Good morning! Another brilliant day! Dave & Steph must have had too much sleep for they were already at my hotel rearing to go before I had even finished breakfast. Today’s destination is one of Dave’s bucket list adventures. You could see he was already well-read on his destination as the facts flowed hard and fast, and was accepting no excuses as to why we were wasting time when we could be on the road heading there. Eager beaver, not easy having an excited 50+er in the car! Are we there yet? 😀 😀
Today, we are heading south, leaving Austria for the day and heading into the Bavarian Alps to Berchtesgaden. An area of natural beauty with the Watzman towering over the valley (3rd highest mountain in Germany) and below it the beautiful Königsee lake. This would win over any tourist but because of one mad man it has become famous for many other reasons. The drive from Salzburg is only about 30 km passing through beautiful landscape along the Berchtesgaden Ache river as the hills rise higher and higher eventually turning into mountains. Arriving into the village of Berchtesgaden (700 m), it was just as a Bavarian village would look on a postcard. The village clings to the wall of the valley with the town centre being dominated by the large square, church spires and the Schloss Brechtesgaden (a hunting and summer palace for the Bavarian Kings and Dukes). The village is surrounded by high summer meadows which turn into ski-fields in the winter. After a quick visit to the local tourist bureau to find out how to get up to the Eagle’s nest, we found we could drive up to Obersalzberg where we would have to leave the car and then take a bus the rest of the way up to the Eagle’s nest. I may have a peppy little 2.0 litre sports car but it was a pull up those steep serpentine roads at times. God knows how the Third Reich logistics worked to get everything up there.
Having made it up to the Obersalzberg (1100 m) it was time to take a step back to what happened here in the 30s & 40s. The area was originally salt mines (Obersalzberg = upper salt mountain) however it became uneconomic in the 1800s and the area became more attractive to those wanting a winter and summer holiday destination. It was popular with German intellectuals, musicians & artists with the Obersalzberg Boarding House being particularly popular. The scenic landscape and sweeping mountain views also attracted Adolf Hitler, who in 1923 visited the Obersalzberg Boarding House. He became so fond of the area that in 1928 he began renting a small chalet there. Several months after the Nazi seizure of power in January 1933, Hitler purchased the Haus Wachenfeld chalet and began making a series of renovations and by 1936 the once modest chalet had been transformed into a sprawling landhaus. The house became known as the Berghof or Mountain Court, and is not be confused with the Eagles Nest (Kehlsteinhaus). From 1937 the German Reich Chancellery maintained a place here with Hitler receiving numerous guests of state at the Berghof including Neville Chamberlain (British PM) and the Duke of Windsor. Hitler spent much of August 1939 at the Berghof, making final plans for the invasion of Poland.
Around Hitler’s home, several Nazi leaders such as Hermann Göring, Martin Bormann and Albert Speer acquired residences. Party Secretary Bormann used intimidation & fear to buy or drive out all the residents of Obersalzberg, and the area evolved into a retreat for high-level Nazis with a school for young children, an SS barracks, and an underground bunker network & hospital. The Berghof became something of a German tourist attraction during the mid-1930s. This led to the introduction of severe restrictions on access to the area and other security measures. A large contingent of the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler was housed in barracks adjacent to the Berghof as his personal bodyguards. They patrolled the cordoned off security zone that encompassed the Berghof and the nearby homes of the other Nazi leaders.
With the outbreak of war extensive anti-aircraft defences were installed, including smoke generating machines to conceal the Berghof complex from hostile aircraft. The nearby Hotel zum Türken was turned into quarters to house the Reichssicherheitsdienst SS security men who were Hitlers personal bodyguards and patrolled the grounds of the Berghof. Several mountain troop units were also housed nearby. Hence, the British never planned a direct attack on the compound for it was too well fortified. In 1941, Hitler transformed the Obersalzberg into the alpine fortress where he had originally intended to make his final stand. Hitler’s last known visit to the place was on 14th July 1944 and he would be dead by April 1945.
In 1938, Bormann had the Kehlsteinhaus lodge (1835 m; the teahouse on Kehlstein mountain more commonly known as the Eagle’s Nest) erected on a rocky promontory, including a tunnel and lift system to get up to it. It was presented to Adolf Hitler in 1939, on his 50th birthday, but he only visited the site on 14 occasions, because of his fear of heights and being struck by lightning. His mistress Eva Braun used it more frequently for her family and friends. It was used for Nazi Party meetings and to host dignitaries, however the building had no beds so was only used for receptions. The Eagle’s nest is reached by taking a road which climbs 800 m over 6.5 km arriving at the entrance to the tunnel. The building is entered by taking the 131 m long tunnel from the car park into the mountain. You arrive into a circular art deco styled reception room where guests would wait before being ushered into the ornate brass and glass elevator to be hoisted the 124 metres into the centre of the building. It is still the same lift used today. Visits to the Eagle’s nest were carefully choreographed to make the greatest impression possible. Hitler refused to take the lift himself so used a mountain path to climb up to or descend from the lodge to the tunnel entrance. The Eagle’s Nest pretty much resembles how it was in 1939 with the exception of a restaurant which has taken over the reception rooms. The building is surrounded on three sides by massive precipices which drop several hundred metres to the valley floor. The Eagle’s nest was used by the Allies as a military command post until 1960, when it was then handed back to the State of Bavaria.
The Berghof and the surrounding area were heavily damaged by an Allied air raid in April 1945. Four days after Hitler’s suicide in Berlin, retreating SS troops set fire to the Berghof as Hitler had previously ordered. Hours later, the U.S. and French forces arrived and the Obersalzberg was placed under U.S. administration. At the time, the Berghof still contained destroyed paintings, evening gowns, medical equipment, and a wine cellar. The house was stripped and looted by the Americans. The Berghof’s shell survived and had attracted tourists until 1952 when the Bavarian government decided to demolish the buildings so they would not become a Nazi shrine. As well as the Berghof, the houses of Göring and Bormann, the SS barracks, the Kampfhäusl, and the Mooslahnerkopf teahouse were all destroyed. In total, over 50 Obersalzeberg Nazi buildings were destroyed. The Mossslahnerkopf teahouse was Hitler’s favourite and he preferred it over the Eagle’s nest teahouse. It was located across the valley from the Berghof and he walked to it everyday to spend time thinking and looking out over the valley. When wandering the area of the Obersalzberg it is not easy to find the site of the Berghof. It is not marked by any signs and has become overgrown by trees, however Dave & I persevered and with a little help from the internet and a friendly fellow tourist, we found ourselves standing where the main reception room had been and the view it encompassed. The only remaining signs of it are the back walls of the Berghof still embedded in the hillside.
The Platterhof, which had been a hostel for visitors to the area, was not destroyed and was turned into a hotel after the war. It was demolished in 2001. The nearby Hotel zum Türken, used by the SS was badly damaged in 1945 but it was rebuilt in 1950 and reopened as a hotel. The nearby Dokumentationszentrum Obersalzberg museum, opened in 1999, providing historical information on the use of the mountainside retreat during the war, and about the history of National Socialism. Visitors can also tour the bunker complex however it was closed to us due to rebuilding which had been ongoing for the past year. The museum displayed many documents & photos from the war. There was one display that showed the 10 highest ranking Nazis. They were all my age or younger, which shocked me.
Having thoroughly explored the place it was time to head down into the valley but one could not visit here without making some kind of reflection on what had taken place here. Among so much natural beauty how could these individuals plan such brutality on their fellow man? As I sit and write this, news has reached me of the terrorist act which has taken place in my homeland of New Zealand. The same reflective thought once again comes up. How can it happen in my beautiful homeland? Unfortunately, it looks like the world is about to repeat the mistakes of the 1930s and 40s made here in Obersalzberg. Right wing politicians and dictators such as the late Austrian politician Jorg Haider, Hungry’s PM Viktor Orban, Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, US President Donald Trump, Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan, Syria’s Assad, Venezuela’s Maduro are doing just that governing by intimidation and fear. Hatred and intolerance for our fellow man has to be stamped out. Learn the lesson of Germany and don’t follow like sheep a mad man.
To end our visit on a happy note; the Obersalzburg was also the sight for the filming of The Sound of Music film’s last scene where the von Trapps were escaping into what was supposed to be Switzerland and to their freedom. If you Climb Every Mountain here you will arrive in either Austria or Italy and the von Trapps would have been back in the war again. Escaped from nothing. 🙂
We headed further up the valley to the beautiful lake called the Königsee (King’s Lake) for lunch. I wondered why this name rung a bell and for a start I could not place it. However, it soon became obvious when I saw the bobsleigh/luge run and remembered many a winter afternoon in front of TV watching the sport from here. Heinrich Himmler also had a residence built here in nearby in Schönau and had located a sub-camp of the Dachau concentration camp here as a source of slave labour.
Long day done; Dave can tick one off his bucket list; time to head back to Salzburg for our last night before heading to Germany again tomorrow and Munich. As we returned to Salzburg we were treated to a lovely view of the Hohensalzburg fortress sticking up out of the landscape.