28-30 July 2019
The rain followed us up through Liechtenstein, right across Austria – where we belatedly remembered the need to fork out for a Go-Box so a fine is possibly in the post – and into the south-east corner of Germany that is a stone’s throw from Salzburg.
Berchtesgarden was our target and the campsite is 2 or 3 miles outside town up quite a steep hill. We knew it was fully booked so headed onto their Stellplatz and found ourselves a spot. It has electric hook-up and space for your awning – in this case rain rather than sun protection – and you can take the steep steps up to campsite and use their excellent facilities, toilets, showers, pool and restaurant.
Sunday closing meant the larder was bare so we decided to try the restaurant and shared a table with a nice Dutch couple on their first camping expedition who were waiting for it to stop raining! Schnitzel stuffed with ham & cheese, and fried Austrian spam with fried egg and fried potatoes – it’s not a healthy eating destination but it’s not expensive either and we found it very tasty.
The rain didn’t stop all night and didn’t give up until lunchtime next day – almost 48hrs of heavy rain which of course made it a lot cooler making Danny happy. The reason we were here was to visit Kehlsteinhaus, Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest and rain and low cloud kept it hidden from view but we trusted to the weather forecast and booked a tour for the next day. A nice German couple and their daughter joined us and our guide, Regina, on the 10 minute drive uphill to the Documentation museum. From there people are ferried up the restricted road to Kehlstein, 5 buses at a time. It was already busy when we arrived at 0845 and were shepherded onto our bus.
The Eagle’s nest is at 1,834m (6,017ft). It was part of an “off limits” area created for Hitler from his early days in power which centred on the Berghof – his private residence away from Berlin and the second centre of power of the Third Reich outside the capital. Miles of tunnels were developed in the hillsde for a secret HQ, and the National Socialist Workers Party commissioned a prestigious teahouse for the Führer, on a summit called Kehlstein. The Kehlsteinhaus was intended for him to use to meet, impress and entertain people and only became known as the Eagle’s Nest after the War. It cost a huge amount and took nearly 2 years to build including the 7km of road constructed to reach it, but the summit is so steep the road could not go to the top and a 124m long tunnel was cut into the mountain leading to an art-deco brass-panelled lift that rises 124m to the building itself.
The tunnel remains cold even in summer – around 7°C – and Regina told us that at times the queues for the elevator reach all the way down it with waits of up to an hour.
We had no such problem at 9am and were whisked up straight away. Apparently Hitler was scared of heights and didn’t like elevators, so didn’t use it often – only 14 visits by him are confirmed by documentation. Eva Braun used it more than her boyfriend, as did other high ranking Nazi leaders. Our German colleagues on the tour told us they hadn’t heard of the place until 4 days earier which surprised us initially. Regina explained that after the war Hitler’s Berghof and other buildings associated with him had been flattened so they could not become shrines. The Khelsteinhaus had survived because it had been used by the Americans and when it was handed back to the Germans many years later, the local government decided to use it to sensitively earn revenue from tourists and use the profit for charity.
The place is pretty much in its original state and once up there we admired the huge red marble fireplace gifted to Hitler by Mussolini in 1938 which is a focal point in the large room with excellent views that once hosted the leaders of the Third Reich.
It now serves as a cafe. There are no bedrooms and the kitchens were never used to prepare meals – food was brought up by car from Berchtesgaden and reheated due to lack of trust. Outside the building is the sun terrace which we had seen many times on old colour film footage featuring both Hitler and Eva Braun. Fascinating to be there even on a chilly grey day. We were lucky with the weather really – the day before we wouldn’t have been able to see much but we could see through the clouds over to Salzburg in Austria and down below to the blue waters of Königssee, Kings Lake, it’s tourist ferry a small white dash on the dark expanse.
We walked up from the Teahouse to the mountain cross on Kehlstein summit and the viewing point beyond. There were lots of others – Australians, Americans and Chinese, but surprisingly only a couple of other Brits. Even here, with 3,500 tourists a day tramping across the rocks, wildflowers still bloom, pushing up through the cracks and crevices, some completely new to us like Hairy Rhododendron!
On the wooded hillside some distance below the Eagle’s Nest is what is left of Hitler’s residence, the Berghof – some foundations. The house was bombed in April 1945 and later set on fire by the SS, but was finally destroyed on the order of the Americans in 1952. The area was open meadow but it was decided to return it to nature and now beech trees cloak the site – a good decision we think.
After that we called in on a local falconer, one guy and his birds which include eagles – Steppe and Golden. Oh, he had marmots too – they live in the hills and are very cute but bigger than we had imagined. A totem pole of sorts, with skulls of wild animals, marked the centre of his domain and strangely, it didn’t seem out of place.
We would have appreciated some time at the Dockumentation Museum but otherwise had achieved our objective which we celebrated with some more heart-clogging German food – Schnizel topped with cheee & salami, and Devils Toast – thin slices of grilled pork in a sweetish but spicy sauce on toast – accompanied by a mountain of fries.
This time we shared our table a corporate accountant from the north coast of Germany who was happy to talk politics as well as camping – in perfect English of course. A very nice evening to finish our stay.