In the mid-1990’s, there was one McDonald’s restaurant located about a mile away from the memorial in the industrial park. Visitors often commented on the McDonald’s advertisements they’d seen on the way to the memorial. After I left in 2004, a second location was opened at the train station.
For many years, there were no real food options or places to rest; only a snack kiosk near the bus stops. Now, there is a modern visitor center, bookshop and cafeteria. More and more memorial sites are starting to offer these services to help meet visitor needs.
I visited Auschwitz for the first time in 1995 and there was a “café” at the museum entrance, near the bookstore, where sausages and orange Fanta were advertised. There were several small brown Formica tables and uninviting plastic chairs. I’d read newspaper articles about the “Auschwitz hot dog stand” and people criticizing such a place in such a place. I understood the arguments, everything from capitalism to crassness, but I was also a customer at that hot dog stand.
I ordered kava and received a small, brown plastic cup filled with steaming, sweet Nescafé. At that moment, I needed that coffee. After Arbeit Macht Frei, the crematorium, the braids, eyeglasses, prosthetics and thousands of empty, rusty Zyklon B cans, I needed and wanted something to bring me back. Other memorial sites have their own version of this hot dog stand.
I do not know if offering visitor services is the “right” choice, but it seems to be the current trend. Maybe the previous approach will return one day, when little effort was made to help visitors feel more comfortable. On the other hand, if visitors feel more comfortable, they might stay longer, learn more and gain deeper understanding.
Keep in mind that there is also a local customer base in Dachau; the current population (2014) is approximately 46,000.
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