Obersalzberg and Berchtesgaden
Just a 90 minute drive from Munich, the fresh alpine air of the Obersalzberg might as well be a million miles from the city, the difference is so startling. It is hard to comprehend this beautiful mountain retreat, with its sweeping views was bought by the Nazi Party in the early 30’s to provide an alpine retreat for Hitler. He spent more time here than in Berlin, planning evil and destruction with his inner circle of senior leaders (who also had homes here). It’s also hard to comprehend, that under all this beauty lies a network of subterranean bomb proof tunnels and bunkers that once linked all their homes in case of attack. You can visit some of these tunnels today as they form part of the new Obersalzberg Documentation Centre built on the foundations of the former Nazi Guest Hotel, itself just a few metres from Hitler’s private residence – The Berghof.
It is still an area of stunning beauty. Berchtesgaden town is a charming alpine resort with high end hotels and shops, the scars of its Nazi past fading fast in the wake of walkers and outdoor enthusiasts enjoying the fresh mountain air. Up on the Obersalzberg peak, where the Nazi hierarchy lived, their homes erased, an Intercontinental Hotel and golf course taking their place. It is curious the most popular destination for tourists remains The Eagles Nest, a 50th birthday gift to Hitler from Martin Bormann in 1939 perched right at the top of the Obersalzberg and only accessible by elevator, bus or a 2 hour walk. Curious, because Hitler visited just a handful of times and never longer than half an hour as he didn’t like heights. It survived the allied bombing and today it’s a simple restaurant with an outdoor beer garden run by a charitable trust and continues to attract thousands of visitors each year.
But I wanted to know if there were still any traces of the Nazi era left in the area away from the tourist hotspots and to find out, I was grateful for the help of Lisa Graf-Riemann, an author and guide and an expert on Berchtesgaden.
Lisa takes me on a mysterious walking tour of the back trails of the Obersalzberg having left our car parked by the side of a narrow track. As we trek along the forest path she tells me about her feelings as a German regarding the National Socialist era, and questions, like me, the policy at the time of erasing every building as if that very act would cleanse its existence from history. It didn’t of course, and perhaps instead could have provided a lasting lesson of the futility of megalomania. However the threat of the buildings becoming neo-nazi shrines was too great and so the Bavarian authorities simply blew them all up.
We emerge from the side of the Intercontinental golf course into a clearing and a strangely familiar overlook; a small semi-circular fence and a wooden bench offering a stunning view across to Austria. As we pause to take in the view, Lisa shows me a photo of this exact spot in 1942, but standing here then was Hitler, Goering and Bormann enjoying the same view. “this was once the tea house on the Mooslahnerkopf and Hitler walked here every day from the Berghof up that path” explains Lisa as she points to a narrow overgrown track that runs along the side of the mountain. Like the other Nazi buildings, the tea house ruins were destroyed and today just a few remnants of the foundations remain. I spot a memorial candle lying next to the rubble, a poignant reminder of the sad world we live in, where there are still people who want to remember a ruined Reich.
We walk along the narrow overgrown track and emerge onto the main road and what was once the driveway into Hitler’s Berghof. The forest has reclaimed most of this now, copses of trees and bushes growing over what was once a very impressive residence. Today like the tea house, just a few blocks of rubble remain along with one long foundation wall but it still feels sinister nonetheless. We walk on and emerge minutes later at the entrance to the NS Documentation Centre built over the entrance to the vast subterranean tunnel network, well worth exploring simply to experience what was at the time, state of the art engineering to create, if needed, an underground haven where the work of the Nazi machine could continue.
Bavaria in the footsteps of Hitler has been a journey of awareness for me. Bavaria is a destination that will surprise and enchant you; the locals courteous, welcoming and traditional, many wearing lederhosen and dirndls as a part of daily life. It is a region of Germany that still reflects its rich and royal heritage and its status as a centre of world trade and commerce. Munich, Nuremburg and Berchtesgarden all played central roles during the terrifying Nazi years, but Bavaria must be applauded for accepting its part in that history and creating an official state of the art museum in Munich to ensure its posterity. Bavaria has an awful lot more to it than just its National Socialist past and it deserves the opportunity to show you just what it can offer. Trust me when I tell you, you’ll want to return.
All article images except otherwise stated and main image (c) Andy Mossack
Tell me more about Bavaria in the Footsteps of Hitler
Getting to Bavaria
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