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How Dachau and Covid-19 are connected


Four weeks ago, if you had told me that I would be writing this article, I would not have believed you.The Covid-19 crisis is something the like of which I have never experienced in my 57 years on this planet.


The deserted Viktualianmarkt beer garden
The deserted area of the Viktualienmarkt beer garden

Bookings for this year were at an all time high and I was already considering blocking certain days off because things were looking full. Within the space of a few days, things fell off a cliff.


First, a few sporadic cancellations and then an avalanche as the full impact of what was occurring hit home. I delivered my last Dachau tour on the 13th of March, so we are now over 4 weeks into a lock-down and only now are there flickers of light at the end of this very long tunnel. Schools are due to go back after the Easter holidays on the 19th April but that is being reviewed this week, the general feeling is that going back to school will be held back another few weeks. The same timeline is in place for the Memorial at Dachau, and I feel the site will only reopen in line with the schools. Myself, like all tour operators in Munich are effectively in hibernation but it appears it could be a long time before we can emerge and start giving tours again. First of all, country by country, things have to get back to normal internally in each individual case. That process could take months, then when borders do open up there will probably be restricted travel between countries with enforced new travel protocols. What about the airlines? Will they survive and how will they operate in the short and long term. Considering here in Munich, 75% of our tour guests are from the USA, that means we could be in for a very long winter sleep indeed. I follow the travel industry news very closely, and I have heard many industry experts opine that it could take 3 years to get back to 85% of the pre Covid-19 levels of tourism. Remember that does not just affect tour operators like myself but everything around tourism: air travel, hotel bookings, restaurants, taxis, booking agencies, everything.

If it sounds like I am painting an apocalyptic picture here then you would be right, apart from the personal tragedies that many are experiencing in terms of loss of loved family and friends,

A deserted main street in Munich

the real legacy of Covid-19 will be the economic implications. Most economic forecasters are predicting a global economic meltdown along the lines of the great depression, which started with the Wall St crash of 1929. Recovery from that crash was not until 1954!


On a personal level, although things are challenging, I am also aiming to be positive and trying to develop and improve my business. I am developing new tours, online webinars(watch this space!) and generally running a personal and business audit. I have as it stands, a roof over my head, food on the table, and a lovely family. Although like everyone I have challenges, relatively I am fine. That is a perspective that I have, due in part to what I do on a daily basis at the Dachau memorial. I take my guests there to show them levels of suffering that we can only begin to imagine. Basically, the worst atrocities that human beings are capable of. On a daily basis, my fellow guides and myself get a reality check about how lucky we really are, the liberty that we enjoy and bask in. I think  the current lock-down situation globally is really forcing people to meditate on that, and maybe come to the conclusion that our generations have been very lucky indeed.

Interestingly, although I am not currently going to Dachau daily, I can still see a connection between what we are currently going through and the lessons of Dachau. We are in a situation of effectively house arrest although we would rather not be, our liberty has been taken away and there are consequences if we do not follow the rules. Just like with the prisoners at the concentration camps, the measures enforced bring a variety of different responses and is a very interesting study of the human condition. The positive responses we see and admire are the sacrifices of people who work in health care, Doctors, nurses and all the ancillary support staff who help to save lives. Also the sacrifice of humble workers like supermarket staff, who put themselves at risk to keep everything going, maybe we will treat them with a little more respect when all this is over.

On the other side, just like in the case of some Concentration Camp prisoners, we see the negative side of human nature. the stock piling of toilet paper, fighting in supermarkets over essential and non essential goods. Flouting of the rules designed for the good of everybody, because people are bored. One appalling incident I saw recently on my daily constitutional walk was a cyclist spitting at a jogger for apparently getting too close from his perspective. I was immediately reminded of the hierarchies that formed amongst the prisoners in the camps, the cyclist felt that he had priority over the jogger. In the camps also, certain prisoner groups had perceived superiority over others.

So it would seem that Covid-19 is giving us another test, human history has been a series of tests delivered to us by the Universe, God, nature, or divine providence, however you want to frame it. The question is are we learning from these tests or is history destined to repeat itself. As a species we are hard wired to be very territorial and hierarchical, it is that wiring which has enabled us to survive, create societies, and thrive on this planet. The problem is those traits we have are not necessarily applicable to the world we live in today, as soon as we create an us and them situation we are going to have conflict down the line. Until the cyclist respects the jogger for being a part of what he is, for being of the same essence, then conflict will be the inevitable outcome.



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