Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Eagle's Nest, Berchtesgaden, Bavaria

We spent some time in Berchtesgaden admiring the beauty of the Bavarian Alps and touring the nearby "Eagle's Nest" of WWII fame.
This hotel in Obersaltzberg had a long term owner and a regular clientèle when Hitler happened to buy the farm next door. Unfortunately for them, he had enjoyed vacationing in this area for years, and with the increase of Nazi power, he chose it as his secondary stronghold and headquarters. The hotel was summarily appropriated to house SS officers. Eventually, deep bunkers were dug into the hillside under this house, Hitler's "farmhouse" (subsequently destroyed to avoid its becoming a shrine), and the neighboring homes of his henchmen.

We know of this area due to the legendary "Eagle's Nest" built at the peak of the mountain. Few were able to visit, however, until the area passed from US military control to the German government in 1999. There was then some debate about what to do with it. Portions of the hillside now serve as a memorial and museum of WWII history. However, the family of the hotel owner was able to recover the property, and now their hotel boasts the added attraction of nearby museums, plus some SS bunkers on its property.
We explored Hitler's underground bunkers, which were previously connect to his home.
The living quarters were comfortable (at least, before they were looted and fell into disrepair through neglect), and had been stocked with enough premium provisions to hold out for a 2-3 year siege.
Interestingly, despite the huge effort required to create this stronghold, and despite his original plan to retreat here for his last stand, Hitler elected to remain in Berlin when it became clear that his regime would fall. This hillside and the bunkers were taken without a fight, and we are told that the conquerors made quite a party from the fine wines and other provisions stored in the bunkers.

The heavy iron portal shown above would have been the last bastion before entering the living area. In front of it were other doors, then three recessed, heavily protected machine gun emplacements. Placed as these were at the end of a long, narrow entry tunnel, the conquest of the bunkers, had they been used, would have been a bloodbath.

I think the French and Americans who took control of the area were much happier with the "wine & cheese" reception they got.
The highlight of the Obersaltzberg tour, of course, is the visit to the Eagle's Nest, a meeting and reception house built at on the mountain peak as a 50th birthday gift from the Nazi Party to its leader. To reach it, we rode a bus several kilometers up the mountain road that looks steeply down to Berchtesgaden in the valley bellow.

Then, debarking our buses, we passed these elegant iron doors ...

... into this tunnel to the heart of the mountain (that's the Eagle's Nest perched high above the tunnel entrance).
After a last look at the daylight behind us...
... we entered an elevator whose decor appeared to have more in common with a dragon's lair than an eagle's nest. The elevator lifted us the final 140 meters through solid rock to the Eagle's Nest.
Surprisingly enough, despite the labor expended on this gift, Hitler used it only 14 times. (Eva Braun liked coming here much better than Adolf.) Although Martin Bormann, who originated the idea, had hoped it would become Hitler's new "tea house", Hitler continued to prefer the easy 10 min walk from his home to his original -- if less dramatic -- tea house. The Eagle's Nest is now owned by a nonprofit foundation and serves as a restaurant & historical attraction.
After touring the building, we took the short walk to the peak behind it. By then, the clouds, already low, had dropped to block the fantastic view behind us.

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