The area surrounding Salzburg, Austria is absolutely astounding in its beauty. Breathtaking views abound wherever you turn. To get a spectacular vista of the marvelous wonders, I climbed to The Eagle’s Nest, Hitler’s summer retreat at the top of the Kehlstein mountain.
When I say I climbed, I don’t mean that I hiked up to the top. That trek was a lot more rugged than what I came prepared for. My climb involved a ride on a bus, a walk along a 124 meter tunnel, and a 124 meter elevator ride upward to the summit. Once there, I did scramble my way to the northernmost tip of the mountain where I passed through a natural stone arch from Germany to Austria.
Kehlsteinhaus, the stone building on the mountain’s summit was presented to Hitler as a surprise for his 50th birthday. The massive project involved building a six and a half kilometer switchback road up the mountain, taking thirteen months to complete off the backs of hard working laborers.
Also, it took about two years to complete the tunnel and elevator, as well as fourteen months to build the house itself. The efforts cost the lives of ten men—six died during road construction, three died while building the tunnel, and one man was stabbed to death in the worker’s barracks.
Besides the human cost, the price tag for the project is said to be around 30 million Reichsmarks. I don’t know what that equates to in dollars, but I’m guessing it was A LOT!
At the top of the mountain
After everything that went into building Kehlsteinhaus, it turns out that Hitler had a problem with heights. He only visited the venue on fourteen recorded occasions. His secret girlfriend, Eva Braun, made free use of it with family and friends. The movie Running Mountain was filmed nearby and Eva invited the cast and producers to visit the retreat. The house became quite a party spot for the elite in Hitler’s circle.
The Obersalzberg became the second seat of government for the Third Reich around 1936. Hitler’s house there, the Berghof, was renovated several times to accommodate his growing needs and an extensive bunker system was constructed beneath it. Martin Bormann, head of the Nazi Party Chancellory, also moved to the area and stood ready to carry out Hitler’s every request. In fact, it’s said that Kehlsteinhaus came about because of a comment Hitler made while passing over the mountain in a plane. He said something like, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a little seating area up here with the beautiful view.” Bormann made it his mission to fulfill that wish.
The Allied air raids started getting worse in 1943, so anti-aircraft guns were installed up at Kehlsteinhaus. I saw the cement mounts for the guns during my visit. In 1944, the Allies solidified a plan to destroy the Obersalzberg with an air attack, on the assumption that Hitler’s war command center was inside the mountain. Kehlsteinhaus and Hitler’s Berghof were the main targets of the attack.
Kehlsteinhaus becomes The Eagle’s Nest
On April 25th, 1945 at 9:35 am, bombers from American and British forces took part in a three-hour raid on the Obersalzberg. Both Hitler’s and Bormann’s houses were badly damaged, as well as Bormann’s neaby luxury hotel, the Platterhof. Incidentally, the only important Nazi official on site was Herman Goering, who was being held by SS guards in his bunker.
After the raid, looters took whatever had not been destroyed. Nothing remained.
About ten days later, on May 4th, the Obersalzberg surrendered to the U.S. Army. There is some dispute over whether the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division or the 101st Airborne Division were first on the scene.
Their orders were to stop Nazi officials from fleeing into the Alps. They started at the bottom of the mountain and worked their way up, not knowing what they would encounter. At the top of the switchback road, they found the tunnel entrance blocked by snow and employed German POWs to shovel it clear.
Power to the elevator had been cut, so they climbed the last part of their journey on foot. At the top, they found Kehlsteinhaus deserted and renamed it The Eagle’s Nest.
The extensive underground bunker system
The views from The Eagle’s Nest are beyond words spectacular. I am continually amazed at the reminder that wondrous beauty can often exist cheek-by-jowl with evil and cruelty.
The scope for chase scenes and cat-and-mouse intrigue around this mountain retreat is tremendous. As always, I was picturing scenes for stories and writing them in my head. Someday, you may read some of the products of my visit in future mysteries or thrillers.
Among many other fascinating tidbits, is the fact and rumor surrounding Hitler’s secret underground bunker system. In a future post, I’ll share what I discovered and my thoughts on what lies beneath…
How about you? Have you visited The Eagle’s Nest? Are you fascinated by WWII history? Tell us about it in the comments.