Many of you have travelled the world so this may interest you and I am sure you will have your own tales to tell.
On one of our first trips to Europe we found ourselves, without any real intention, visiting many renowned sites associated with both the World Wars.
We picked up a car in Calais and on our first night we stayed in Dunkerque.
It was rather surreal walking on the very beach that history was made all those many years ago.
From there we eventually arrived in Munchen, or Munich as we say, this was the city where Hitler made many of his infamous speeches. The city today is of course much different, as it was almost destroyed by the Allies. You will see green grassy mounds which is where they pushed the rubble into heaps and grassed it over.
On a whim really, we decided to rock up to the BMW factory as this is the headquarters for BMW. We do not practically like BMWs, they are after all not Jaguars, but thought it would be of interest to visit the factory.
We were very promptly told that there was a six-week waiting list to get through the plant. However, we convinced them that we had come all the way from NZ to see the factory, we did not tell them that we were at that time driving Volvos and an Audi, and they didn’t fortunately ask.
After much chat on the phone in German, a very nice young lady came down and gave us our own tour of the plant.
And it was an eye opener for sure, almost all the cars (BMW series threes) were built by robots, this was all new to us, so we were very impressed by just how these machines all worked. I can’t remember the exact numbers now as this was 2007, but I think they produced out of that plant 18.000 cars finished per 24hour day, of course they have many other plants throughout Europe.
My main reason for visiting Munich was so that I could spend an afternoon at a place called Dachau. Many of you will recognise this infamous name as the first extermination concentration camp set up by Hitler and his nasty mates.
This took place on March 10th 1933 five weeks after Hitler was made the Chancellor.
This was the camp which covered over 200 acres and was used as the model for all the hundreds of camps to follow as Hitler tried to eliminate the Jewish people from Europe. Dachau was used as a training ground by the SS who were then sent out to the other camps.
June did not go as she found it too hard to face, I went only because I had as a young man read all about the Holocaust, and while I believed what I was reading, just a little piece of me felt maybe it could not be , as how could one people carry out such terrible actions on other human beings.
Well that thought was soon put to rest, as I walked through this camp, as I stood in the very showers set up for one purpose only to mass kill humans. As I stood alongside the large ovens built to dispose of the bodies, like some kind of a macabre assembly line.
This place was, and still is evil; one can almost feel it even today.
Would I recommend going to Dachau or any of the other camps still held as examples of what man can do when he gives in to evil, no I wouldn’t, and it stayed with me for days afterward. There are many memorials built on the site at Dachau, to those who died there, one was built by Israel. They brought everything in and refused to use anything from German soil.
Of course, many of those who lost people here also visit, but I cannot think that they would get much solace from doing so.
The German people insist on keeping these camps, as an example of the blackest days in their history and to ensure that it never happens again to their country.
On our drive through France, we came to Normandy, and looked out over Omaha
Beach where the American forces came ashore on D-Day and suffered horrendous casualties.
One cemetery we walked through had nine thousand white crosses, and on each cross was the name and rank, and where in the States the young man, and they were very young, came from. There were many other beaches where other countries came ashore and they had great losses also. We chose Omaha as this was where the famous artificial harbour was built called ‘Mulberry’, to assist in getting troops and equipment on to the beach. It was largely successful, but was damaged early on by a storm.
Normandy was for me the opposite of the evil that was Dachau. Normandy was where thousands of young men from all over the world came to take back Europe from Hitler’s evil mob, and as we now know, many gave their lives in doing so.
This was the beginning of the end, and good after all would prevail thanks to these very brave men.
Despite the above we had a wonderful drive through Europe, visiting many interesting places, including attending the GP at Monte Carlo.
We have been fortunate to visit Europe a number of times since and always enjoy the experience.
By Dennis Catchpole