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July 2005

Lest We Forget

There’s more to Dachau than grim memories

Dachau: the name alone shoots a chill up the spine. With a past too horrible to comprehend and some of the worst atrocities on record, the picturesque town just north of Munich is fighting an uphill battle, as it aspires to repaint its image on the world stage.

The job of promoting the town’s idyllic present is not an enviable one in view of its unspeakable past. The head of Dachau’s tourist bureau, Monika Webersberger, welcomes the task but understands the challenges. “To formulate and represent such conflicting themes factually and appropriately is not always easy,” she says. “You cannot speak about the concentration camp and a folk festival in the same sentence—although both are part of Dachau.” Initiated four years ago, Webersberger’s four-person department is responsible for developing the town’s tourist industry and has made remarkable strides.

“We started out with nothing, just an outdated brochure. Now we have a Website in four languages and professional material,” continues Webersberger. With the aim of attracting visitors, the town is renovating its museums, has manicured the Old Town and regularly stages concerts and exhibitions of local and visiting artists. In the last year the number of guests staying overnight in Dachau has increased by nearly 30 percent. This raises awareness for the Concentration Camp Memorial Site and provides the opportunity for Dachau to showcase its immaculately preserved medieval town center, sweeping surrounding countryside and rich 1,200-year history.

The Old Town

A 15-minute walk from the S-Bahn station will take you past Dachau’s modern shopping district, which serves a population of 40,000 with banks, grocery stores, cafés, travel agents and clothing boutiques. To reach the Old Town from the shopping district, head north (right) up Münchener Strasse. You will cross the Amper River and its canals, bordered with dense, leafy trees that partly obscure wooden footbridges and tiny riverside cottages. A cobblestone street curves up to the Old Town center perched atop the Altstadtberg.

Narrow, sloping lanes lined with bright two-story homes give Dachau’s Old Town a unique, small-village feeling. Sun-bathed sidewalk cafés, flowers draping from window boxes and incidental plazas adorned with fountains and outdoor restaurant seating all combine to create an enchanting town center.

Towering above it all is the Parish Church of St. Jacob, which was constructed in 1625. The Late Renaissance church, with its 44-meter steeple, is the centerpiece of the town and a defining characteristic of the region’s skyline.

Adjacent to the church is the Tourist Center, which provides city maps, information about the town and tips about hotels and restaurants. Also available for € 2.50 is a self-paced audio tour that is a useful way of familiarizing yourself with the Old Town’s most important historical sites.

The Castle

Above the Old Town is Dachau Palace, which was constructed by the Wittelsbach family between 1546 and 1573. The original structure was a sprawling four-wing palace whose elaborate gardens and breathtaking views made it a favorite country residence of generations of Wittelsbach rulers. By the early 19th century, however, the structure had fallen into disrepair. With no funds to renovate it, Bavarian King Max Joseph (1756–1825) had three severely damaged wings of the palace demolished.

Today only the southwest wing remains standing. Renovated in 1717 in the Baroque style, the structure houses a ballroom and an exquisitely carved wooden Renaissance ceiling. Dachau Palace also serves as a concert venue and an exhibition space for the Dachau Artists’ Association. Within the palace is an upmarket restaurant that serves Bavarian cuisine in an elegant and airy dining room. Of note is the observation point in the palace gardens. On a clear day one can see beyond Munich, all the way to the Alps.

Not to be missed is the adjacent Zieglerkeller Bräustüberl, one of Bavaria’s most beautiful and authentic beer gardens. Off the beaten tourist path, this piece of Bavarian heaven has maintained the original spirit of early beer garden tradition: to serve local people high-quality beer and hearty food at reasonable prices. Once the favorite haunt of Bavarian literary great Ludwig Thoma, who spent his early years writing in Dachau (1894–97), the beer garden offers a special “Ludwig Thoma Bier,” which is a flavorful Märzen served in an unusual glass mug.

The Artist Colony

Next to the Tourist Center is the Dachauer Gemäldegalerie (Dachau Painting Gallery), located on the second floor of the Sparkasse building. The gallery alone is worth the trip to Dachau. The collection exhibits paintings produced during a 25-year period of the late 19th and early 20th centuries (ca. 1880–1914), during which time Dachau was a thriving artist colony. Attracted by the gently rolling hills nearby and the dramatic changing light, artists from all over Europe were drawn to the Bavarian town. Artists at Dachau are credited with developing the Freilichtmalerei (plein air painting) style and Münchener Landschaftsmalerei (Munich landscape painting) to create a distinctive late Impressionist style. At its peak, the town’s colony was home to approximately 1,900 artists, who came to work, exchange ideas and draw inspiration from the local surroundings. Remembered as one of the most important German art colonies, Dachau is still recognized for its Freilichtmalerei, which marked a milestone in the development of modern art.

The paintings on display at the Dachauer Gemäldegalerie represent the range of work produced at the colony and also show a progression of style. By and large, the work consists of landscapes, genre scenes and portraits, which provide an alluring glimpse into everyday life in turn-of-the-century Dachau. Of note are works by Ludwig Dill, Adolf Hölzel and Arthur Langhammer.

With much of its recent history influenced by art and artists, Dachau not surprisingly encourages further artistic development with its Neue Galerie Dachau (Contemporary Art Gallery), which exhibits the work of rising contemporary artists and is also located in the Old Town.

Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site (KZ Gedenkstätte)

There are 12 years in Dachau’s 1,200-year history for which the town will always be known—the years between 1933 and 1945. This was a time of horror about which many local residents and victims still cannot speak. For this reason, a visit to the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site is important. A visit there helps one to gain insight into this period in history, as well as enabling one to pay respect to the victims of the war.

The Concentration Camp Memorial is at best disturbing and some travel guides advise that children under 12 should not visit it. It is also highly recommended to separate your Dachau experiences into two excursions, ideally one day for the memorial and at least one day for the town. Both are more than worthy, yet the two experiences are so divergent, they may be difficult to combine.

For those who visited the Concentration Camp Memorial prior to May 2003, you may want to consider a second trip in order to view a relatively new exhibition on the camp’s history. Additionally, displays explore the historical and cultural context that led to the atrocities committed at concentration camps throughout Europe. Though tastefully and respectfully presented, the content of the exhibition is graphic. Audio and guided tours of the grounds are available in several languages and put the camp’s layout and remaining structures into context. Visitors should reckon on spending at least four to five hours touring the camp grounds and the museum exhibition.

Dachau Celebrates its 1,200th Birthday

Dachau may not look a day over 500, but the town is 1,200 years old this year, which makes it officially more than 350 years older than Munich. Founded in 805, Dachau’s history is marked by war, disease and an impressive perseverance. Its desirable location along the trade route between Munich and Augsburg made the town an important regional market town during the Middle Ages, a tradition that continues today.

This summer’s celebratory highlights include the “Grosser Festzug 1200 Jahre Dachau,” which will take place on July 10. The combination parade-pageant event involves a procession through the town, during which historical scenes will be reenacted by costumed performers. After the procession, pageants and musical performances will be staged around the Old Town. Visitors can stroll through a medieval market and sample ancient food and drink. Other events include a performance of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana in the palace gardens on Friday, July 8, and the Dachauer Volksfest, which runs August 13–22. The folk festival is an Oktoberfest-like fair with five beer tents, music and locals decked out in colorful Trachten.

Dachau is the product of 1,200 years. The town has made local, national and world history. Today, resting upon a long and weighty past, Dachau is a community striving to enjoy its present and create a better future. Whether your visit is a day of reflection at the memorial, a glimpse of this summer’s festivities or simply an afternoon in Bavaria’s best beer garden, Dachau should not be forgotten.

Dachau Tourist Information Center:
Konrad-Adenauer-Strasse 1, 85221 Dachau
Tel. (08131) 752 87,

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