Obersalzberg - Hitler's Berghof and the Kehlsteinhaus, the »Eagle's Nest«
Hitler's mountain retreat on the Obersalzberg. The Obersalzberg above Berchtesgaden was a famous for the beauty of its mountains forests and lakes. The Obersalzberg enjoyed royal patronage and was popular with wealthy Germans. Hitler had vacationed here in the early days and it was natural that he chose this place to build a house for himself. The house began modestly but expanded in size as the years went on. Extra facilities such as the guard house had to be installed as Hitler became more important. An unwelcome intrusion to local landowners was the arrival of party entourage such as Göring and Bormann, both of whom wanted houses near Hitler. These families were forced to sell. Hitler's visits were marked by road closures and extra guards being posted. As Allied air power increased, the risk of being bombed made Hitler order the construction of an extensive bunker system under the mountainside, which remains to this day. At the sign of aircraft approaching, smoke generators filled the area with fog.
Many famous personalities of WK2 met with Hitler at the Berghof. Here Generalfeldmarshall von Manstein records in his memoirs Lost Victories (page 546):
After me, Field-Marshal von Kleist was dismissed in a similar fashion. As we left the Berghof, our successors were already waiting at the door - Colonel-General Model, who was to take over Southern Army Group (now re-designed North Ukrainian Army Group), and General Schörner, who was to replace v. Kleist.
The next morning I flew back to Lwów in my Ju52. My successor was grounded in Cracow by a snowstorm, as a result of which I was able to issue a last Army Group order ensuring the co-operation of our two panzer armies in the breakthrough operation which had now started.
In the closing days of the war, the SS emptied the Berghof of papers and contents. Some of the paperwork seems to have been taken to the Schlegeis Gletscher, but it has not been possible to confirm this. A large dam and lake have been constructed beyond what would have been the limit of the road during World War II. As if the Obersalzberg had not suffered enough intrusion, the RAF, now short of targets to destroy, mounted a raid which damaged or destroyed most of the buildings in the area, producing the destruction you see in the photograph below. The Wurzburg raid was also one of these raids. This air raid on Berchtesgaden was at best pointless because neither Hitler nor the other Parteibonzen were in the area. After the damage inflicted by the air raid, the SS set fire to the Berghof with gasoline to ensure destruction of its remaining contents. On 1945-MAY-04 US troops arrived.
In the months of the Hungerwinter, the devastation of 1945 and 1946, sometimes small groups of local Nazis would sometimes gather in the ruin of the Berghof and sing Die Horst Wessel Leide. Eventually the State of Bavaria decided to demolish the ruin of the Berghof as well as the house of Göring and Bormann. Over the years, visitors have taken away all the rubble. There are a few sections of the stone façade across the room from me as I type this. Design and build quality of the twenties and thirties was superb. Have a look at the Order Castles such as the one built at Sonthofen. After this the US Army took over the area and developed it as a location for RnR for their troops. The SS Barracks became the Hôtel General Walker. The Kehlsteinhaus only just missed being sentenced to be dynamited off the mountain. Göring's house was just a flat area of grassy meadow with a small mound in the center. A skilift was built at the edge of the lip of the meadow where the slope disappeared down back toward Berchtesgaden. The Hôtel Türken was rebuilt and put back into operation. A small café the Café Hintereck was built behind the Hôtel Türken just at the entrance to the raised area where Hitler's greenhouses used to be. In summer they served thirsty tourists who boarded the small autobus which took tourists up the narrow road to the Kehlsteinhaus. In winter locals and passing Langlauf skiers and hikers would gather. There was a Russian who used to play his horn from this rowboat out on the middle of the Konigsee, the sound echoing back of the mountain walls distantly. Happier times and all these people have passed on now. The Hintereck was demolished to enable the construction of the new hôtel.
German national embarrassment over the Third Reich has meant that instead of turning the landmarks of the Third Reich into some of the world's most lucrative tourist traps the government as pursued a policy of demolition. Imagine how big the queue would have been to tour Hitler's Bunker. On the Obersalzberg, the State of Bavaria was compelled by policy to match any preservation with some kind of reference to the Endlösung which resulted in the building of the 'documentation center' for study of the Endlösung, which was pointless since historians can only access the paper records of the Third Reich in the national archives and certainly will not want to make a trip out to a remote mountain village. In the end, this policy of demolition has helped preserve something of the Third Reich in that the development of the locations as tourist traps would have destroyed them in a way that it is not possible to do with demolition.
This first set of photographs dates from the time that the area was handed back from the US Army to the State of Bavaria. I will add more photographs from previous decades as soon as I can scan them.
Avoid the area on April Fifth because there are running battles between police and groups of neo-Nazis who gather to honor Hitler's birthday.
1945: A USAAF P47 Thunderbolt overflies the ruins of the Berghof. In the background is the SS Barracks. Out of frame to the left is the Hôtel Türken, visible in the photograph below.
Looking down the driveway of the Berghof to the Hôtel Türken. Berchtesgaden is down the mountain to the left (north). The Berghof would have been immediately behind the camera to the right. The huge system of tunnels which runs under the whole area can be accessed from under the Hôtel Türken. The Bormann bunker entrance can be seen to the left of the road as you drive past the hôtel.
The Obersalzberg during the war. The Berghof is the white building furthest right of frame, labeled (1). Center frame background is the SS barracks.
The Obersalzberg after the RAF air raid of 1945-MAY.
The above two panoramas were taken from a position just above the Berghof's greenhouse and below Göring's house. The Berghof is down to the far right, marked (1). The P-47 Thunderbolt in the photograph further back up the page has flown from the direction of the mountains distant right of frame and passes on the valley side of the Berghof, passing out of frame to the right.
The RAF target information sheet for the raid on the Berghof in 1945
Remains of the Berghof
Looking east from the plateau at the new Hôtel built on the site of Göring's house. The Berghof and the Hôtel Türken are to your left. The mountainside and the Kehlsteinhaus are to your right.
In the above photograph you are on the plateau and looking east to Göring's house. The mountainside is to your right, in the photograph below. The fence line mid frame is where the Führer's greenhouse used to be situated.
Just on the plateau behind the Berghof is the SS Barracks which became the Hôtel General Walker under US occupation. Just behind this is the road which runs along the contour. If you stand on this plateau with your back to the mountain, to your right was Göring's house, to mid-right, Bormann's house, directly below you the Hôtel Türken and the Berghof. To your mid-left the Hôtel General Walker. Directly behind you is a pair of large wooden gates. Behind these gates is the road to the Kehlsteinhaus. In summer, tourist buses take tourists up to the Kehlsteinhaus. The road is single track and closed to the public. In winter the Kehlsteinhaus is closed and so it the road, largely because it is impassible, with thigh-deep snow. You can ascend to the Kehlsteinhaus on foot in winter and this approach I recommend, in order to be alone with history. You will need mountaineering clothing for the upper part of the ascent with particular attention being given to boots and gaiters. You can leave your automobile at the plateau. You can either jump over the gates or the wall, or scramble through the woods at the side and regain the road within the woods. When you have ascended the road you will find it terminates at a tunnel entrance which was drilled through the mountain to the foot of the elevator shaft into the Kehlsteinhaus. The two giant bronze doors are left slightly open in winter, probably to stop people trying to break in. You will need a torch. You can walk all of the way into the mountain to the foot of the elevator. In order to ascend to the Kehlsteinhaus exterior, you need to stop at the tunnel entrance. Perhaps fifty meters behind you back down the road you will be able to make out a foot track which zig-zags up the mountainside to the Kehlsteinhaus. It is full of snow but passable and easier than forcing a 'direkt'.
The gates to the road to to the Kehlsteinhaus. They are not normally hidden by two meters of snow.
The Kehlsteinhaus - North Elevation.
The approach from the north on foot is steep. This photograph was taken on the road up to the Kehlsteinhaus which the shuttle buses use to reach the Kehlsteinhaus. The Alps are a lonely, frozen place in winter but the snow bears witness to a number of walkers who have used the track, and one skier. This is an unusually high level of traffic for a winter approach to the Kehlsteinhaus. In most areas of the Alps, all you will see ahead of you is a pair of old ski (Langlauf) tracks, if anything at all. I highly recommend visiting places such as these in winter and even at night. They are deserted and all you bring with you are what you have read, or your memories. There is no other person and no modernity to intrude. One's imagination projects on the the blank canvas or the darkness all you have carried with you from your study. It was as if you are only a few hours behind the first Allied troops to arrive. Bright sunlight and tourists are the enemies of all this.
Tunnel into the interior of the mountain to access the elevator to the Kehlsteinhaus. The camera is looking back down the tunnel toward the daylight. Superb workmanship is evident every where in construction.
Looking north the Kehlsteinhaus from the ridge behind it. The Berghof and Berchtesgaden are below in the valley. Note that Anglo-Saxon visitors usually know the Kehlsteinhaus as The Eagle's Nest. This name was given to it by Allied troops.
The construction works behind the Hôtel Türken and to the right, on the site of Göring's house, which took place in 2002. The development took place in secrecy without the consultation of local residents.
Years ago the SS guardhouse with telephone used to be located here, just after the tunnel on the road up to the Kehlsteinhaus. The base of the guard house can been see as two light colored stones between the large rock and the edge of the road. The telephone cable is still there in the ground.
The northernmmost room in the Kehlsteinhaus with grand fireplace.
The fireplace was heavily damaged by Allied soldiers until it was placed off-limits. The erosion you can see on the marble fireplace was caused by Allied soldiers chipping off a piece of fireplace to take home with them. The first unit into Berchtesgaden looted the Kehlsteinhaus. I have seen the document stamp from the office at the Kehlsteinhaus, which was looted along with everything else not nailed down.
The Obersalzberg in 1939
Berchtesgaden, the Berghof and the Kehlsteinhaus, topographic.
DDAC Berchtesgaden 1939
Hitler's guests at the Berfhof were usually housed at the Hôtel Bertesgadener Hof in Berchtesgaden
On 02-MAY-1945, a convoy of SS trucks left the Berghof loaded with documents for burial in glacial moraine within a high valley above the Zammersgrund , above Mayrhofen , and yet the day after, Innsbruck only slightly further east, fell to the US Army. SOE liaison agents were operating with Italian partisans throughout the Italian Alpine regions, and 8th Army reconnaissance and intelligence detachments were at large independently
The trucks would have been carrying Hitler's personal documents.
However, before the war, the road to the Schlegeis Gletscher only extended to below what is not the dam wall. Reaching the glacier would have been impossible by truck because the valley wall here is steep and like steep sections everywhere in the Alps the road switches back and forth in tight turns, which would have been impassible terrain were it not for the road. Hauling the documents in rucksacks would have taken a few days work. It is possible the documents were buried somewhere about but the sides of the valley are rocky. There is only a layer of earth a few centimeters thick, mainly leaf mould. Some greater depth of earth would have been available higher up in the valley floor. This area is now covered by the large lake, formed by the dam.
The dam which was constructed post-war at the head of the Zillertal, above which is the Schlegeis Gletscher. The road only reached the dam after the war, not during the war. The photograph was taken through the windshield of a moving automobile, hence the packets of cigarettes, maps, spare cartridges for shooing at road signs, et cetera, strewn across the dashboard.
The end of the lake. Above this the valley continues for quite some distance before the snout of the glacier is reached.
Plan of the Alpenfestung in 1945 complied by Roland Kaltenegger, showing Berchtesgaden's role as one of the "fortresses".
- Hitler Sites - A City-by-City Guidebook by Steven Lehrer published by McFarland & Co, Publishers, ISBN: 0-7864-1045-0 - Extensive and detailed treatment of the subject including the many peripheral sites around the Berghof.
- The Obersalzberg and the 3rd Reich published by Verlag Plenk, Berchtesgaden 1984
- The Eagle's Nest published by Verlag Plenk, Berchtesgaden 1984
- Operation Alpenfestung - Mythos und Wirklichkeit by Roland Kaltenegger published by F.A. Herbig, München ISBN 3-7766-2188-5
= After the Battle Magazine, Number 9 Obersalzberg 1975 ISSN0306-164-X
+ OTHER LOCATIONS
- Salzburg to the east
- Gebirgsjäger Kaserne at Bad Reichenhall
- The Where Eagles Dare (1968) locations at Lofer (south) and Werfen (east).
+ EXTERNAL LINKS
- After the Battle Magazine journal of historical research
- The Obersalzberg and Berchtesgaden
- You can see the Berghof in the days before its final demolition by the State of Bavaria in the motion picture The Devil Makes Three .
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