Hitler’s Mountain Home

BERCHTESGADEN, GERMANY

I need to be honest and give credit where credit is due. Being that my job in this trip was to put together he itinerary, I was not impressed when Lukeness wanted to take a whole day of our short Germany leg seeing some building up a hill (also known as Hitler’s Eagles Nest). Well, may I just say if you plan on going anywhere on your Germany trip, go to Berchtesgaden.

The combination of history and alpine views is intoxicating. Just the drive from Munich to the small town was full of steep mountains, little townships and little stopovers. There is no snow in summer but the weather is refreshingly brisk, meaning lots of walking isn’t taxing. We arrived at the information centre to go on our four hour tour a little early so we headed over the road to a little pub.

Now, you may suspect by now I am a fan of Bavarian food and this pub was no exception. I had, surprise surprise, the Weiswurst with the traditional epic sweet mustard. I am yet to taste any that are done badly and sooo many that are amazing. That wasn’t the highlight, however. Lukeness, on his never ending quest to eat the forests of Germany clean, ordered deer medallions in a creamy mushroom sauce. Now normally I hate mushrooms but these little slices of buttery heaven changed my opinion. The deer, which in my experience often turns out tough and gamey, was tender and delicious with only a pleasant hint of the gamey flavour. I may have eaten a fair half of Lukeness’ dish because the flavours were so intense but not at all overpowering. Seriously, Lukeness my love, good call!

The German side of the Eagle's Nest
The German side of the Eagle’s Nest
Cloud covers the peak of the mountain. The cross is for hikers who have died walking further up the peak
Cloud covers the peak of the mountain. The cross is for hikers who have died walking further up the peak

We then needed to head back over for our tour. Now this tour is expensive (€50 per person) but it is worth it! The guide, James, has literally written a book on the topic of Nazi Germany, Hitler and the famous Eagle’s Nest. If you didn’t know, Hitler was a huge fan of Bavaria and called it his “chosen homeland”. He bought his first house near Berchtesgaden and enjoyed tea near by at his favourite tea house. This means that many events and places of historical significance is dotted all through the area surrounding Berchtesgaden. The crowning glory is Hitler’s 50th birthday present, the Eagles Nest which is perched on top of the second tallest mountain in the area and delivers views of both sides of the border, you can see into Austria. It wasn’t Hitler’s prized getaway – he only ever visited it fourteen times.

The Eagle's Nest. Taken from further up the mountain
The Eagle’s Nest. Taken from further up the mountain

The first leg of our tour was simply driving around the surrounding areas with excellent background on Hitler’s rise to power and its links to the Bavarian alps. I shall now hand over to Lukeness for him to share his favourite story of the area – its epic!

Near Hitler’s residence, Haus Wachenfeld, was the Alpine Hotel zum Türken owned by Karl Schuster.

The hotel as it stands today
The hotel as it stands today

The hotel was right next door and after the purchase of Haus Wachenfeld Hitler wanter to put a new drive to the premises which would entail crossing Karl Schuster’s land. Schuster was approached and asked if he would sell a small part of the block to Hitler to build the driveway. Now, there are a few important things to remember at this point in the story, It was 1933, Hitler is the newly elected chancellor and has declared a state of emergency following the Reichstag fire, taking emergency powers for himself and stripping the german people of their constitutional rights including the right to habeas corpus. Dachau, the first concentration camp was established in this year to house all the citizens apposing the Nazi party who were taken into “protective custody” with no trial or avenue of appeal.

Also key to the story is that Herr Schuster was
A) opposed to the new direction the country was taking under Hitler’s leadership
B) Owner of both a big mouth and a massive pair of brass ones in his lederhosen

Upon receiving Hitler request to purchase the corner of his block of land Herr Schuster replied
“I’m sorry Chancellor but I have children, I don’t know how long you are going to be around and I intend to leave this hotel and this land to my children” he then made a counter offer and allowed Hitler to rent the required land for a nominal fee. This arrangement continued until it was decided by members of the Nazi party that the hotel should be taken over and used for housing Hitlers security detail. Schuster was asked to sell the hotel. He refused. He was told to sell the hotel. He refused. Shortly after Herr Schuster was taken into protective custody and sent to Dachau where after four weeks of imprisonment he miraculously had a change of heart and decided to sell the hotel for fair market value of roughly 165,000 reichsmarks. At the last minute the Nazi decided to keep 90,000 of that and forced him to sign an agreement not to discuss the details of the sale.

Karl Schuster and his family moved to another town where he managed another hotel until his death a short time later. But fear not dear readers, for if you are like me, you expected at every turn for that story to finish with, he was taken out the back and shot by the SS, however the story does have a happy ending. After the war Schuster’s wife and daughter successfully lobbied the new German government for the return of the hotel and associated lands for which they paid a large sum of money. The hotel had been badly damaged in the allied air raid on the 25th of April 1945 but Herr Schuster’s family restored and reopened the hotel which was managed by his daughter and then grand daughter and to this day is still owned and operated by his decendants.

Karl Schuster 1 – Adolf Hitler 0

-Luke

The Documentation Centre, an easy flight of stairs down from the Eagle’s Nest transport busses, is a must see. We only saw a little but it displays propaganda, plans, policies and atrocities that made up the Nazi regime.

The Documentation Centre.
The Documentation Centre.

We were taken into the bunkers below the centre and, as a feat of engineering, are very impressive. The tunnels were left unfinished and this can be seen as well, leaving us with a chilling perspective of a planned machine gun nest designed to protect the bunker from allied soldiers. It would have been done well. Three separate entrances were guarded by machine guns with plenty of ammunition which makes me for one glad it remained unfinished. The centre reminds us that simply writing this period of history off as simply brainwashing or a gullible populace is dangerous…

This was a completed bunker from before the bombing on April 25th, 1945
This was a completed bunker from before the bombing on April 25th, 1945
This is the unfinished bunker that would have housed a machine gun nest of three machine guns tactically placed.
This is the unfinished bunker that would have housed a machine gun nest of three machine guns tactically placed.

The bus ride up to the Eagle’s Nest could be considered brave (or terrifying if you are afraid of heights). The sheer drop to the side is compounded by the winding road. The views are amazing – you can see it all.

 

Alpine views from the Eagle's Nest
Alpine views from the Eagle’s Nest

View from the Eagle's Nest 4

Our tour guide/authors book is as an excellent companion to the area. However, mere photographs can never do justice to this paradise. Our tour guide/author has described it so well, I will leave you with a quote from his book, which is this blog’s first recommend reading. You can’t have our signed copy, though.

…The town of Berchtesgaden, a priceless jewel set in an emerald sea. On observing these images one can appreciate and fully understand why Adolf Hitler would choose this region to establish his country retreat. The indescribable rejuvenating essence of the area soothes and claims one’s very soul on first contact; then, like some unseen irresistible force it continually draws the helplessly spellbound individual back unto itself, time and time again.

Hitler’s Alpine Retreat p.34, James Wilson (Pen and Sword Military)

– Siobhan

German Food Ist Köstlich

Berlin - Mary Sol Apfelstrudel
My World Cup meal – Hot chocolate (sadly, completely gone in the excitement) and Apfelstrudel which was unbelievably yummy!
Complete with Nuremburg wurst, Frankfurtwurst, sauerkraut, pork knuckle and other declicious things I can't remember
Complete with Nuremburg wurst, Frankfurtwurst, sauerkraut, pork knuckle and other declicious things I can’t remember

Frankfurt Platter 2

Siobhan's Burger and Luke's epic Curry Wurst
Siobhan’s Burger and Luke’s epic Curry Wurst
Fanta (Fahn-tah), Beer + Fanta (yep, that's a thing) and a delicious favourite - strawberry Milkshake
Fanta (Fahn-tah), Beer + Fanta (yep, that’s a thing) and a delicious favourite – strawberry Milkshake
Frankfurt Platter
Frankfurt Platter
More Frankfurt platter…it was that good

Frankfurt Platter 3

Cake-Beer and White Sausages

MUNICH, GERMANY

Ok, so I now like beer. It’s really hard not to when you’re in Munich. Our entire exploration of Munich was through nights spent there in between day trips but the nightlife is a great way to experience München. This didn’t stop us from enjoying Bavarian food and drink. We went on a Bavarian Beer and Food Tour which we found via Viator. It is very touristy which, I know shoot me, is not a problem for me. We were also the only Aussies on the tour which always means a bit of fun. Oktoberfest which, as you can probably judge by the title of our humble blog, is not really our thing, still has a fascinating history.

We visited the Oktoberfest museum and sampled some beautiful local beers. It was like a three bears scenario; the pilsner was nice but too bitter, the Dunkel was dark and full but not quite my thing. The hefeweizen was beautiful…which is apparently consistent with my sweet tooth, teenage girl palate. I now defer to Lukeness’ encyclopaedic knowledge of his podcasts:
Jonah Ray from the Nerdist podcast explains that because hefeweizen is a wheat beer, its calories are quite high compared to other beers. Apparently this means it would be like being asked “What is your favourite bread?” and replying “Cake. I like cake.” with a firm nod.

So, I like cake *firm nod*

Me drinking cake
Me drinking cake

Back to Oktoberfest. If you didn’t know, only beers brewed in Munich from one of the original local breweries are allowed beer tents inside Oktoberfest grounds. This means no Heineken in Oktoberfest or, thankfully, Fosters. It’s a great way that helps Munich protect its historic beer brands and although some have been sold to foreign companies, the iconic Munich breweries remain in tact for this exact reason. It also means, quite literally, Munich smells like a brewery. Whilst it now pulls in over a $1 billion per 16 day celebration, Oktoberfest started off as a horse race. Of course, these events are perfect for drinking and so locals would walk people up the hill to the cold beer storage. The following year, the first beer dispensing tents were set up and, long story short, here we are.

Back in 2014, we wandered over to our dinner place, the new Hofbrau brewery. Not the famous Hofbräuhaus that people talk about but a newer and less overbearingly Bavarian. There, we enjoyed the company of our fellow travellers and a platter of Bavarian food. The highlight definitely being the Weisswurst – white sausage which is a typical Bavarian delicacy. It’s eaten with a sweet mustard and the effect is a meaty dose of mouthwatering veal sausage with its own sweet-savoury sauce. I have had this a few times now and it is never disappointing.

Bavarian food platter from the tour
Bavarian food platter from the tour
This time with pretzels...yumm
This time with pretzels…yumm

We finished our night at the Hofbrauhaus complete with live Oompah band and leiderhosen. By this point we had a hat trick – good history, good people and good food. What else could you ask for?

Berlin, Du Bist Wunderbar

BERLIN, GERMANY

This, readers, is the best heiße Schokolade and Apfelstrudel I have ever tasted. Beyond the the fact that German apple strudel is simply not the same as the dish anywhere else in the world, this one was savoured whilst watching the German-Ghana World Cup game.

Berlin - Mary Sol Apfelstrudel

This was our first night in Berlin and we had booked a tour from boat which had proved to be a mixed bag. No, it wasn’t in English as we had booked, but the tour guide did give us a book and tried his hardest to translate some of his commentary into English. Yes, we were fed but no, it was nowhere near the other Berliner küche we would try later. No, we couldn’t speak German conversationally (I’m limited to phrases and context clues and slowly teaching hubby more of the phrases) but this didn’t stop us knowing when a goal was scored. I cannot describe the sound or the feeling when it seemed the whole city roared at a goal or groaned at a miss. We could be a block from any restaurant, bar or group of fußball-fans and the voices would be no quieter. As we sailed past other boats hosting World Cup dinners and the like, frantic German was exchanged and the response: 0-0. Towards the end of the tour, iPads came out with the streamed live games. Australians – we have nothing on the fan culture the Germans have in football.

We left our boat tour (after a bit of a giggle at the below Google translation. Hint: they mean dynasty)

They meant "dynasty" (woops)
They meant “dynasty” (woops)

and were walking back towards our hotel when; goal for goal 2-2. We decided we had to sit and join in with the crowd. Although we only saw about the last 20 minutes once we were seated, it was nail-biting. Whilst my football/soccer knowledge is limited, I knew enough to be excited.

Of course, there is so much to see and do in Berlin. Franzsaid it took him 18 months to see most of it. Here’s what we discovered:

The Architecture
Berlin’s iconic green copper roofs are famous world wide but there is absolutely no comparison to seeing them in person. Imposing buildings like the Berlin Dome would dominate the landscape in any other city but here it is just another incredible building within walking distance of each other. Museum Island, even if you don’t enjoy museums, is worth it just for the visual and potential “in the pool room” photos. Statues, grotesques, gargoyles and beautiful stonework surrounds the city and whilst, like Frankfurt many were lost in World War 2, many are still genuine historic buildings. The absolute must-visit sites for me are relatively cliche but for a reason – they are impressive

Berlin Dome:
The largest Protestant church in Germany

The Berlin Dome from outside
The Berlin Dome from outside
The Berlin Dome from the river at sunset
The Berlin Dome from the river at sunset
Queen Tiye from the Armana Period in the Neues Museum
Queen Tiye from the Armana Period in the Neues Museum
A recreation of an Armana Period Wall carving. Notice the strange proportions of the figures.
A recreation of an Armana Period Wall carving. Notice the strange proportions of the figures.

Reichstag:
This original old building has been the centre for political change in Germany from the Weimar Republic, the pivotal Reichstag Fire which led to Hitler’s total control of Germany, and the storming of the Reichstag by Russian troops. That’s just before the Cold War.

Outside the Reichstag
Outside the Reichstag

The Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie:
Obviously one of the most politically significant symbols of the Cold War. It is worth it to see the history that led to and sustained the wall. Relics displayed at museums show the incredible escape attempts from East Germans braving machine gun fire and imprisonment or a messy death if caught.

Checkpoint Charlie still guarded.
Checkpoint Charlie still guarded.
Through a crack in the replica Berlin Wall showing what it would have looked like in the Cold War.
Through a crack in the replica Berlin Wall showing what it would have looked like in the Cold War.
The reconstructed Berlin Wall
The reconstructed Berlin Wall

Potsdam:
Here amongst days worth of beautiful grounds and Renaissance buildings, I admit to the Lukeness and I did pretend to walk regally down more than one giant staircase. Very romantic, impossibly beautiful and well worth your time.

False ruins through a gilded gate at Sansouci Palace
False ruins through a gilded gate at Sansouci Palace
Statues of Roman gods and goddesses line the gardens
Statues of Roman gods and goddesses line the gardens
Sansouci Palace from the entrance
Sansouci Palace from the entrance
From the gardens you can see the vineyards and the beautiful Sansouci palace
From the gardens you can see the vineyards and the beautiful Sansouci palace

The People
German people consistently redeem my belief in humanity – they are both social and helpful. Once in Paris with my significantly better French was met with rude comments, exasperation or simply being ignored. In Germany (and especially Berlin) my “Deutche ist nicht gut” german was often met with a giggle or an “Ah!” and then continuing the conversation with english. While I’m not proud of my german, the german people often supported my butchering of their mother tongue. I can’t express how much easier this made my confidence in stumbling through german. It was also in Berlin that Lukeness and I met the worlds most jolly customer service assistant on the trains. He met us with a smile and mistook my husbands equally-atrocious-accent with a dutch one (which, as I understand it would normally be an insult). He started cheering “Nederland! Nederland! Holland!” with a huge grin on his face. After a hurried explaination that we were Australian and going for Germany in their pool he got even more excited. The train arrives, we get a meaty handshake and a vigorous wave paired with the same friendly grin on his face.

He looked almost exactly like this:
20140627-212701-77221665.jpg
but with a walrus moustache

The Food
Oh mein gott! The food! Berlin food, unlike, say, Bavarian food, is not as easily defined. Generally popular german food such as pork knuckle, every kind of wurst, sauerkraut etc are all here but it seems that the prevailing fashion is fresh, high quality ingredients cooked well. Our favourite restaurant was Englebecken. For starters, they booked us a table over email weeks before without any hoo-hah and gave us a great warm welcome when we arrived. Secondly, Lukeness has now crossed off an item on his bucket list which was added from too much exposure to Asterix and Obelix. Yes, he has now consumed wild boar. I had a veal meatloaf which makes it seem quite dull. Both dishes were not. Mouth-watering, tender, juicy meat done to perfection. We also enjoyed what seemed to pop up from place to place – boiled beef marinated in pumpkin seed oil. Almost like a mild mustard minus all the creaminess which just enhanced all the natural flavours of the beef. Finally, fresh strawberries with elderflower icecream and apfelstrudel. The strawberries in Berlin are everywhere and they are so fresh and sweet. The apfelstrudel cannot be compared to anywhere else in the world. The World Cup apfelstrudel was enjoyed just down the road from the hotel at Mary Sol – a tapas restaurant. We returned there and enjoyed Lamb Knuckle, Beef medallion and roasted chorizo. Again, not typical german fare but high quality and excellent service.

Berlin, in short, is a fascinating city that is a must see, for all types of experiences ranging from the classically touristy to the deeply authentic Germany.

The Accidental Tour Guide

FRANKFURT, GERMANY

Note: We finally have Wi-Fi and for relatives back home, I know you wanted to hear from us. We will add photots later so check back…

So, my husband is always despairing at the fact that I always manage to make new friends far too easily. Often, he will go to the toilet or depart for a few minutes just to have me introduce my new friend and their life story when he returns. I’ve always thought he secretly likes this about me but now I have redeemed this mildly adorable trait in Frankfurt.

After a 24 hour trek from Perth to Singapore and from Singapore to Frankfurt, we arrived 5.40am local time. After breakfast and a nap we woke up far less shattered than I had originally planned for. I confess that I had literally planned nothing for the day so that my virgin European traveller (husband alias: Lukeness) would have as much time for recovery as possible. Nope, by 1pm we were out and about looking at this AMAZING city. I confess again, I was not expecting Frankfurt to be as beautiful as it is.

We caught the tram and headed to the Cathedral Tower, a restored medieval cathedral in the heart of Frankfurt. I am proud to report I climbed this 328 step, 66 metre monster (95 metres in total, there’s more above that you can’t reach) WITH a sinus infection. I was passed by a man who, when we reached the top, I learned was called Franz. Franz was my new five minute friend who just happened to be a hotel manager with many years experience, exceptional English and an encyclopaedic knowledge of Frankfurt and most other places. Yeah, take that Lukeness!

We spent, no kidding, nearly 2 hours atop this tower being given detailed historical information on every visible thing on the horizon. Yeah, he was amazing! No, it gets better. We invited him for coffee to say “Danke”. “Kaffee” turns into a further 3 hour tour of Frankfurt central. We dined in a tiny Frankfurter cafe, typical of your casual hang out. Ice Chocolate and Crepe for me (mit Zime & Zamf) and a club sandwich for Lukeness. Of course, we paid for Franz’s meal and coffee – for 5 hours of touring he absolutely deserved it! We learned so much about Frankfurt in our short time here. Here are the highlights:

There are Banks
Locals nickname this city Bankfurt. Really, there are apparently 180 different banks in Frankfurt alone. Most of the skyscrapers in Frankfurt are banks. This city practically runs on banks – they fund the museums, parts of infrastructure and many jobs. The skyline is dotted with them, people flock to Frankfurt to work for them and it hosted (not by choice, admittedly) “Blockupy” meetings.

Not-Quite-Historical Buildings
Frankfurt is such a mix – the architecture styles are a collection of Gothic, renaissance, modern, Roman, Italian, French….but really very few of it is actually historic. Most of the actual historic buildings were destroyed in the bombings of World War 2 but they have done a marvellous job reconstructing everything to look authentic. They even use the original materials such as the red sandstone (a feature all around Frankfurt). An excellent example is the Dom Romer – looking like a scene straight out of renaissance Germany but they are all 20th Century buildings. Luckily, we had our accidental guide to point out the real ones…and they are awfully hard to spot!

Juxtapositions…Everywhere
Along with this jumble of I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-medieval buildings and amazing craftsmanship which looks like it’s right out of a history book, there are strange juxtapositions. This is a place where a Starbucks can be right next to an exquisitely carved stone. A Subway next to a hand-carved wooden door or across from a (rarely genuine) renaissance tower. Global brands are just as welcome in this city as their reconstructed history. On occasions, this can be unsettling. Other times, comical. It is a perfect analogy for this jigsaw of a city.

It’s not Just One City
We walked around the centre of the city and travelled by tram. This city looks as if it were designed by a bored child with some sort of attention disorder. In the West, glittering skyscrapers tower like a canyon above a bustling street – almost like New York. Across the Main River, old and prestigious houses, once belonging to Frankfurt’s elite, now function as museums to every conceivable craft or achievement. Shopping districts and cultural icons compete for attention. Suburbs are marked with visual stamps – all seemingly belonging to different cities. This is by far the most fascinating part of Frankfurt – for better or worse. While I personally love this eclectic city, others may shun it for the exact same reasons. I can’t believe I would have missed this gem by sleeping in my hotel room and I wouldn’t have even realised…

– Siobhan

To Pack or Not to Pack

When you have one bag to live out of for a month while roaming around Europe, what would you take? Do you pack those boots that make you look gorgeous but take up too much room? Do you stick to your practicality guns and only pack the bare essentials? Do you pack gadgets or do you aim for gadget free travel?

Once when travelling through Europe with family, I met a young man who had been travelling for months. All he had was a basic backpack with two pairs of undies (so he could wear one and wash another), a singlet, two shirts and one pair of shorts. When I told my dad about this, he said
“Now there’s a man who can pack for a holiday!” …Not exactly my sentiments. That being said, there are entire articles dedicated to Milan-standard, coordinated wardrobes in your suitcase down to the colours and materials. Not sure I’m that careful with fashion at the best of times let alone when I’m on holiday.

What I have learned is that packing is highly personal. No single packing list will work for everyone. Even hubby’s priorities are different to mine. He is 100% when it comes to security or safety – packs with cut-proof straps and steel mesh protection, first aid kits, glad wrapped and signed luggage and secret procedures. Me? I’m trying to figure out how to make sure I actually pack everything I need while not packing too much.

So, internet, tell me what worked for you. Did you swear by earplugs and a travel pillow or that must-have item in your luggage? Did you need a whole range of clothes or just a well chosen few? Were there any essential gadgets?

What ideas do you just have to share with the world (or at least me?)

– Siobhan
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Homebodies Away! (In 16 days)

Germany
Spain, Morocco, Portugal
Italy
Singapore

Yup, in about three weeks hubby and I will be jet setting to these exotic locales. I am not the only one out there travelling. My Step mum just got back from a beautiful “vacanze italiane”, my dad will probably be climbing some horrifically vertical mountain and my middle brother is meandering his way across the world on his sabbatical. My complex, large family are an interesting bunch. Then, it seems, there’s me. I’m a homebody mostly. I love boring nights and interesting TV. Soft blankets and rainy days. Dinner with family or friends talking about geeky things with a boffin’s references.

When Hubby and I were beginning to plan a holiday, it had to be a holiday for homebodies. Homebodies on an adventure, exploring our geeky interests. History, good food, a little romance, a little quirkiness, a little relaxation. Hubby and I are both history boffs – for me it’s ancient to renaissance history while Hubby is more interested in military and modern history. Each location has been chosen primarily because of its rich history. Secondly, food! Who can say no to Nuremberg Bratwurst, Italian pizza, Moroccan…anything. Flavours so layered and seeped in culture. History is the story while food is the evidence it existed. For that alone travel is worth it.

So our adventures will be filled with history, culture, unexpected side trips (or hiccups), food and, I hope, new friends and experiences Hubby and I will share for decades to come.

16 days…tick…tock

– Siobhan

Examining life and the craziness of it all