Obersalzberg (Hitler’s bunker)
After visiting Salzburg, we took a scenic train ride south through Alpine valleys to Berchtesgaden, a German village in the Konig river valley in the Bavarian Alps. We had heard a lot about the beauty of Berchtesgaden and its history during the Nazi era when Hitler had a summer home on Obersalzberg (Above Salt Mountain) and planned his political campaigns and military campaigns before and during World War II.
Adolf Hitler began coming to Berchtesgaden in the mid 1920’s on the recommendation of a Nazi colleague he met during the Beer Hall Putsch days in Munich.
Hitler loved the landscape of the snow-capped Alps, the lush pastures with dairy cattle, and tranquil villages in the remote valley.
In 1928, he rented a cottage called Haus Wachenfeld on a hillside above Berchtesgaden. When he was named Reich’s Chancellor in 1933 by ailing President von Hindenberg, Hitler bought the cottage with royalties from the publication of “Mein Kampf.”
Hitler began extensive renovations turning the once quaint cottage into a sumptuous home with a private theater, expensive wood panelling, a library, and gardens. An audacious feature was a large picture window that retracted into the walls. From the window, he could gaze across the valley towards his native Austria and admire his political successes.
Hitler renamed the cottage, Berghof, (Mountain home) where he invited foreign dignitaries, Nazi colleagues, and domestic and international media. He took long walks in the mountains and meadows and had a tea house built in the woods nearby where he took solitary walks every morning.
Hitler liked to show off his Berghof. When foreign dignitaries visited, Hitler met them on the front steps while reporters and cameras recorded the event. Foreign leaders who visited Berghof included David Lloyd George, Neville Chamberlain, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and Benito Mussolini.
Hitler granted interviews and gave private tours to British and American home and garden magazines which published pictures and articles of his Bavarian mountain retreat.
Hitler’s secret mistress, Eva Braun, lived at the Berghof along with her sister, Gretl. Hitler’s romantic relationship with Braun was largely secret, known only to Nazi Hierarchy. Party propaganda portrayed Hitler as a Teutonic knight or demigod. It was felt he would be more appealing to women if he were single and unattached.
Over the years, Hitler’s Nazi cohorts Martin Bormann, Hermann Goering, and Albert Speer also bought homes at Obersalzberg so they could be close the Führer and plan their campaigns at the Berghof.
Obersalzberg Nazi Compound
By the mid 1930‘s, the Nazi Party reigned supreme over Germany with immense powers and rights. In 1936, Nazi Secretary Bormann used these powers to evict Obersalzberg residents whose homes or farms were close to Hitler’s Berghof.
The evictions included centuries old family farms and Hitler’s closest Berghof neighbor, the innkeeper of the Zum Turken Gasthaus. Bormann ordered the area to become a high security zone and oversaw the construction of barracks, training facilities, hotels, and communications centers for Nazi troops and Hitler’s SS personal security guards.
The eviction antagonized Obersalzberg citizens who resented their forced removal. But the fame of the Berghof and Hitler’s frequent presence drew large crowds who hiked up trails and roads to get a glimpse of their Führer and the many dignitaries who visited him.
The Battle of Stalingrad
The Nazi leaders felt they would win the war and didn’t take precautions to safeguard their Obersalzberg compound. But after their staggering defeat at the battle of Stalingrad where two million died during the winter of 1942 – 1943, they realized that Germany could be invaded. The Wehrmacht never had another victory on the Eastern front. A Nazi retreat from the Soviet Union in 1943 signaled the tide had turned in the war.
That summer, Bormann began a crash program to build an elaborate underground bunker network under Obersalzberg.
Eagles Nest Tour
We took a tour on a rainy, cloudy day of Obersalzberg, driving up from Berchtesgaden through the woods past the Berghof location, ending at the documentation center for a walk through the underground bunkers. Our Eagles Nest tour guide pointed out the former home sites of Hitler, Bormann, Goering, and Speer. They were all heavily bombed in March 1945, plundered by Allied troops, burned, and later destroyed by the post-war German government.
All that remains of the once sprawling Nazi compound is a field where Nazi troops trained and a hotel that had been barracks for Hitler’s personal SS security guards next to the Berghof. The only physical evidence of former Nazi leader homes is a cement slab door visible in the side of the mountain leading to Bormann’s bunker.
We passed a small hotel, Zum Turken, which had been seized by Bormann in 1936 to build the security zone next to Hitlers’ Berghof. The hotel became barracks for SS troops who provided personal security for Hitler.
After the war, a surviving daughter went to court and was awarded ownership by the German government. Today her daughter operates the small hotel. During renovation, a tunnel system was discovered underneath the hotel which connected to the bunkers constructed in 1943. She was allowed to keep the bunkers which could be visited by hotel guests. Apparently it has suffered with flooding and deterioration.
Further up the hillside are a hotel and restaurant, which was a Nazi SS hotel for their guests and visitors. After the War, American forces changed the name to Hotel General Walker which became a popular vacation spot for American military families. The restaurant is now privately owned.
Obersalzberg Documentation center
We parked beneath the hotel and walked a few steps up and into the Obersalzberg Documentation Center, a museum with millions of documents including photos, map, film clips, newspaper articles, and propaganda posters of the Nazi era. Although documents on displayed were in German, and we had little time to view them, we were impressed how extensive and detailed they were.
At the rear of the documentation center and down a hallway, we entered a tunnel leading to the bunker network. Although the bunkers are more than 70 years old, they were well constructed and maintained with smooth cement walls, drains to remove water, and sufficient lighting.
At the end of the first tunnel, a glass display case showed the extensive network of tunnels dug by German workers. Only two miles of the bunkers are open to the public, the remainder are in control of the German government after they were handed over by Allied governments in 1954. Visible through the glass display was a portion of an unfinished tunnel, about twenty feet long, with exposed rock walls that led to a finished tunnel.
We continued down another tunnel that opened up revealing pipes and electrical wiring. On the wall was graffiti carved by French troops who first entered the tunnels on May 5, 1945. French troops arrived in Berchtesgaden just a few days ahead of American forces coming from the west.
The bunker apartments had separate bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, and bathrooms. Nothing was spared to provide comforts, convenience, and safety. Heating, electricity, water and sanitation, and ventilation systems were installed. Defense measures included a poisonous gas detection system and machine guns at entrances and emergency exits.
Allies Bomb Obersalzberg
In the final days of the war, allied forces were closing in on Germany from the south and west. Squadrons of British Lancaster bombers from bases in Italy heavily bombed Obersalzberg on April 25, 1945.
Two bombs hit Hitler’s Berghof, largely demolishing it. It became booty for American and French troops who swarmed into the area days after Hitler committed suicide in his Fuhrer’s bunker under the Reich’s Chancellory in Berlin.
The Nazi bunker system was largely intact even after heavy Allied bombing. When American and French troops arrived, they fired bazookas into the entrances and exits, causing some damage. But they encountered no resistance when they finally entered.
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Next: Kehlsteinhaus – Hitler’s Eagles Nest
In addition to writing this travel blog, I write fiction — thrillers, mysteries, and suspense novels. I’m currently writing a thriller series based in Milan featuring the anti-terrorism police, DIGOS, as they track down domestic and international terrorists.
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