For Thursday, August 12, 1999 Drummer Column, Gibbs, 743 words
Part III of European Vacation Series; visit Part I or Part II or Part IV
Visit the European Web Site for pictures
Darkness and light
Dachau was the first Nazi concentration camp. It served as a training ground for young guards being transferred to other camps. We visited it on our European tour after a boat ride up the Rhine and before a tour of Mad Ludwig's castle.
We ausganged from our bus in the parking lot outside the camp. Johnny Voss, our driver, moved our bus over next to the dozens of others. Of all the Dachau visitors, few were adults. Most were groups of children on field trips. The grounds swarmed with kids, some curious, some bewildered, some detached. Teachers stood lecturing, trying courageously to enlighten their young charges to the unthinkable horrors of our past in hopes of preventing it from rekindling. Good luck to them.
Most of the original camp was long gone. The disease-laden barracks were destroyed shortly after the war. Only the original barbed wire, a guard house, the small gas chamber and two ovens remain. A museum is the centerpiece now, filled with enlargements of documents -- prisoner lists, death counts, orders for discriminating against certain prisoners when performing fatal medical experiments, and so on.
It didn't matter that Dachau was gone. For me, a teacher and scholar of the Holocaust, it could have been an empty pasture full of wildflowers with a stick sign in the middle that said, "Former Site of Dachau." It was just standing there on that wretched ground, feeling the past around me, imagining the poltergeists. I knew I was touring hell.
The Mad Bavarian King Ludwig built the medieval-style, ornate, white-marbled, multi-towered fairly-tale castle Neuschwanstein a hundred years ago. I'm sure you've seen one of the billions of reproductions. Disney was inspired by it when building Cinderella's castle.
Sad irony: Ludwig spent much of his country's money building this castle, which angered his over-taxed subjects. Only 200 days after its completion the effeminate King Ludwig was declared mentally de-wigged and dethroned. Two days later he mysteriously drowned in a few feet of water. The irony? Today Neuschwanstein is the most popular castle in Germany, bringing in thousands of tourists and millions of dollars to Bavaria each year.
We paid our share, had a fascinating tour of the only castle with central heating, and drove onward to Italia to visit Venezia, Firenze, Roma, Civita, Vernazza.
was my favorite country. I grew up as Anthony in an Italian-run town eating
lots of tomatoes and meatballs. I knew a fair string of cusswords before I hit middle
school. I hit the streets of Italy walking.
On the second day of our trip, back in Holland, Ron West had christened our journey "The Amazing Graze." Our goal was to eat our way across Europe. In Italy that mission began for me in earnest. I put on 14 pounds during the trip. Most of it was spaghetti pomodoro.
Venice was our first stop. It immediately went on my "must return" list. Imagine a big city without a single car or bicycle. Old town Venice is 1,500 years old, built on a series of 100 islands connected by 400 bridges made of steps. Even baby carriages have a problem. Pedestrians rule the land, boats rule the canals, and no one gets run over.
Venice also consists of 2,000 cobblestone alleys lined with shops and dotted with huge plazas. Tourists can shop 'til they drop, eat 'til they burst, and always find their way home because it's impossible to become lost in Venice.
One doesn't even need to know the street names. The design is ingenious. In the center of town is the Piazza of San Marco. All over Venice are little yellow signs that point the way to San Marco. Tourists walk where they like, then follow the signs back.
Our specific exploits are nondescript. We shopped, ate, drank, slept, and repeated the cycle. Our hotel was next to a fish market, so we got an early start each morning, awakened by the sounds of merchants stocking shelves. I did learn that if I ordered a glass of wine in English it cost a dollar. If I ordered it in Italian it cost fifty cents.
We also loved Venice because it has virtually no crime. Roberto, our hotel clerk, told us, "Venice is safe. The pickpockets leave at 5 p.m. on the last shuttle. You can walk all night. If you do have trouble, yell and fifty windows will open."
Next week: Dante's bathroom and three walks around Rome.