German coffee shops are represented by a picture of Frankenstein for some reason
Munich is a city like many where the ugly and modern seems to have been dumped on top of the historic. Although there’s enough of the old that it still maintains a certain charm, the area around the Hauptbahnhof seems to have last been regenerated some time before the wall came down, and could use a facelift.
I arrive tired and inarticulate, whereupon I immediately take a disliking to the place. I duck into a branch of the local chain of coffee shops that have a picture of Frankenstein as their corporate logo. I am not sure why. My iPhone is not working. I guess this is what you’d call a 21st century problem. At least my hotel is near the station. Everything is grey and not so wünderbar after the sunny hills of Como. From here, one can head out to a number of places – the Bechtesgarten, Dachau, or even – if you have a couple of hours to get there – the historic schloss on which Walt Disney based his famous movie castle logo. Closer to home are unique, beautiful Bavarian towns like Landsberg am Lech and Ingolstadt. I’m not so sure I can bear Dachau, and I don’t have another couple of hours to spend on a train, so it’s going to have to be the latter or those last two. There’s no time to weigh up the options, and I have no map, because of course my iPhone’s not working. So I choose Ingolstadt – which turns out to be the wrong option.
Bavaria was Hitler’s heartland in the very early days when the Weimar republic was collapsing in turmoil and the threat of communists gaining control and turning out the old elite in Germany was a very real fear for some people. The pretext of avoiding a communist takeover gave the far right their route to power.
In those days the head of the SS was Ernst Raum, who would later be bumped off by Hitler after pressure to purge the party of morally degerate homosexuals. The charges against Raum may have been trumped-up, but it seems likely there was some truth in them. After all, there is something rather homo-erotic about a man in lederhosen.
Nazi membership spread out from the bierhalls and the farms to power a popular movement with the tacit support of the church and the old aristocracy, who believed that Hitler would leave them alone - sort of like Daily Mail readers.
Popular, that is, with everyone who was not in some way ‘different’.
The mad old Kaiser with his withered arm had long since gone into exile, and the nationalist feeling driven by resentment at the outcome of the First World War meant that the power vacuum was filled by what floated to the surface: Adolf Hitler, a man whose origins are shrouded in mystery, around whom many myths and legends would grow up: He was a war hero. He never saw action and spent the entire war miles from the front line. He was the nothing son of a chamber maid. He was the bastard offspring of a Rothschild. He was a useless painter. He was in the Bavarian Illluminati. He only had one testicle.
One thing to remember is that Hitler wasn’t even German. He came from Austria, a place name which in its germanic form means east reich, and which he saw as a natural part of a greater Germany. But today’s Germans want to belong to a greater Europe. Today you are more likely to see graffiti advocating lesbianism or solidarity with the Greek people than the old, discredited National Socialism of the past here – and there is a synagogue in the heart of Munich to prove it.
* * * * *Ingolstadt is the worst place yet. There is literally nothing open near the station but a dirty looking Sikh pizza place and a disappointing trattoria. Neither is there anything historische about any of it – just a bunch of ugly new buildings and a massive road that leads to the old town. Ingolstad North Station is slightly closer to this than the main station, but of course nobody told me this, and I have no map. So I wonder round for a couple of hours, utterly lost. Stumbling towards an old man, I ask him in my broken Deutsch: ‘Adam Weishaput? Der Bavarian Illuminati?’ He just looks at me like I am an utter crazy person and walks on. This place is also the headquarters of Audi, and they have a highly rated museum, but of course you will need a car to get to that. Besides which, you won’t need to see another car after arriving at the station and looking out upon all the thousands of new vehicles lined up waiting to be shipped out on loaders by the station. Adam Weisshaupt is said to have founded the order of the illuminati here in 1774, and this was also the reason I want to visit. Many legends in popular fiction have grown up around it since. The order was suppressed, and went underground (so the story goes), but the idea survived - and hence the associations with Hitler. Walking around here, it certainly feels as though the place is shrouded beneath a fug of Bad Karma, as though somebody must have raped a goat or two at some point. But who knows? Still, you can hardly blame some of those eighteenth century guys for going insane and wanting to go and rule the world – there’s nothing else to do here. Back in München I find an authentic Augustiner brauhaus and try to drink myself into oblivion. Dinner is some penne with local mushrooms, which is delicious – Germans like to throw ham on everything, but I have the vegetarian option. Then I go spend the rest of the night trying to fix my iPhone. It would seem that the whole trip, which was always conceived with the idea of getting to the ancient remains in Alatri at the back of my mind, has now become something of a failure and a bit of a let down. And, what with my friend over in Hamburg letting me down too, now that I’m in the home straight getting through Germany is just one thing in a long list of obstacles I have to negotiate on my way home. Although Munich is a beautiful city, I look forward to arriving in Holland again and actually begin to question whether I really wanted to come here in the first place. So, the Illuminati was a bust, but then you can’t expect the truth about an esoteric and historically dubious secret society to be just left out in the street for anybody to find. One day maybe I’ll go back to Ingolstadt - and when I do, they had better be waiting for me.
* * * * *
Later on when I’m leaving town, back on the train again, I notice that by the side of the tracks on the way out of the city somebody has grafitti’d the words ‘ficken ist arbeit’. I suppose we all have to do things we don’t want to fickin' do sometimes.
In the bierhall
Beautiful German woman in traditional dress (?)
Final part tomorrow!