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

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