Last summer, my husband Bill and I journeyed to the Bavarian town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, where the U.S. Army runs the Edelweiss, a huge lodge and conference center. Bill was in town on business, but I was there to have some fun and see new things. One of the places I saw during that trip was Berchtesgaden, a gorgeous Bavarian town at the extreme southeastern edge of Germany.
Bill had told me about Berchtesgaden; he had gone there during his first Army tour of Germany. He described it as a breathtaking place. So, when I saw that the Edelweiss Lodge was offering a tour of Berchtesgaden, I was eager to sign up. We would be visiting Adolf Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest, the headquarters of the Nazi party, as well as visiting the town of Berchtesgaden, where we could shop and enjoy a good meal.
Berchtesgaden is famous for its connection to Adolf Hitler, who also owned a mountain retreat there called Berghof. But Berchtesgaden is also well-known for a few other reasons. The area around the town is very rich with salt mines and caves. The salt mines helped the town establish wealth and power. Berchtesgaden was also very popular with the Bavarian royal family, who used to visit the area to hunt and visit the Königssee, a lovely glacial lake. And Berchtesgaden was coveted by the Austrians; indeed, we had to cross over the Austrian border to get to Berchtesgaden. It’s very close to Salzberg.
I remember being very impressed and a little frightened as our tour bus climbed the mighty Alps to take us to the Berchtesgaden National Park. It’s at this park that tourists can hike, camp, gaze at Mount Watzmann-Ostwand, Germany’s second highest peak, or take a boat across the Königssee. The park is very beautiful and well-kept.
The “Eagle’s Nest”
Known locally as the Kehlsteinhaus, many people typically refer to Hitler’s stony lodge at the top of Mount Kehlstein as the “Eagle’s Nest”. The lodge was built in 1938, financed by Hitler’s friends, who meant to formally present it to him on his 50th birthday on April 20, 1939. It took 13 months to build the stone lodge, which includes a beautiful red Italian marble fireplace, a feature contributed by Benito Mussolini. The furniture in the house was designed by Paul László.
Although the Kehlsteinhaus was located near Hitler’s summer retreat, the Berghof, Hitler only visited it a few times. Our tour guide told us it was because Hitler was deathly afraid of heights. I don’t know how true that claim is, but one thing is for certain; if Hitler had spent more time at the lodge, it probably would have been demolished, which was the fate of most of the other Nazi government buildings in the area. American Airborne troops took control of the house for a time and many Nazi artifacts were looted as wartime souvenirs. The Kehlsteinhaus is one of the few buildings left from Hitler’s era,.
Tickets to visit the Kehlsteinhaus and the accompanying museum can be purchased at the visitor’s center in the nearby town of Obersalzberg, where there is a tourist center and a gift shop. Visitors can reach the house on foot (a two hour hike) or by shuttle bus. Cars have not been allowed on the road to Kehlsteinhaus since 1952.
The shuttle bus takes groups to the lower elevator station. There, tourists climb aboard a huge elevator that was built into the mountain and connected by a large tunnel. Twelve men died while constructing the elevator, which is richly outfitted with brass, Venetian mirrors, and green leather.
The elevator takes groups of tourists 407 feet up to the Eagles Nest, where they may participate in a tour, have a meal at the restaurant, sipped mulled wine from the kiosk on the grounds, or just wander around the beautiful grounds. After our tour guide told us about the little stone lodge, most of the people in our group took a walk along the mountain ridge, surveying the very impressive views, taking lots of pictures, and marveling at the difference in temperature. If you visit, even in the summer, you might want to bring a light jacket with you. When we were there in June 2009, there was still some snow on the ground!
After the Eagle’s Nest…
We spent the afternoon in lovely Berchtesgaden, first enjoying a typical Bavarian lunch at a gasthaus. A lot of the people on my tour were folks who had come to Germany for a vacation. Since I was lucky enough to be living there, I had learned some German words and managed to be the only one who didn’t order wienerschnitzel, wurst, or rump steak for lunch! I remember teaching one guy the German word for trout (forelle) so he could vary his diet somewhat.
After a lovely trout lunch accompanied by excellent hefeweizen, I ventured out to search for some things to remember the day by. The weather was gorgeous and the town is so picturesque and charming that I probably would have been just as happy to just plain wander around. But I did stop by a wood carver’s shop and bought a napkin holder and a beautifully carved wooden bottle opener. And then I stopped at another shop, where I found some excellent German herbal liquor. For those who don’t know, there are many excellent herbal liquors available in Germany that are great as a digestive after a heavy meal. In fact, I even bought some that were made exclusively for patrons at the Eagle’s Nest.
Going back to the lodge
I would have loved to have stayed longer in Berchtesgaden, but unfortunately, I had to get back on the tour bus and go back to the Edelweiss Lodge. My very brief trip to this tiny part of Bavaria certainly whetted my appetite for another visit. The area is chock full of things to do, from skiing to hiking to visiting local attractions. Plus, it’s just a gorgeous area. No wonder Hitler loved it so much!