On Friday, Dad drove us to Obersalzberg which is located in the region known as the Berchtesgadener Land, located deep in the south-eastern corner of the Free State of Bavaria (Freistaat Bayern) and subsequently went up and up (which was why I thought it was apt when Coldplay’s Up&Up came on the radio right then) to where the Eagle’s Nest is perched. The Eagle’s Nest (German: Kehlsteinhaus), which remained unscathed from the bombing of the Allied Forces during WWII, was formerly Hitler’s home and southern headquarters.
We parked our car and rode a special mountain bus service up the breath-taking Kehlstein road (German: Kehlsteinstraße), which is 6.5km long and has a difference in height of 700m, had five tunnels and many hairpin bends. Not only was its 13-month long construction a feat of engineering, navigating it at the speed that our bus driver was going at was also a feat of driving. I was at the edge of my seat and every look out of the window sent my stomach flipping, we were just up sooooo high!
Once at the end of the Kehlstein road, we
walked ran 124m into a tunnel and then took a luxurious brass elevator up through the rock into Kehlsteinhaus. The elevator had an interior of polished solid brass and circular Venetian mirrors, and offered a sneak preview of the luxury awaiting visitors at the summit. The sumptuous elevator cabin was equipped with a classical white dial clock and black Bakelite emergency telephone, with interior lighting being provided by a circle of eight bright lamps on the ceiling. During Hitler’s time, so that visitors wouldn’t have to stand during the 124-metre ascent to the summit, comfortable leather-covered benches were installed on three sides of the cabin, but they have since been removed to allow more visitors to fit in the lift today.
Perched at 1,834m above sea level, spectacular and technically testing, the mountain eyrie itself was a project of Martin Bormann’s and given to Adolf Hitler for his 50th birthday as a teahouse for diplomats, aka. an ‘entertainment centre’. The site sure did combine a unique example of historic architecture and a stunning alpine setting.
‘Bormann’s vision was of a striking location that would immediately impress its guests, but at the same time provide the Führer with all of the home comforts offered further down the mountain at the Berghof.’
From where we were, we had the greatest view of all 210 km² of the Berchtesgaden National Park (Nationalpark Berchtesgaden), a region of natural beauty that has been designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 1990, as well as both the Scharitzkehl Valley and the Königssee lake below. We could see for miles and miles and being up there sure did feel like one was standing on the shoulder of giants. Hitler must’ve felt extra invincible up there…
Hitler didn’t visit the Kehlsteinhaus frequently and when he did visit, his stays were usually very short: he tended to spend just a few hours at the summit, usually departing well before the evening. Not a single dish for the Führer was ever cooked in the specially-fitted kitchen. The study specially created for the Nazi leader was never used either. Meanwhile, the attractive house on the mountain turned into a popular destination for others in the Nazi leader’s inner circle, with one of the more frequent visitors being his mistress Eva Braun.
In spite of the fact that he chose not to visit the Kehlsteinhaus on a regular basis, Hitler had a degree of input with regard to the basic layout and furnishing of some of the rooms which were both relaxed and informal – the perfect opportunity to remove oneself from the violent conflict raging outside. The irony — something so calming and beautiful produced by the very hands also responsible for the brutal demise of many.
INSIDE HITLER’S MOUNTAIN — Light brought into the darkness of a mysterious underworld
Between 1923 and 1945, the Obersalzberg was transformed from peaceful mountain idyll into Nazi shrine, and finally became the Führer‘s ‘headquarters’. It was there that, for twenty years, Hitler’s cataclysmic schemes matured into decisions and then specific orders. The traumatic impact of those decisions can still be felt around the world today. Even as the Third Reich was collapsing into ruins, its leaders prepared to take refuge deep underground.
As early as 1943, work had started on a vast system of bunkers, which would enable Hitler to continue his rule from beneath this mountain. More than 5km of tunnels, galleries and shafts were laboriously hewn from the solid rock, and by the middle of 1944 the Führer‘s secret headquarters was operational, and government personnel had moved in. But only a few months later, an airborne armada of nearly 400 British bombers launched a massive attack on Obersalzberg and reduced everything above ground to rubble.
Later, Allied occupation troops forced their way into the mysterious depths of the Nazi stronghold and puzzled over the extensive labyrinth of 2-storey corridors. For six decades, people could only guess at the actual extent, let alone the purpose of the partially collapsed tunnels. Hard information was lacking, and site plans turned out to be inaccurate. Through an exhaustive research project involving painstaking detective work, the author succeeded in tracking down, and personally interviewing most of the men behind the Obersalzberg development. For many of them, it was the first time they had broken their silence about being implicated in the fateful Nazi regime.
Commissioned by the Bavarian state government, mechanical excavators and modern surveying technology were used to survey all underground cavities beneath the Obersalzberg and thereby unearth their history — blocked entrances were opened up and suspicious trails were followed… Thanks to this work, the full extent of the bunker complex can now be revealed to the public and light can be brought into the darkness of a mysterious underworld, which for many Germans, even today, is a taboo subject.
Here is an excellent video which depicts how Obersalzberg looked like during Hitler’s time and how we saw it two days ago.
I just remembered — on the day we met Lauren, she had just come back from ‘a tough hike up to the Eagle’s Nest’. She didn’t tell Miriam and I how ‘tough’ it was, but on Friday I found out how tough it really was. 4 hours and a difference of 700m in height. I skipped it and instead took a 20-minute bus ride. Maybe one day I’ll be back, this time, I’ll hike.
That evening, we drove to Königsee which is only a couple of kilometres away, and relived the memories that my parents made when they had been there together on their own, years ago. A quaint, quiet and queer town seemingly obsessed with minerals, crystals and repose — ‘Es gibt viel zu tun! Lassen wir es bleiben!’