NEWS DESK : MICHAEL WALSH, 20th APRIL 2001
THE ALPINE FORTRESS EAGLES NEST
It is over twenty years since a friend mentioned a faraway place in Germany called �Eagles Nest�, the name given to Adolf Hitler�s mountain home. He told me it was accessible only through a tunnel and lift bored through a 2,000-metre mountain. It seemed to me improbable and I mentally filed it as another piece of Third Reich folklore.
Adolf Hitler on his mountain home, known as "The Eagles Nest". Children loved to visit him there.
A year or so later, with another couple, we decided on a driving tour of Germany. We had no itinerary and very little money, we just wanted to familiarise ourselves with what remained of the giant nation of central Europe.
Boarding the ferry at Dover for Ostend we soon reached Germany (Aachen) thirty-something years after the US Army had done likewise. But unlike the Americans, who have never been invaded by anyone least of all the Germans, we weren�t hell bent on �liberating from life� every living creature regardless of �guilt� or innocence found in the remaining rubble.
We were charmed by what we saw and as we meandered south through the German countryside we were struck by the friendliness shown to us, which I still find surprising. After all, if the Germans had done to us what we had done to them I would want to slit every one of their damned throats. For every Briton killed in the Brits war (it was a British declared war) 80 Germans had been killed, virtually every city had been incinerated, and much of what remained had been placed under the tyranny of Communism. (I am sure someone mentioned it was a war against tyranny; guess I must have misheard!)
We discovered Nuremberg and by accident the inspiring remains of the Nazi rally arena. The next day took us to Dachau which was then inaccurately described as an �extermination camp�. This along with other camps similarly labelled has since been proven to be allied propaganda. Well, It is the victors who write the history books.
�WISH YOU WERE HERE�
The camp was coining it. Lots of macabre souvenirs, a bit like Disneyland really. Even if the �holocaust� had been true fancy trying to make a quick buck out of it for God�s sake! Turning corpses into cash. Is there nothing so base as money?
David our companion who had an impish sense of humour bought a fistful of postcards showing what was alleged to be a gas chamber (crematorium actually). He had it in mind to send one to various Jewish Members of Parliament suitably inscribed, �Wish you were here.�
The walls inside the �museum� were filled with photographs of the camp and its inmates during the wartime period. All these pictures showed inmates far healthier in appearance than were their liberators. They were also well dressed. Those engaged in manual work were even wearing padded gloves and in each case caps. Ironically the only pictures showing deprivation were those taken after the �liberation�, months after the allied bombing raids had reduced the infrastructure to such a level that everyone, regardless of race or nationality, were dying like flies through starvation and related diseases.
The only pain-inducing instrument on show was a bench allegedly used for the birching of prisoners guilty of misdemeanours. It could have been phoney like so much else but then, what is the big deal? Every British police station at the time had one of these birching contraptions.
The same afternoon brought us to Munich and its famous Hofbrauhaus Bierkeller where it is said that Hitler may have spoken at a public meeting. We were so shocked at this revelation that we each availed ourselves of a filled stein which somewhat lifted our spirits. We then headed further south to the small town of Berchtesgaden about 15 miles south of enchanting Salzburg.
DAS HITLER HAUS
"After visiting these two places (Berchtesgaden and the Eagle�s lair on Obersalzberg), you can easily understand how that within a few years Hitler will emerge from the hatred that surrounds him now as one of the most significant figures who ever lived. He had boundless ambitions for his country which rendered him a menace to the peace of the world, but he had a mystery about him in the way that he lived and in the manner of his death that will live and grow after him. He had in him the stuff of which legends are made."
(JFK, "Prelude To Leadership - The European Diary of John F. Kennedy, Summer 1945", Regnery Publishing, Inc., Washington DC, p. 74)
On reaching this utterly charming alpine town on the most beautiful of summery days we found a travelers heaven. Berchtesgaden near the German-Austrian border is a region of indescribable beauty that has attracted poets, painters, emperors and kings, philosophers and statesmen from the beginning of the 20th Century. One such was the thirty-four year old Adolf Hitler, twice decorated veteran of the Great War who as Winston Churchill surmised: "(While all those formidable transformations were occurring in Europe, Corporal Hitler) was fighting his long, wearing battle for the German heart. He, and the ever increasing legions who worked with him, certainly showed at this time, in their patriotic ardor and love of country, that there was nothing that they would not dare, no sacrifice of life, limb or liberty that they would not make themselves or inflict upon their opponents." - Winston Churchill. Francis Nielson. 'Makers of War' p.101.
Sadly there was nothing in the town to suggest that Berchtesgaden or rather the nearby Obersalzburg had any special place in German history, just a single postcard scene showing the ruins of Hitler�s home. I thought it would be nice to at least go up there, see whatever remained and quietly contemplate.
"Wo ist das Hitler haus?" I asked an elderly peasant who with a twinkle in his eye and hand signals pointed me in the right direction giving the impression that it was just a short stroll for a fit lad like me. David and I set out and after an hour�s sweat-streaming hard slog we paused for a bier � and retreated back to the town.
We then did what we should have done in the first place. We retrieved the car and drove up that mountain road for about five miles. It was then that we came across a scene nothing could have prepared us for. Instead of the expected solitude of a forest glade and a scattering of rubble disturbed only be midges and crickets, we found ourselves on a plateau with three huge car and coach parks and a highly organised market place offering every imaginable memento and artefact of the Third Reich era. Among the gaily decorated stalls thousands of Hitler tourists milled about, browsing and purchasing.
The Hitler epoch had thus far and no further been effectively quarantined from all other life forms. It was as though the authorities having done everything they could to discourage visitors, even pretending this unique place didn�t exist, had finally conceded defeat. At this point there was little choice but to provide for � and make a fast buck out of the world�s fascination for the most powerful European since Charlemagne. That was only the first of several surprises to come.
THE ROAD TO THE GODS
We were still on the lower slopes of Obersalzberg Mountain so boarding one of a fleet of buses destined for �Eagles Nest� we relaxed as the convoy set off. Again, nothing could have prepared us for the breathtaking ascent up this incredible mountain. Such was the virtually precipitous gradient that these powerful buses, each filled to capacity, had their engines, transmission and braking systems especially adapted to haul each coach up the single track mountain road.
As the fleet of coaches wound its way in zigzag formation up the mountainside we gazed in disbelief as the valley fell away below. In the middle distance we could see the snow-capped peaks of the Watzmann (2713 m) Hochkalter (2607 m) and Unterberg (1972 m) mountain monoliths.
The valley forests far below took on the appearance of a lawn and we were now snaking our way through thin cloud cover. Outside of aeroplane flight it was the first time I had ever looked down on clouds.
After twenty minutes or so the convoy of coaches reached another plateau about half the size of a football pitch. It was here that the convoy of coaches �fell into line� before disgorging several hundred passengers. We all wished we had the foresight to bring warm clothes. At this altitude it was close to freezing and we were just below the snow line.
Around the perimeter of this mountain plateau a rail to restrain the sightseers whilst in the walls of the awesome mountain backdrop � was this the cave in which the Pied Piper of Hamelin had perhaps led his young charges? Into the mountainside was cut a gated tunnel entrance, big enough for a coach to drive through, leading straight into the mountain itself. In for a penny, in for a pound, we paid a small fee and joined scores of other Hitler tourists for the final lap to the top of Obersalzberg Mountain and Eagles Nest.
Walking along the stone clad tunnel illuminated by ornate lamps we eventually arrived at a muster point and one of the biggest lifts (Americans call them elevators) I ever seen. It was an eerie but not uncomfortable feeling to realise that on occasion the Fuhrer accompanied by fellow leaders, now household names, had walked this same route into the mountain.
The tunnel and lift had (of course) been stripped of its Swastika embellishments but everything else was more or less as it had been. In the lift itself burnished brass framed plating and mirrors, beautiful green leather upholstered perimeter seats, a lift attendant to finally sweep scores of us open-eyed tourists 124 metres up through the core of the mountain peak.
Emerging at last we explored this granite-hewn colossus of a mountain retreat with its many rooms, restaurants and vantage points. Six thousand feet below we could now absorb the incredible natural beauty of the entire Berchtesgaden alpine panorama. In the distance glistening in the afternoon sun we could see Konigsee (Kings Lake), a favourite haunt of Europe�s greatest thinkers not to mention the enchanting Eva Braun, Hitler�s deathbed wife. Lovely villages like Ramsau, Strub, Bishofswiesen, and Berchtesgaden. Far to the south across the plain Mozart�s beautiful Salzburg completed our scenic wonder.
THE FUHRER�S BIRTHDAY PRESENT
Like millions who had already trodden this path we were the latest to share in the opening of the German leader�s fiftieth birthday gift, bestowed on April 20th 1939 by a grateful National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) in recognition of his achievements.
As early as 1923 Berchtesgaden�s locals, including Helene Bechstein of the famous piano family name, had warmly welcomed the 34-year old Adolf Hitler. After his release from Landsberg Prison the German leader had rented a small wooden house on the Platterhof where he started work on Volume.1 of his work Mein Kampf. It was to become the biggest selling book in the 20th Century world after the Holy Bible. Not surprisingly this modest mountain home was later named, Kampfhausl. (Volume.2 was completed at the �Marine-Heim Antenberg� and at the �Deutsches Haus� in Berchtesgaden town itself).
Dietrich Eckart, the young German leader�s mentor, who used the location as an exclusive secluded retreat, had introduced Hitler to the beauty and solitude of Berchtesgaden in 1923. By 1928 where our story really begins the NSDAP�s charismatic fuehrer had rented Haus Wachenfeld just 500 metres below the Platterhof where he was to live until 1933. It was then, the year of his successful election that he purchased the property and re-named it simply "Der Berghof". It was a name that would make its mark on history.
This beautiful spacious residence was situated a few metres up from �Zum T�rken� Hotel which is still there and commercially flourishing but Der Berghof was destroyed by the Americans and British. With the passing of time other leading lights in the National Socialist movement took up Platterhof residence too. The Platterhof �estate quickly grew into a small village, a community of German leaders and their families. Here were situated barracks and schools, a hotel, guesthouses, administrative buildings, security offices and of course the homes of various party exceptionals. When adding to the NSDAP�s property portfolio, Martin Bormann complained that the Fuhrer�s unwillingness to apply any pressure whatsoever on sitting tenants meant they were able to charge the NSDAP outrageous prices for land sold to the Party.
Below the Berghof residence Martin Bormann, personal secretary to the German leader, built a small teahouse for the Fuhrer�s use. But Bormann however had a private agenda; the creation of a magnificent structure 1,800 feet higher - which incidentally was first dubbed �Eagle�s Nest� by a contingent of visiting Italian First World War veterans. It was his intention to complement the civil engineering triumph by building an additional teahouse (fortress would be a more apt description) on the actual mountain peak that could be presented to the Fuhrer as a fiftieth birthday present.
The self-proposed dream project fascinated Martin Bormann and together with Germany�s most accomplished civil engineering personalities, including Dr. Ing Fritz Todt, the strategy to build the impossible, a metalled road to the plateau just short of the peak became an all-consuming challenge. To roll out his ambitious plan Bormann told a small white lie. He informed the visiting engineers that the �Fuhrer� wanted to use the road by spring. In fact, Hitler knew nothing of the project - but then we don�t normally reveal birthday presents in advance.
The world�s most ambitious civil engineering accomplishment was begun on April 1st 1937. The only difference of opinion was how to achieve the final objective, by road or by tunnel and lift? The latter was chosen as being the most cost effective and ecologically acceptable. A major issue was to maintain the natural beauty and keep to a minimum the disturbance of the mountain fauna, even during construction.
During these early stages a labour force of 3,500 men capable of shrugging off the most extreme alpine conditions, were recruited. Few other opportunities existed for such high salaries, which included bonuses for family separation, high altitude working conditions, and hardship allowances, with bonuses for working with explosives.
THE ULTIMATE IN UPWARD MOBILITY
The construction of five large work camps was already taking place to house the workers, not all of whom were German nationals. These included Austrians who were highly experienced from their labours on the impressive Grossglocknerstrasse construction Trans-Alpine project, and Italians who were likewise experienced in alpine road construction.
Germany�s most gifted engineers were involved in the Kehlstein project as was the nation�s greatest construction companies. A further 1,000 men, mostly experienced in tunnel and shaft engineering were also recruited to drive the tunnel into the mountain�s core.
No expense was spared either in the construction or the home comforts of the men involved. Accommodation was of the highest standards; these fully heated barrack-like buildings were festooned with planter boxes and inside traditional classical scenes of the highest artistic merit. In an already prosperous Germany these were the highest paid and valued workers in the construction industry. The project itself commanded its own power station and cable car systems, much of it innovative. Sadly the first tragedy was about to occur when at kilometre.3 of the Kehlstein Road 5,000 cubic metres of rock was displaced and five workers buried.
Work proceeded regardless of all considerations and the metalled road spiralled ever upwards, sometimes threaded through the actual mountainside walls. This included the famous Martinswand and Schwalbennest Tunnel projects.
�I DREAMED I WALKED IN MARBLE HALLS�
By September 1937 work on the �service tunnel� was begun. This provided for the boring of a 300-metre (1,000 feet) tunnel into the heart of the Obersalzburg Mountain that would terminate in a 126-metre lift shaft to take visitors on the final leg to the Obersalzberg peak.
Construction of the lift shaft started from the peak down; the tunnel far below was now 15 metres into the mountainside. Being designed and constructed elsewhere, the massive engine and emergency generators that would soon be entombed in the mountain. A further passageway running parallel to the main tunnel would service the engine rooms.
During its construction the tunnel entrance was twice blocked by landslides but by May 4th 1938 the work on the shaft was completed and the elevator was ready to be installed. The shaft rising to the mountain peak stretched an incredible 409 feet yet had a vertical tilt of just three centimetres.
The waiting area deep inside the mountain had a marbled domed ceiling seven metres in diameter with each of the individual marble blocks laid close together with no mortar joints. The tunnel into the mountain was veneered with Kalberstein marble blocks set two centimetres apart. The tunnel entrance and the adjacent octagonal shaped room was completed with Untersberger marble.
With an amazing attention to detail it was discovered that the mountain interior maintained a constant temperature of 7 degrees Celsius and an elaborate system of heat and ventilation was contrived to deal with condensation.
Outside on the near sheer mountainside work on the Kehlstein road continued relentlessly. Equally relentlessly it snowed almost daily and the heavy snowfalls and drifts often disrupted work as it progressed. Snowfalls were so heavy that nine-foot snowdrifts typically confronted workers emerging from their living quarters. On those days most of the workforce of several thousand men were assigned to shovelling snow.
AVALANCHES AND SNOWSTORMS
Frequent avalanches were another hazard and made for a great deal of extra work not to mention danger. An avalanche buried one group of convoy workers on the night of January 30th 1938. Happily, two men freed themselves and rescued the remaining worker.
The weather was particularly bad between March 26th and May when it snowed constantly and the snowstorms were actually worse than those experienced in the winter months. On such occasions the supply lines to the thousands of workers were disrupted and there was a need for the men to resort to survival rations.
Often the working conditions were like scenes of hell. Snowfall typically started at 1,200 metres and it often snowed without interruption. It is interesting to note that visits to Kehlstein today are curtailed from early October to May simply because appalling weather conditions make ascent impossible. On another occasion during a thunderstorm the Southwest tunnel�s insulation system was so charged by electricity that one of its panels burst with a loud bang releasing tons of water. Entire electricity systems were destroyed and patiently restored.
Heavy thunderstorms were a constant hazard and their electrostatic charges on the upper part of the mountain caused a great deal of damage. On one occasion, lightning hit the water pipe at the Scharitzkehl and exited at the teahouse construction site. This resulted in five workers being hurt, two seriously.
High above all of this activity the construction of the �Kehlsteinhaus� (Eagle�s Nest) continued at Germany�s highest construction site. Massive granite stones, indeed all of the building materials needed had to be brought up from the valley thousands of feet below. Working alongside each other, often in the most hazardous conditions were masons, carpenters, elevator technicians and tile-layers. It is to the credit of all involved that despite the high altitude, the horrendous possibilities for tragedy not to mention the appalling weather, no one was seriously hurt during this period of critical construction - except for the effects of the lightning bolts.
THE MOUNTAIN GETS A MAKEOVER
Gradually the time came when mountain cosmetics needed to be applied to put the finishing touches to the Eagle�s Nest project. The world�s most demanding construction project needed a makeover to ensure that all evidence of construction and the road itself would blend into the mountain-scape. Equally important that the ecology of the area should remain as wild and beautiful as it had been throughout its long history.
A difficult task was the application of hydrochloric acid solutions to the stones that had been excavated to ensure their colours matched the weathered rocks, and to speed up moss growth and restore nature. It was important to ensure that natural watercourses remained unpolluted. Asphalt was chosen for the road surfaces but because of the weather the surfaces never dried out for weeks. The spreading of topsoil and the laying of grass seed was also taking place and all waste was carefully disposed of. The objective was to �leave the place as they had found it.�
Finally the Kehlstein �Eagle�s Nest� construction epic was completed. Even by today�s standards the construction of the mountain road leading to �Eagle�s Nest� stands out as a milestone in the history of road construction. This winding road spiralling upwards to the snow-capped peak of Obersalzberg Mountain has so far withstood an estimated a total weight of 4.2 million tons � since 1960. It might provide a lesson for today�s pot-holed Britain. Only the smallest defects have been found in the walled systems. This was also the first road project with a 25% gradient to employ the use of hot liquid asphalt. Eagle�s Nest in a word is a construction of history-making firsts.
Despite the most stringent safety considerations there were sadly four accidents involving eight workers that resulted in fatalities. A landslide below the Southwest tunnel killed five workers. One truck driver tumbled with his Opel Blitz truck 200 metres down the mountainside. Another worker, for non-payment of a debt, stabbed one worker to death. Finally one unfortunate worker tumbled to his death down a 130-metre shaft. Each a tragedy of course for the individual and their families involved but against that is the recognition that so few lives were lost on such an awesome epoch-making venture.
Vital statistics. The Kehlstein road carved out of the mountain is 6.5 kilometres long and four metres wide. Five tunnels were dug out of the mountainside and a parking area in which buses could turn was built at 1,700 metres. From this parking plateau is the tunnel leading to the mountain�s centre. It is 3 metres high and 300 metres (1,000 feet) long.
The Eagle�s Nest �fortress� is an impressive granite stone multi-room building beautifully furnished with the most exquisite furniture. The rooms included a huge round reception hall with many panoramic windows and a most impressive marble fireplace. There is a dining room still used as a restaurant today, as indeed the reception hall. There is also a large kitchen area, guardrooms and the elegantly pine-panelled �Scharitzkehlstube� room.
The road and Eagle�s Nest were built in just 12 months and cost 30 million Reich mark. Neither the �tea house� nor the road were damaged by the 101st Airborne Division occupiers though they did seriously consider dynamiting it! They did however vandalise the building and of course loot it. One can watch the videos taken at the time. It is almost beyond belief that other than barbarians could take such pleasure in wantonly destroying such magnificent art. Eagle�s Nest was confiscated by American troops of occupation although from 1948 it was officially owned by the State of Bavaria. It was until 1960 off limits to Germans.
Today in the visiting season fleets of buses carry thousands of tourists up to the restored Eagle�s Nest each day. There they may enjoy the panoramic scenery, explore the beautiful mountaintop, enjoy soft drinks and purchase souvenirs.
THE VANDALISM OF THE BARBARIANS
Thankfully, much of the town of Berchtesgaden remains at it always was, an absolute joy to wander through. Tragically however the USAF and RAF bombed the Platterhof and the village community of National Socialist leaders. During the US occupation the homes, buildings and infrastructure were pillaged, dynamited and bulldozed out of existence. Only the Hotel Turken survives and thrives.
The allied vandals have wantonly razed all other buildings, fearful of the giant emotions so recently unleashed by a resurgent racial-nationalist Europe. Meticulously destroyed was Adolf Hitler�s beautiful residence Der Berghof. The SS barracks and its cavernous garages, their kindergartens for their children, the ornate and beautiful gardens, the guesthouses. All the stunningly fine-looking homes of the then Germany�s leaders, Herman Goering, Martin Bormann and so many others, likewise razed, every stone and all trace removed. All that remains are photographs and memories, and the ghosts. Such is the legacy of Europe�s �liberators�. All gone on the wind as has the honour of the victor nations. The greenhouse and nurseries, the gardens were once tens of thousands of children with parents stood in the sunlight hoping to catch a glimpse of the most revered leader in European history. One can only wonder if the present day destruction, the squalor and the misfortune increasingly heaped upon the multi-racial madness pf the equally colonised western �powers� is Nature�s revenge?
HOW TO GET TO EAGLE�S NEST
As with all destinations you pay your money, you take your choice but it is seriously easy to get to. Our route took us from Dover to Ostend, Aachen and then south to Koblenz, Karlsruhe, Stuttgart, Munich and then we took the E45 autobahn 90 miles to Bad Reichenhall and Berchtesgaden. The distance from Ostend is roughly 1,000 kilometres (675 miles).
On another occasion we flew Easy Jet (Liverpool to Geneva) at which airport we hired a car. We then set out for Lausanne, Bern, Zurich, Bregenz then took the E60 to Innsbruck and on to Bad Reichenhall and Berchtesgaden. Distance approximately 700 kilometres (500 miles). We actually took the pretty route through the Swiss Alps via Sion and Sierra but it isn�t to be recommended unless you have driving nerves of steel and a head for heights.
Berchtesgaden itself is a delightful town that long before the emergence of the Third Reich attracted tens of thousands of visitors wishing to experience its utterly Bavarian Alpine charm. Do visit its website. We used it to select and book a hotel close to Lake Konigsee. Explore its attractive shops, restaurants and bars. You will find Berchtesgaden the most difficult town to turn your back on so do purchase the ubiquitous handkerchief. You will need it to blow your nose on as you promise yourself a return visit. Believe me, it will be a promise kept.
Should you � as you should � wish to visit the Fuhrer�s childhood home town of Braunnau you will find the it an easy (and charming) location to drive to, a truly beautiful place to spend a summer�s day. For the moment his home stands several yards to the east of the imposing town gate. But do so soon as there are plans to demolish it. Do make a point of spending some time in the town�s incredibly beautiful domed church where undoubtedly the young German leader was anointed. It is I promise an uplifting experience. And might I recommend a walk along the forested banks of the swirling river Inn, through the meadows were equally undoubtedly the future leader of the White race stood and gazed across to Germany and his true homeland. Braunnau (the river is the German/Austrian border) is actually situated on the east side of the river frontier and the Custom House where Hitler�s father once worked still stands.
"It turned out fortunate for me today that destiny appointed Braunnau-on-the-Inn to be my birthplace. For that little town is situated just on the frontier between those two States the reunion of which seems, at least to us of the younger generation, a task to which we should devote our lives and in the pursuit of which every possible means should be employed." - Opening paragraph of Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler.
Other than that the town is very much as he would remember it although on its outskirts small industry and shopping malls have mushroomed. No real problem with that. Enjoy your shopping. Like Munich Braunau is easily reached and is about 50 miles from Berchtesgaden. Have a safe and enjoyable journey.
RECOMMENDED READING: For those wishing to discover the epic of Eagle�s Nest in its finest detail there is Florien M. Beierl�s �History of the Eagle�s Nest�. Verlag Plenk, Berchtesgaden, PO Box 2147 � Koch-Sternfeld-Str.5 Telephone 0049/8652/4474 � Fax 0049/8652/66277. e-mail Plenk-Verlag@t-online.de and web URL http://www.Plenk-Verlag.com. It is the official record of the Eagle�s Next project and contains over four hundred photographs, illustrations, maps, plans, and communications.
For web sites use Google and type
Eagle�s Nest Kehlstein.
Also see http://berchtesgaden.com/e/e_index.htm
Events Without The Spin - The Michael Walsh News Desk
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