A balmy breeze wafted across our faces. The mountain air was as refreshing as only a mountain atmosphere can brighten one’s day. The crisp and unique aromas of summer drifted over all those at this mountainside location. It was exquisite. Given what we were about to see was in complete contrast to the marvelous climate, and far more about why so many from around the world are still mesmerized by a man and a unique building that he occasionally visited: The Eagle’s Nest & Adolf Hitler.
My wife Brigitte, and our two daughters Michelle and Heidi, were part of the crowd at the base of the Kehlsteinhaus (more commonly known as the Eagle’s Nest in English-speaking countries) which was a Third Reich-era building erected atop the summit of the Kehlstein, a rocky outcrop that rises above the Obersalzberg near the town of Berchtesgaden, Germany.
As a longtime military aficionado, and having suffered under the Nazi bombing of my home in London in WW2, I’d frequently wondered about the Eagle’s Nest and how one actually got there. My knowledge was minimal and consisted of such facts as I knew it was used exclusively by members of the Nazi Party for government and social meetings.
Consequently I was delighted when a guide we encountered was, thank goodness, a talkative type, and I listened in rapt attention when he told us that Hitler had an everlasting fear of heights (wow, THAT was news to me!) and because the “Nest” was situated 6,017 feet from ground level, he’d only visited 14 times. Getting up there was, well, equally spellbinding – at least to me: I seriously doubted our two children were as thrilled as I was by how we got up there.
Just before we began our journey to the “Nest” itself, we stopped at a Kitschy sort of Gift Shop at the base of the mountain and purchased one of the outrageous hats on display. Curiously, there were no postcards of the place nor even the surroundings, but as we visited in the late 1980s I feel sure that now in 2019, gift shops are everywhere, with all hawking every kind of souvenir under the sun.
Getting to the top is by bus, and it travels along the one lane 4 mile road that circles around the mountain to the summit. At exactly the same time that our bus departed, another at the top left for the journey down and, typical for the Germans’, they both meet in the middle at the same time – where the “Down Bus” moved into a small turnout so our bus could continue upwards. Once you get THERE, you’ll see the entrance to a tunnel which leads to an elevator. As you enter the brick walled passageway it is eerily quiet and almost dark, and it reminded me of a scary Halloween ride I’d once taken. The walls (at least when we visited) appeared to be damp and glistened with droplets of water. It was right at that moment when it hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks: Hitler had personally walked the very same passageway where I was now walking. It was chilling and yes, creepy, to acknowledge – instantly – WHERE one was, and WHO had trod this hallway all those decades ago.
This weirdness and indeed even fearfulness, was heightened as we entered the interior of an ornate gold hued, polished brass elevator where all 4 sides were Venetian mirrors encased in green leather. The apprehension one felt only increased when the elevator operator, in a very melodramatic voice said “This is THE elevator that Hitler used each time he came here.” He paused, then, almost whispering said, “Nothing has been changed.” It’s only a brief ride as it ascends the 407 feet to the top. We were informed that the Eagle’s Nest project took 13 months to build in the late 1930s during which 12 workers had died. The site is now a restaurant, beer garden and, of course, tourist site. Needless to say, the awesome scenic views of the surrounding mountainous scenery, are stunning.
In April, 1945 a fleet of British RAF bombers went there to obliterate everything as it was rumored that Hitler was hiding there. He wasn’t. However, due to the problem of distinguishing the ACTUAL target, the only thing demolished was the Berghof area. Given the infamy of the place there’s always been some controversy as to which of the Allies FIRST reached it. Among those claiming to have been first, were various units of the US Army; a French Armored division; and even some Spanish soldiers. My lengthy research indicates it was the US 101st Airborne who were the first to get into the Kehlsteinhaus, and the town of Berchtesgaden. Either way, visiting THIS historic site was one of my all-time most fascinating experiences. I hope you too will find time to visit. CONTACT John: firstname.lastname@example.org