Camping in Austria may not sound like an ideal holiday to some people, but for me it was really scenic and healthy with all that mountain air and open space. We stayed just outside a little town called Zell am See, on a big lake with lots of pretty walks and country routes to explore. Since both of us are hugely interested in history and particularly the Nazi regime (that definitely does sound weird when you say it!) we had booked a tour of the area around Berchtesgaden, famous (or should that be infamous) for the Eagle’s Nest. Hitler lived on the mountain from 1933 onwards and apparently had so many hundreds of fans gathering to see him outside his house that the mountain was closed off as a security concern, particularly as it was the southern headquarters of the Nazi party. Nowadays only a few foundations remain of his house and the trees have been planted as close together as possible to prevent the site from being some sort of tribute to Hitler. Albert Speer’s house is the only one left standing that is still in private ownership, the rest of the land belongs to the state of Bavaria. As well as the Nazi leaders all their servants, chauffeurs, and assistants lived in apartment blocks on the mountain. Most of the land was acquired forcibly, where the owners were intimidated into selling to the Nazis by being threatened with concentration camps. Hitler had tea rooms built a 20 minute walk from his house, along with command buildings and a communication centre. There was even a large vegetable farm in an attempt to be self-sufficient, which ultimately failed because the soil was poor quality.
The Eagle’s Nest on a clear day, courtesy of www.kehlsteinhaus.de
The Eagle’s Nest itself took 17 months to build as a present for Hitler’s 50th birthday. Hundreds of workers were brought in and all the materials had to be taken up the mountain by cable car or carried up 6km of dirt trail. I found the documentation centre really interesting, it told the history of the area as it related to Nazism and had all the biographies of the key Nazi players who live on the mountain. When we entered the bunker system I was amazed at how thick the walls were, over a metre of concrete against the rock, then 5 layers of brick with a waterproof layer. Then came another couple of layers of brick and smooth concrete for the internal surface. Is it any wonder the British bombing of the mountain didn’t damage any of the bunker system? The bunkers were never finished and there was a lot of graffiti on the walls from the troops who found the bunkers, both French and US troops.
Inside the bunker system, graffiti on the right in the photo
When we took the bus up the mountain to the Eagle’s Nest, it was really foggy and we knew there was only one point where the buses up and down could pass each other and if this hadn’t been down to precision German timing I would have been panicking that I was going to plummet off the side of a really steep mountain. The Eagle’s Nest cost today’s equivalent of 150 million euro and Hitler only used it 14 times, 13 of those before the outbreak of war – not much value for money there! It was only designed as a tea room and dining space, there are no bedrooms and no one has ever stayed there overnight, which seems a shame because it has such a great view. To get to the restaurant there’s a 124 metre long tunnel into the mountain, then a beautiful original shiny copper lift, with a gorgeous copper clock.
The tea room was very popular, I found it quite difficult to imagine how Hitler lived on the mountain because there is so little left. I’ve read a couple of memoirs by people who lived in the local Berchtesgaden community at the time Hitler lived there and would like to go back and visit when the weather is better to take advantage of a walk around. We did walk down the side of the mountain instead of taking the lift back down, but I could barely see a couple of paces in front of me and my fear of heights got the better of me!
View across the car park off the edge of the mountain!