sent off to the various concentration camps. I had interesting discussions with Missy and our friend Simon about the camps and how the average citizen at the time should have known or suspected something. These conversations led me to a new understanding of German citizens and non-undesirable occupied citizens during the war. Many might have known something awful was happening at the prison and labor camps; I mean, most people knew that great numbers of certain types of people were being rounded up and sent away. However, living in the Fascist police state that was Germany or one of the occupied countries, what option would you have of doing anything about it? If you tried to protest, you would be silenced, and you would put the lives of yourself and your ENTIRE family at risk. If your protests were at all effective, you AND YOUR FAMILY would be marked as "undesirables" yourselves and be hauled away by the SS to meet the same fate as all those others. For the option of trying to leave, where would you go? Being at war, the world was not an easy place to travel around then. It's not like a German family could just up and "escape" to Britain or North America to get away and protest the issue. I don't know about Switzerland and Sweden; perhaps those provided the relatively wealthy Germans with an opportunity of escape. However, I'm pretty sure any citizens of occupied nations would simply not be allowed to flee. This forced most people to simply live through it and try to ignore what was happening around them. They thought about themselves and their families first, which I think is a perfectly understandable reaction in a time like WWII. However, I must point out that there were citizens, both German and occupied alike, who put EVERYTHING at stake to try and help Jewish (and other Nazi-marked "undesirable") friends and neighbors and even absolute strangers. These people are truly heroic and should serve as role models for anyone who ever has to go through such horrific times.

A French police officer saluting a Nazi Luftwaffe officer under the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

More Goebbels propaganda: this poster showing a British bomber piloted by a bomb-wielding death and descending on a German town.

By the end of the war, Hitler, through Goebbels, called for all German citizens to take arms and defend their homeland from the surrounding Allied forces (see photo below for some of the Allied propaganda...I particularly like the arms emblazoned with the US, French, UK, and Soviet flags tearing apart the swastika).

Being focused somewhat on the Nazi high command (since most of them had vacation homes in Obersalzburg), it was interesting to see a wall devoted to brief biographies of each man. It was also interesting to see how many of the bastards took their own lives when they realized they had lost (Hitler himself included). I honestly wish they hadn't. I don't believe in an eye for an eye punishment, but, in my opinion, these men deserved the worst kinds of slow, horrible death. We can at least know that they died miserable. I guess thinking this puts me closer to their level, that I would want to do such things to other human beings. Considering this time in history gives you some disturbing and conflicting feelings.

The Dokumentationszentrum culminates in an actual bunker used by the Nazis. This is really just part of an intricate system of fortified tunnels and bunkers which ran underneath most of the Obersalzburg area. This is one of the main staircases down into the bunker...

at the bottom of the stairs are these three holes in the wall: machine gun emplacements.

View up the stairs from one of the emplacements. I can easily imagine SS MG-42 gunners stationed here, looking up waiting for Allied troops to break through at the top. The long staircase would have turned into a brutal and effective killing zone.

This was inscribed into one of the walls inside the bunker. I'm torn on which of the Allied groups would have inscribed it. It's not Russian since the D is using the Latin alphabet. It may be American (DB = ?-Brigade?), but I'm confused by the patriarchal crosses (2-barred cross) on either side of the date (5th May 1945). I know the Americans took Berchtesgaden and the Eagle's Nest, so maybe the guys that wrote this (AG, PS, DA initials?) were members of an Eastern Orthodox church or of Slovakian heritage. Regardless, it was amazing to see this and know it was probably carved in there by Allied troops at the end of the war in Europe.

The bunker included airlocks to ensure that a gas attack wouldn't poison and kill those inside. It was also self-powered by gas generators.

Back outside the bunker, the views from Obersalzburg are stunning...back into the beautiful wonderland that is Bavaria.

Wandering around and enjoying the scenery up here gave me a kind of odd and disturbing feeling, knowing that the Nazi's high command all enjoyed the same thing. It gives them an all-too-human side, which I really don't enjoy admitting. I mean, here they are, literal demons from human history, responsible for one of it's darkest periods, and they thoroughly enjoy some of the same things I do (hiking, climbing, beautiful mountain scenery, and fresh high-altitude air). Disturbing is the better way to describe how I feel about that I guess.

But wait...what is that on top of that mountain (very highest point on the mountain in the back center of this photo)? If you guessed: Hitler's Eagle's Nest, you're correct.

This mountain-top fortress was built for Hitler by Martin Bormann (another top Nazi) as a gift to Hitler for his 50th birthday. Amusingly, Hitler barely spent any time there as he suffered from vertigo!

Looking down on the museum building at Obersalzburg. On this site was originally a guesthouse for visitors to the Nazi stronghold in the mountains. There are pictures in the museum of the effectiveness of the Allied bombing campaign on Obersalzburg however. Most of the original buildings were destroyed.

Back in Munich, the capital city of Bavaria. This is the elaborate Rathaus, a.k.a city hall.

Munich's city center is beautiful and great to just wander around.

Proud showing of the German tri-color. I know the Germans are often reserved about national pride (entirely thanks to the Nazi era), but it is nice to see their flag displayed.

The Rathaus and cathedral.

They are big on painting on their buildings in Bavaria. Lowenbrau is one of the many famous Bavarian beers, of which they are truly proud.

Beer is a huge part of the culture here, and there are beer gardens and halls all around the city. They do the seating en mass, picnic table style, which is great for meeting new people!

The outdoor beer garden at the Viktualienmarkt. This is where we hung out for a good part of the day spent at Oktoberfest (covered in a previous post from 2007). Once again, I found myself relaxing at a table with friends and strangers (who we inevitably ended up having a great conversation with) over some delicious Bavarian lager!

The Rathaus' beer cellar.

One of the deli stalls along the Viktualienmarkt (the main city market). The market is just awesome to wander around, with stall after stall of fresh fruits and vegetables, mouth-watering cuts of meats, flowers, cheeses, and more! I love Bavaria. It is one of those places that I see myself returning to again and again to continue to explore and enjoy.

15 April 2011

Whistler and Squamish, British Columbia

So I mentioned in the Seattle post that we were in the Pacific Northwest (US) on our way up to a wedding in Whistler, B.C. Well, here it is. I had always been really, really anxious to get to B.C. I'd also been genuinely ashamed that I'd seen so much of the world, but hadn't been to Western Canada, my home country that anyone who knows me understands I am VERY proud of! First take: I loved it, and I cannot wait to go back!

So the wedding was based around a week-long ski trip to the world renowned Whistler-Blackcomb mountains. After a brief, but exciting afternoon/evening tearing up the bars in downtown Vancouver, we took the beautiful Sea-to-Sky highway connecting Vancouver to Whistler and beyond. I don't know where to start on this one. It's like sensory overload up there for me. The geography is a combination of so much of what I love: epic mountains (and lots of them), lush green valleys, the sea and islands. It's a genuinely amazing place. So the above picture shows a fine example of the cliffs that make the skiing/riding so epic here. These suckers will pop out of seemingly nowhere on the mountain...dangerously so when skiing/riding in the trees! So long as you're confident in your abilities, it really adds to the fun, especially when there was as much fresh powder as we got that week!

Speaking of fresh powder.... it snowed the first 5 days/nights we were there. The base at mid-mountain was over 15 feet of snow. In one word: AWESOME. Most of these pictures were taken when it all cleared up finally for the last few days we were there.

Can you say winter wonderland? If you haven't already figured it out, this is going to be a picture-heavy post.

So for those fans of the winter Olympics, Whistler-Blackcomb was an essential part of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic games.

First stop in Vancouver: Curling (also an Olympic sport, and a hell of a lot of fun!).

I also swung by the sliding center, used for bobsleigh, luge, and skeleton. The bottom 1/4 or so of the track is open to the public to try out skeleton of all things, though it is pretty solidly booked in advance.

It's hard to believe that those crazy athletes involved in the "sliding" sports barrel down this narrow ice tube at 100 mph. Kind of cool to see in person, and the visitors center is chock-full of great things, including a virtual bobsleigh ride! Seriously, it was pretty neat though...they had an official Olympic torch from the games that you can hold, real bobsleighs and luges, and the podium used for the ceremonies!

Part of our view from the hot tub of "the Royal Suite" (the decked out condo we crammed into for the week). It was pretty wicked if I must say so myself. We had over 180 degrees of views looking at both Whistler and Blackcomb mountains as well as further up in to the steep-sided valley that the resort lies in. In this picture, you can also see the Peak-to-Peak gondola, which is one of the longest/highest in the world and connects the two mountains. Needless to say, hanging out in the hot tub up there was pretty amazing!

As mentioned previously, I LOVE the geography of this area. Whistler village sits down in this valley (one of many to cut up into the mountains right from the coast), and on either side are these very legitimate and extreme mountains. It was amazing. Even more cool was that you could drive down the valley towards Squamish, very clearly pass through the snow line, and end up in lush, verdant green coastal forest.

At the Olympic Nordic Center, you can rent snow shoes (as we did) or cross country skis and just wander. There are plenty of great trails and terrain to explore. I'd recommend it as a great way to spend part of a day, especially if you may be needing a rest from the slopes.

Looking up at Blackcomb mountain from the Nordic Center. Whistler-Blackcomb was very easily the best snowboarding I have ever done. Despite being adjacent to each other, they were both very different mountains to ride. Whistler (up at the top) was big and open, with incredible bowls to just let loose in. Blackcomb was pocked with these epic rock formations and covered in incredible terrain. The rocks made you feel small, very small, almost like you're on some incredible, giant alien snow-world. The terrain was just awesome and very varied; you'd go from glades, to chutes, to small bowls, to woods. Best riding EVER.

Check out all the little people on the runs...these mountains are huge. The best part is these are only the front-sides. The backs of both mountains are also open. Behind Whistler is more amazing terrain (including plenty of couloirs and chutes to risk), and the main feature behind Blackcomb (aside to more crazy rocks and a couple triple, yes TRIPLE, black-diamond runs) is the larger-than-life (and human comprehension) Blackcomb glacier.

Did I mention that they got a lot of snow that week?

And now some pictures from the drive up the valley. I don't think I need to say much...if you like mountains like I do, then they should speak for themselves.

And like I said, down towards Squamish (where the valleys meet the inlet from the sea), you pass through the snowline and find this incredible green woodland. Along the highway, there are lots and lots of trailheads to choose from with hikes ranging from simple (3-5 km) loops through the woods (like we did) to 20km backcountry trips up into the mountains.

Best bumper sticker ever? It's definitely up there... (we saw this in the parking lot at the trailhead)

I've never seen a landscape so green. Moss was seemingly growing on everything it could cling too. The woods were dark from the taller growth, but everything seemed to just glow green. It was really neat. I look forward to doing some summer backpacking trips up in this area at some point. It seems like a great place to camp (with appropriate wet-weather gear of course).

Everything is so green because of the abundance of water. This is of course thanks to the close proximity to the ocean and the coastal mountain range, which force the water-thick air to condense and let loose on the mountains.

A nice view of the sound at Squamish. I think I've said this before, but glaciers are great. These deep valleys were gouged out by glaciers receding after the last ice age.

The famous Squamish Chief. This is one of the rock climbing Meccas of the world.

I can't wait to get back to B.C. The place is a nature-lover's wonderland. Next trip will be in the summer, when I can take advantage of the terrain opened up for backpacking and mountain biking! Looking forward to it for sure.