My father, uncles and aunts, were involved in World War II and that period of history has always interested me, so I was quite excited to learn that we were to have the opportunity to visit Hitler’s mountain retreat, Kehlseinhaus (Eagles’ Nest). Having seen documentaries which included this hideaway, I was rather disappointed on seeing the ‘real thing’
We left Salzburg at about 8am to drive the 30kms to Eagles’ Nest, the last 5 of which were a long steady climb to a parking area at the bottom of the mountain road which goes up to the entrance to the house itself. From there we were taken on an articulated bus which could manoeuvre the 700m very steep and winding road. On alighting from this bus the view across the mountains is simply spectacular. The entrance to the house is via a 124m tunnel built into the mountain to the original brass lift which transports you 200m up through the mountain to the house itself. As Hitler was both claustrophobic and acrophobic i.e. fearing both enclosed spaces and heights, the vehicle which transported through the tunnel and into the lift had to do so in reverse.
En route to Eagles’ Nest Trevor discovered that he did not have our cash in his pocket. Fortunately Jurg had the hotel phone number and we received excellent service from the hotel. Trevor explained that he had left the cash on the bedside table and they agreed to look for it. About 15 mins later we received a return call from the hotel confirming that they had found the cash and had locked it away. On our return early that evening, they handed it to us. We had not been considered a nuisance nor was there any suggestion that he had been careless.
As I said above, I was a bit disappointed in the house itself as the main living areas have been converted into a restaurant. We were not permitted to visit any other parts of the house either. In the films and documentaries Hitler was regularly shown meeting with colleagues on the balcony of the house but there was no sign of this balcony. Either what I had seen was old and removed for these changes to take place or the film-maker had used poetic licence quite freely. So, I iterate that, when preparing to travel, one has to put preconceived ideas away and be ready to see and hear whatever there is with fresh eyes, heart and mind.
We had been blessed with a beautiful day and, from the house, there is a many-stepped path taking one higher up the mountain. I didn’t actually count them but there must have been at least 50 steps, which took us to the pinnacle of the land on which Eagles’ Nest is situated. From here the views were nothing short of absolutely stunning. There were 360o views of the surrounding mountains and the river running through the valley. It was one of those views of which you never tire. As it flattened out at the top we were able to walk quite a distance and relax and admire God’s glorious creation. It is hard to believe that Hitler, surrounded by all this beauty, was not happy here. Apparently, he only visited Kehlseinhaus 10 times. It is rumoured that he was afraid of heights so I am now guessing that those pictures in the movies where he, through an actor, was shown to be leaning on the railing and admiring the view, were all part of the director’s creative ability.
After spending about 2 hours up at the house, where there is also a small tea garden and curio shop, we made our way back down the mountain, joining the long queue waiting to get into the lift. It was a little nerve-wracking knowing that the only form of getting back to the road is this brass lift built deep into the rocky mountain and descending 200m back to the tunnel. We returned to the Parking Area in small groups giving us an opportunity to relax on the lawns and to discuss our experiences and reactions.
We did not return directly to Salzburg as once again Jurg suggested we make an unscheduled stop in the town of Berchtesgaden, the town at the bottom of the hill from Eagles’ Nest and from which many tourist buses begin the journey up to Hitler’s mountain retreat. It was a lovely little town similar in many ways to Oberammergau. We had about an hour to wander around the town and to have a cup of coffee and some delicious cake at a little shop where the buses for other groups congregate. We found a very large square with a pink palace which bore some beautiful murals. There was also a baroque church dedicated to the Prodigal Son with a statue of the father welcoming his son home, after years of wandering, outside the church door.
We arrived back at our hotel at 3pm and were free until the next morning. Some of us chose to walk back into the town and remind ourselves of some of the special places we had seen the day before and this was a lovely experience. We discovered some more interesting little places. One of these was a walk up a long set of stairs which led to a beautiful recreation of the crucifixion built into the wall on the roadside. There were a number of other icons and tableaux built into the walls but it is unknown as to whether anyone still uses them as prayer corners. They were protected by wire mesh but could be accessed for cleaning and repair so they looked really lovely.
It was early to bed so as to be fresh for our trip the next morning which was also to take a different route from that already planned. Jurg had asked if we would like to go via the Romantic Road to the medieval town of Rothenburg instead of going directly to Heidelberg which was officially our next stop. Even though this meant paying in a bit extra towards fuel as it added distance to the trip, we were all keen to do and see as much as possible. It was a very worthwhile diversion!