Thursday, 12 September 2013

Hitler's mountain retreat

We had a big day yesterday.  We crossed the border into Germany, visiting the town of Berchtesgaden.  We joined a tour which took us up into the mountains to visit none other than Hitler's lair.

In all the footage you've ever seen of Hitler at a large house high in the mountains of the Obersalzberg in southern Germany, pacing up and down on a terrace with mountain peaks behind, with German Shepherds at his feet, flanked by top Nazi officials or visiting school children or with his smiling mistress, Eva Braun, you are always looking at the Berghof, a mansion Hitler loved in the midst of natural beauty, which Hitler, as an artist, adored.  The Berghof itself was blown up by the American military in 1952.  Today, there are bits of the walls left.  The Americans did not destroy, however, a certain tea house called the Eagle's Nest, higher up in the mountains.  Our tour took us there.

To access the Nest, Hitler's driver would take him up a specially constructed road, costing the equivalent of 113 million € to build, and then enter a short tunnel in the mountain.  At the tunnel's end, the Führer would alight, take the elevator, and rise to the tea house.  Top Nazi, Martin Borrmann, the 'overlord of the Obersalzberg', built the Eagle's Nest tea house as a gift for Hitler's 50th birthday.  But Hitler didn't like it.  In fact, he visited the Eagle's Nest a total of only 14 times.  Hitler disliked the Eagle's Nest because it is claimed he didn't trust the elevator.  He said the air up there was too thin, but we found the air was fine.

The Eagle's Nest is 1,834 metres above sea level and offers tremendous views of surrounding mountains as well as to Berchtesgaden and the Königsee below, as well as Salzburg not far away.  After spending some time there, during which our guide showed us several old photographs of Hitler and his top Nazis, we descended to the Documentation Centre.

The Documentation Centre was a surprise to me.  I have had eight previous visits to Germany, and never have I seen so much material on Hitler.  The Third Reich has been an unpopular topic since 1945, but it was good to see that at last sense is prevailing and Germany's sinister past is being acknowledged in such a way.  Outside, behind the trees, is Hitler's destroyed Berghof.  Under the Berghof, and under the Documentation Centre, are many kilometres of tunnels constructed to provide safety, and to assist in the continued administration of Germany and prosecution of the war.  Inside are many rooms.  In one room, Martin Borrmann's empty safe has sat there since 1945.  The tunnels were abandoned at the end of the war.  The American GIs moved in, and until 1995 this area was their exclusive domain.  The tunnels were opened to the public in 1999.

Since 1945, the German word for 'national' has been spelt like the English word.  However, before 1945, the spelling was 'nazional', from which 'Nazi' is derived.  A fact I never knew before.  To this day, the Italian word for 'national' does indeed commence with 'nazi..'

Another fact I never knew before is this:  Hitler's official birthplace was Linz in Austria.  He was actually born in the village of Braunau, but had good reason to conceal this.  Hitler was born in 1889, and already from the 1880s, it was well known that there were considerable instances of incest there.  Hitler's father married close relatives.  Hitler's two brothers and two sisters were all mentally retarded.  Hitler's father beat him nearly to death on more than one occasion.  The future dictator then developed a very close bond with his mother.  With such a background, the misery he inflicted on millions of people is put into perspective.

After we left the tunnels, we descended to Berchtesgaden, and returned to Salzburg.

Hitler's driver would enter this tunnel and drive to the elevator a short distance inside.  Hitler would then take the elevator to the tea house above, while his driver reversed out of the tunnel.
The tunnel was finished in 1938.
To the left of this picture (out of view) is the elevator.  Photo looks to tunnel's entrance.
The elevator that took Hitler and visitors to and from the Eagles Nest above.  Hitler didn't trust the elevator, and did not like to use it.
The elevator still has its original Venetian mirrors.
View of the Eagle's Nest
The Eagle's Nest is 1,834 metres above sea level.
A view from the Eagle's Nest: one can see the beginning of the Königsee (lake).
Looking down on the town of Berchtesgaden
Inside the tea house
Our guide, Erika, showed us pictures of the Eagle's Nest's infamous past.
Erika showing a pic of Hitler sitting on the terrace
The terrace today, with Jean at left.
Jean and I on the Eagle's Nest terrace.  In Hitler's day, there were no windows behind us.
The Documentation Centre is a museum about Hitler and the Third Reich.  Behind the trees at rear is the site of Hitler's former Berghof.
In the bunkers under the Documentation Centre
This old shaft rose directly to the Berghof.
Hitler's lasting legacy: the humble Volkswagen 

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