At the foothills of the alps and close to Germany’s border with Austria, Munich is a beautiful city that offers the best of both worlds. Steeped in history and with modern draws that include a thriving arts scene, superb dining, and proud sporting heritage, there are many reasons to visit Bavaria’s capital.
For many visitors, one such reason is to learn about the troubled and more violent periods of Munich’s past. As the founding city and “Hauptstadt der Bewegung” or “Capital of the Movement” of the Nazi Party, Munich’s role in the rise of fascism and the atrocities that followed is irrefutable.
This shameful history is something that the Bavarian capital has long since confronted. The city’s institutions take a clear stance that to educate is the best means of preventing such things from ever happening here again. Germans refer to this as “Vergangenheitsbewältigung”. It means “coming to terms with the past”, and understanding what took place here is an essential lesson for all of us.
One way you can confront this history when you’re staying in Munich is to visit the Dachau Concentration Camp. Located to the city’s northern outskirts, this was one of the many sites across Europe where the Nazis detained and killed thousands. What remains of the camp today serves as a memorial site.
How to get to the Dachau Concentration Camp
German cities are known for their efficient transport and Munich is no exception. You have several ways of getting around the city, including using the U-Bahn (an underground metro), the S-Bahn (a suburban railway system), a tram network and plenty of buses.
When exploring central areas of the city such as the old town, going on foot is always a great way to get around, as you never know what you might stumble across. But to visit the Dachau camp, you’ll need to use public transport, as the site is over 15 kilometres from Munich’s central areas.
Which station is nearest to Dachau Concentration Camp?
The S-Bahn offers a quick and easy way to reach the town. Simply catch an S2 line train to Dachau Bahnhof from stations in Munich’s centre such as Hackerbrücke, Karlsplatz and Isartor. From here, the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site is around a 30-minute walk that will be clearly signposted from the station, or you can hop on the 726 bus outside the station if you prefer. It’ll drop you right at the camp’s gates.
Which public transport ticket is best?
If this is the only journey you plan to make when you’re staying in Munich, you’ll find buying a return or day ticket is the most economical option. You can pick up your ticket from a machine at any S-Bahn station. The great news is that it’ll also allow you to use other transport networks throughout the city during the specified period, including the U-Bahn or trams.
However, if you’re in Munich for several days and have lots to do, you may find you’re best investing in a Munich CityTourCard. Costing €13.90 for one day up to a maximum of €41.90 for six, this grants unlimited access to the city’s public transport, allowing you to hop between attractions and landmarks with next to no fuss.
What’s more, at 80 of Munich’s paid attractions, the card will get you a discount upon entry or receipt of your bill!
Exploring the Dachau Concentration Camp
At its peak, the Dachau complex is estimated to have held 30,000 inmates. These mostly consisted of political prisoners as well as Jews, homosexuals, Poles, Romani, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Catholic priests.
The sprawling site contained numerous station buildings and long rows of squalid barracks to house prisoners. Several of these structures lie in a fully or partially intact state today. These include:
- The foundations of the SS guardhouse – this is where arriving prisoners were first brought into the camp. After dropping off at Dachau’s town station, inmates would be made to march to the camp under the watch of SS guards and enter the gates here.
- SS Camp – the Dachau guards’ quarters, including the camp bakery, commandant’s headquarters, and training grounds.
- Jourhaus – built under the forced labour of prisoners in 1936, officers were stationed here for daily administrative purposes. Fully intact today, the building features a gate that prisoners would be made to pass through. It displays the famous inscription “Arbeit macht frei” (“Work sets you free”).
- Maintenance Building – this former workshop and function area is where you’ll find the camp’s main exhibitions today.
- Shunt Room – with the maintenance building, this is where arriving prisoners were stripped of their clothes and possessions, before being washed and shaved.
- Camp Prison – one of the sites where the harshest punishments were carried out, which today features a special exhibition.
- Barracks – while the camp’s 34 barracks were demolished in the 60s, there are two replica structures in-situ, giving visitors some idea of the dire living standards within them.
- Memorials – there are several memorials around the site today, each dedicated to various individuals or groups persecuted and killed at the camp. These include the International Monument, Jewish Memorial, Russian Orthodox Chapel, Protestant Church of Reconciliation and Mortal Agony of Christ Chapel.
Dachau Concentration Camp History & Facts
Dachau was the first concentration camp of the Nazi regime and served as a blueprint for subsequent camps right across Europe. In use for almost the entire length of the Nazi Party’s rule over Germany, some 12 years, it was the longest operating of any such facilities.
Adolf Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany in January 1933. Within just a couple of months, plans had been drawn up by SS Leader Heinrich Himmler for the regime’s first concentration camp. It’s no coincidence that the site at Dachau had been chosen. Nearby Munich was where the Nazi Party had been formed, where Hitler had first come to power and where the party now based its headquarters.
Initially, the camp’s barracks were designed to hold 5,000 people, and the regime gradually filled Dachau between 1933 and 1938 with German political prisoners. Most of them had been deemed communists or socialists.
When an early death occurred in the camp in 1933, officials declared it to be suicide. But an autopsy gave strangulation as a likely cause. This led public prosecutors in Munich to pursue murder charges against the camp’s leaders. Hitler immediately overruled this decision and declared concentration camps not subject to German law, setting the scene for the lawlessness and inhumanity that would define these complexes.
The outbreak of war
Come November 1938, the Nazi’s repression and persecution of German Jews had continued to escalate and broke out into violence on 9th November 1938. Known as “Kristallnacht” or “Night of Broken Glass”, it saw synagogues across the country burned, and Jewish homes, businesses, and schools raided. More than 30,000 Jews were rounded up and dispatched to camps that night, with around 11,000 of them arriving at a newly expanded Dachau.
Following the breakout of the Second World War, the camp’s population would swell well beyond its original capacity. It was used to detain any group or individual declared to be an enemy of the Nazi Party. This included artists, intellectuals, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the mentally and physically handicapped among many others.
While this camp was not an extermination camp, many of its inmates would be moved directly to these facilities from Dachau. Disease and malnutrition were also rife within the camp, contributing to the estimated 41,500 deaths that would take place over its 12 years in operation.
In April 1945 and with Allied forces approaching, SS Soldiers evacuated and ordered 7,000 remaining prisoners to march south for six days to Tegernsee, with many perishing along the way. Unites States forces finally entered the camp on 29th April 1945 and were met by the sight of thousands of malnourished prisoners. Many of these detainees survived to share their story of what happened at Dachau, but we may never know the real number of lives lost.
Restaurants near Dachau Concentration Camp
The camp lies to the eastern edge of the medieval town of Dachau, Germany. With its quaint cobbled streets and sleepy church spires, it can feel a world away from the hustle and bustle of central Munich. While the area isn’t hugely touristy, there’s still a great selection of restaurants you can call in at before you catch the S-Bahn back into the city.
As travelling to and from Dachau can take some time, it’s good to know what your options are if you get peckish while you’re in the area. Here are some of our favourite picks locally:
- Kulturschranne Dachau – a stylish café and outdoor terrace serving fresh lunch dishes, soups, platters, and a whole host of sweet treats
- Effe & Gold – a small and friendly grill spot offering the best steaks and burgers in town
- Bakalikon griechische Taverne – an authentic Greek eatery complete with a deli counter for snacks you can enjoy on the move
- Sen - Sushi & Asiatische Küche – a calming and minimal Japanese restaurant where all the focus is on spectacular sushi platters and tantalizing rice bowls
- Kochwirt – proper, rustic Bavarian beers and bites set within a whimsical old mansion
- RIND&REBE – a stylish meat dish restaurant with a wine list to match
Opening Times and Prices
As a memorial site and place of historical importance, Dachau Concentration Camp is open every day of the year excluding 24th December. Entry is always free if you’re visiting Dachau and you won’t need to arrange your trip in advance, you can simply show up. The site can be accessed at any time between 9:00 and 17:00, after which all guests will be asked to leave, so make sure you arrive with enough time to work your way around the camp before it closes.
There are plenty of exhibits, displays and screens around the camp to help you understand what it is you’re seeing and what took place here. Still, if you’d prefer, you can request a guided Dachau tour. These are suitable only for visitors over the age of 13 and need to be booked in slots, costing €3.50 per person.
Guided tour times for 2020 are:
Monday – Friday:
Saturday and Sunday:
10:30, 12:00, 13:00
Though it represents a dark and painful part of Munich’s history, visiting Dachau Concentration Camp is a moving and poignant experience for any and all visitors. And through education helps to ensure we never repeat these horrors of the past.
Getting to Munich by train
It's easy to take the train to Munich from the main destinations across Europe. Travel direct from Prague to Munich in just 4h 56m on a high-speed Deutsche Bahn service, or why not whizz from Berlin to Munich on another direct DB train in about 4h 49m. Frankfurt to Munich is also another well-connected route, taking just 3h 12m.
Ready for your next train journey to Munich? Check out our guide to trains in Germany to learn all about the German trains, timetables and popular routes.