I wanted to start my reacquaintance with Munich in Dachau, as it was the place which left the most lasting impression when I lived in the city 25 years ago. Having worked in various war zones, including Rwanda immediately after the genocide, I was curious to visit Dachau again to see how the impression would be this time around. I have been to various genocide memorials in the intervening years - Tsitsernakaberd in Armenia, Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and Nyamata church in Rwanda - but one of the strongest memories of all these places was a simple sentence in German on the final display in Dachau:
Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.
Dachau the second time round was a very different experience, and I decided to walk to the site, rather than take the bus. It did feel a little strange asking locals the way to the local concentration camp, and I wondered what it must be like coming from a town which is internationally famous for its former evil establishment. There were helpful signs at the station, and as everyone else headed straight into town, I took a right towards the camp.
It was quite a walk (about 40 minutes) through industrial parks past a selection of international restaurants until finally, the low-level camp came into view on the side of the road.
And had the barbed wire and watch towers not still been in existence, one could be forgiven for thinking its purpose had been much more benign.
After the brutal conditions of 70 years ago, it was somewhat ironic to find the modern camp had excellent facilities, including a disabled toilet next to one of the bedrooms which had had hundreds of inmates crammed into it.
While many of the blocks are no longer there, there is more than enough on display to give visitors an impression of the extremely cramped conditions.
According to the excellent 22-minute documentary, Dachau was the first ever concentration camp opened by the Nazis in 1933, and it became a prototype for others. More than 200,000 prisoners passed though here, with more than 30,000 perishing. This was something which struck me this time round - the meticulous recording of statistics of the inmates by the SS. Thanks to this, the comprehensive exhibition had extremely detailed information on the numbers and ethnic groups who suffered here.
The centrepiece monument in the camp is particularly striking, and has become a symbol of Dachau.
Another thing that caught my eye this time round was this aerial photograph of the camp. The camp itself was much bigger than the small section allocated to the Nazi prisoners, and it included some rather unusual items.
Like number 78, a wild game park, whose location was all the more grotesque, next to the crematorium.
There was plenty of poignant art on display.
And, as I finished my tour, I wondered what it must feel like to live right next to the camp. The camp is away from the town, and today there are a few houses which neighbour it on one side, with a watchtower as the neighbour.
And a reminder, if a reminder was needed, that the town will always be famous in the eyes of the world for one thing.
Rather than shy away from its evil past, the Dachau authorities have embraced it (see the Dachau monument on the side of the local bus for example), and what is an extremely difficult and painful topic has been handled intelligently and informatively, resulting in an outstanding and dignified memory of the lessons of the past for future generations.
I decided to take the bus back and was given the opportunity a couple of times to change buses and visit the old town of Dachau, which I suspect few tourists do after the museum, as the bus goes straight to the S-Bahn.
It is a pity, as the old town, perched on a hill, is particularly beautiful, compact and multi-coloured with that typical German toytown feeling, a far cry from the one attraction for which Dachau will be eternally renowned.