Bavarian Alps, Southern Germany
Hitlers Berghof and the Eagles Nest
Article and pictures, Tony Hart-Wilden
Obersalzberg is located in southern Germany in the Bavarian Alps, just near the Austrian border. Although most people associate Hitler’s final days with Berlin this was the Nazi stronghold where the allies believed he and his generals would make a last stand. This mountain village had become a fortified compound. Over forty private houses and farms and six hundred and fifty acres of land were seized for use by the Third Reich. Martin Boreman personally supervised the building of a 27 km fence around the perimeter. Within this perimeter along with Boreman’s house, was a S.S barracks, the private residences of Field Marshal Goring, and its center was Adolph Hitler’s mountain retreat known as the Berghof. As the war draw to a close on April 25th 1945, allied bombing raids reduced much of the area to ruins. However even today the rubble of the Third Reich remains and below a network of secret tunnels still lies.
I had flown in to Munich from England , and then made the drive down to Obersalzberg which took about three hours. Once you leave the motorway you reach this small alpine village through a series of winding country roads across the mountains. You first come to Bergestgarden, which is directly below Obersalzberg. It is hard to imagine the area as former power base of the Third Reich. There’s just one main street, and off of that there is a river with a few stone bridges that run across it, to take you up into the mountains above. On the other side of town there is a narrow road that leads you to a few local shops and restaurants. Up along either side of the green hills is what looks like wooden ski chalets. But many Germans don’t like to be reminded of this particular chapter of their history and you will not see signs pointing you to the remains of Hitler’s Berghof, or the Nazi ruins in the mountains above the village. The areas association with Nazi Germany is barley mentioned in any of the guidebooks, and most of the tourists that come here are from America or other country’s in Europe. But if you have done some research before hand, it will certainly enhance your journey. A web site I recommend is called “The Third Reich in ruins” run by a researcher by the name of Geoff Walden. There are hundreds of photographs and detailed descriptions of Third Reich landmarks as they were, and as they are now.
One of the first buildings you come across in Berchtesgaden is the train station. This was built in 1937 to impress the high ranking dignitaries that would come here for an audience with Hitler in his retreat in the hills above. The building still incorporates a post office, and on the outside wall is a huge mural of what looks like a German peasant holding a shield and carrying a flag. What most people don’t realize that in the 1940’s on the flag there was once a swastika several feet high. You will find many instances like this all over Germany, whereby something related to the Third Reich hasn’t been removed but altered and most people are none the wiser. Across a bridge on the south side of the town there is a sign saying Obersalzberg. This is where Hitlers Berghof and the remains of the Nazi complex are. It is an extremely steep road that twists and turns upwards for several miles. There are few side roads, and only the occasional house. As you get towards the top there is a stone wall that runs along the side of the road. Then there’s a sharp turn, and a single sign that says Hotel Zum Tuken. At the time I went this was the only hotel in the area, and is actually as much a part of history as the ruins around it. Unfortunately work had also begun on the foundations of a modern resort hotel around the corner, and this will undoubtedly detract from the atmosphere that is there at the moment. If you look to your left there are incredible views down to the valley below. You will also see a golf course, and beyond the tree line hidden from view are the remains of a small building know as the Tee Haus. Hitler used to walk there from his house everyday and have afternoon tea.
I remember reading it was about a twenty minute walk so I am probably quite close to the ruins of his former home. Around the next corner there is a narrow dirt path on my right that slopes up through the grass to some trees about thirty or forty feet above the road. Directly in front of me is the hotel Zum Tuken. I recognize from a documentary on the History Channel that the narrow dirt path is the one that leads to the rubble of Hitler’s house. Again if you don’t do you research you will miss it. There is no sign. I had taken print outs of before and after pictures of the area from the internet and kept them with me, so instead of just looking at ruins you can actually see the infamous figures who were at these same places over fifty years ago when decisions where made that actually effected the entire world. As I pull into the car park of the hotel Zum Tuken, you can still see a guard post next to one side of the front wall. I have a picture of about sixty black clad S.S troops marching up the same slope I am now driving across. There is also another photograph I have of crowds lined up outside waiting to catch a glimpse of Hitler himself.
The Zum Tuken hotel was actually built in 1903. Adolph Hitler first had a home next door to it in 1939, but it was not until 1945 that it was taken over under the supervision of Martin Boreman, to provide accommodation for Hitler’s personal guards. Maybe because of its remote location, or the fact that it is little publicized, Hitler’s house and the surrounding complex has not become a shrine for neo Nazis. However it is believed that a few of the soldiers of the old guard still make there way up here. The hotel Zum Tuken was actually leveled in the 1945 air raids by British Lancaster bombers but the secret escape tunnels beneath it survived. It was rebuilt in 1949 and is know run by the granddaughter of Karl Schuster who originally owned it. I checked in to the hotel at about 2 pm. It feels like a ancient Gothic mansion, inside are curved stone arches, polished wood floors, and huge chandeliers. It still has a very ornate feel to it. Surprisingly although the hotel has about twenty rooms, there was only one other person here. He was also from England , and had been coming here for the last twenty years. If you stay there make sure you ask for a room with a mountain view . The mountain side rooms all have balcony’s and you can sit outside, and look a few Yards to you left and see the dirt road and the cluster of trees which hide the remains of Hitler’s house. There are also spectacular views to the valleys below.
If you have seen that famous footage of Hitler and Eva Braun on the patio of their house they are normally shown looking at the same views that you are. If you were looking out towards where the remains of that house now stands, 60 years ago you may also have seen Martin Boreman, Rudolph Hess, or Mussolini walking up the steps at the front. Before I went outside to visit the ruins, I had a walk along the hotel corridor. There are some really interesting pictures, of the area as it once was, with maps and locations of once strategic buildings. Although the hotel was not constructed exactly the same as before it was bombed, parts of the original structure still remains, and it definitely has that feeling of a bygone era. If you leave via the front door and stand in the car park by the hotel there are a series of mountain peaks in the distance. Just visible right on the very top of one of them, is a building that is famously known as the Eagles Nest. Martin Boreman built it as a birthday present for Hitler. It is only accessible via several miles of travel up a narrow twisting mountain road. It is now a restaurant, and was one of the few places not bombed during the allied air raid. The only way to get there is via one of the coach tours that run from the documentation center about half a mile away from the hotel. If you look out directly ahead across the car park, this is where several buildings once stood that were S.S barracks. I walked up the slight hill to the right and I could still see the remains of their foundations. It is actually being completely bulldozed now to make room for another hotel. Further up the hill in the woods on the left, are the barley visible remains of the house where Martin Boreman once lived. Albert Spheres, Hitler’s architect also resided here. There are a few other decayed reminders of that time, but now most are just little more then a few bricks or crumbling walls.
I walked back down the hill past the front of the Hotel Zum Tuken it is a large building that stretches almost to the point where the side entrance to Hitlers Berghof is. The Berghof itself was a huge structure, as big as the hotel at one point. It was originally a much smaller house, but once Hitler decided to make it his home in 1936 it was expanded to include a garage and an additional wing. If you look down the road about fifteen twenty yards there is what looks like a lay by in the curve of the road. This was actually the main driveway that lead to a set of ornate steps from the front of the house. This entrance is completely over grown and was filled with rubble from other Nazi war ruins in the area and no longer accessible. There is a chain strung between two iron posts at the other entrance, but you simply walk around it. It’s about another fifty or sixty yards up the hill before you start to notice the remains of what are now blackened walls hidden within dark clumps of trees. If you looked around the area about sixty years ago after the bombing raids you wouldn’t have seen any trees. The entire area was flattened, destroying woodlands as well as the buildings. Now as you stand here you are in semi darkness beneath the overhanging branches, there is a sense that you are defiantly walking in the footsteps of history. You forget about the views over the valley below, and you imagine seeing Hitler and Eva Braun out on the terrace that was built to one side, just as you had seen them so many times on many world war two documentaries.
The foundations and remaining walls are on different levels on the hillside behind. They are of varying thickness, and there is also what looks like the top of a bunker which is in fact the entrance to the garage, and what was once the bowling alley. The fact that little remains was in fact due not to the work of the R.A.F but that of the Bavarian government. On April 3oth 1952 Hitler’s birthday, the decision was made to blow up the ruins of the Berghof to avoid it becoming a tourist attraction. The house was at one point a three story structure, built in an L shape, elaborately decorated with original paintings, and sculptures. Aside from containing a bowling alley and Bavarian tiled dining room, it also held a movie theater. One of the most impressive features of Hitlers Berghof was a huge picture window that was mechanically open and shut to provide views of the mountains. Contrary to popular belief it wasn’t the 101st Airborne that were the first allied troops here, but was actually the 3rd Infantry Division. There is defiantly a sense of gloom that hangs over here, and its location is so solitary that if you stand still there is a total silence. But beneath your feet there lies parts of the Third Reich that still remain largely untouched even today. I walked back down the grass slope then around to the side of the hotel Zum Turken .
There is a small coffee shop at the side of the hotel and behind it is the entrance to the underground tunnels. You put a few Euros in a coin slot and spin open a mechanical turn style, and then you begin to descend down some dimly lit concrete stairs. You are now entering into the subterranean world of the former Nazi bunker complex. Surprisingly few people come here. And I was actually the only one in them at this moment. The stairs spiral beneath you, you are entering another realm, one that feels completely cut off from the one outside. You first come to a passage way that leads both left and right. I walked first along to the left, but it dead ends after about a hundred yards. At one time it connected with other key buildings on the hilltop, including Hitlers Berghof. I’ve been in castle dungeons in England, but because the era they represent is so long ago, the history seems somewhat remote. Where as here it is only sixty years ago, many people from this generations are still alive, maybe even some of the S.S guards that may once have been stationed here. I walked back along the other side of the tunnel. There is another set of steps, and an archway. This descends yet again down into the semi darkness. Each step you take, it becomes more claustrophobic. The only sound is your own footsteps. I am down to the next level, if anybody else has entered the tunnel behind you, you couldn’t see or hear them. The air is very damp, and you can see moisture running down the thick concrete walls. Down below you can here the sound of running water. In front of you are more steps.
The entire tunnel complex was at one time almost 3000 meters long and contained over seventy rooms that were used for offices, and accommodation. Boreman had an elaborate dining room built in his. This particular stretch is part of Hitler’s Berghof complex, and was about 450 meters long with 17 rooms. The shelters were built to be bomb proof and gas proof. You will come across parts of the tunnels with doorways with several gun slits cut in them, this is where S.S guards were positioned protecting the tunnel entrances with machine guns. I carry on down the passage way. I am almost at the bottom, the sound of running water gets louder and the temperature drops noticeably, the deeper you go. Eventually you come to a bricked up archway. There’s some writing on the wall in paint, both in German and in English. There is an arrow pointing to the archway that says Adolph Hitler and Eva Braun’s bunker. Being the only one in a Nazi tunnel complex many feet below the ground, and realizing that both of them must surely have stood in the exact same place as I am now is an eerie feeling. The bricks go almost to the top of the doorway where there is a small gap, but it’s too high to see through. Behind here lies Hitler’s emergency living quarters as it was sixty years ago. But again this has been left sealed to avoid it becoming a shrine. One day it may be open to the public, but no one knows when. I retraced my steps back up the several flights of steps, and was once again back out in the sunlight.
After going into the town of Berchadsgarden for dinner, I spent the night in the Zum Tuken Hotel and made plans to go to the documentation center and the Eagles Nest the next day. The documentation center contains exhibits and information about the history of Third Reich not just in relation to the immediate area, but its rise and fall including its eventual defeat by the allies. It’s just a short drive from the hotel and from there it is also only a few minutes walk to catch the coach to the Eagles Nest. The documentation center is built on the foundations on what was the Nazi party guesthouse, where Martin Boreman accommodated business associates. Boreman also had an office here. In Germany the center is somewhat unique, as you will find that most of the time the country’s Nazi past is ignored. When I got there, there was a small admission charge, but this also includes access to another part of the tunnel complex which is located below. The major disappointment though, is that all the exhibits and information are in German. As visitors come here from all over the world, you would have thought at least some of it may have been in English. But there are many interesting artifacts and pictures that you can appreciate regardless of language. At one end of the building is a ramp that descends into the tunnels below. They are larger then the ones beneath the Hotel Zum Tuken and its extremely cold here. I did find the other ones beneath the hotel to be much more atmospheric as there were not so many people. It took about half an hour to walk around the document center and tunnels and afterwards I made my way to where the coaches departed to the Eagles Nest.
You can’t drive up there yourself, but the coaches run every few minutes, there were a few other English people, some Germans and many Americans also waiting to take the tour. The journey up is spectacular; it’s over four miles along a narrow road that twists up into the mountains above the snow. There are hair pin curves and sheer drops all the way along. You finally get off the coach and then you walk through a long tunnel that takes you to an elaborate brass lined elevator. This takes you another four hundred feet to the summit of the mountain and the Eagles Nest itself. The building and road construction took 13 months and the equivalent of 100 million dollars in today’s money. But although Boreman built it for Hitler, Hitler rarely came here. As you walk from the elevator into the main building there are several enormous rooms. The largest of these rooms has a massive open fireplace surrounded by wood beams. This is now a restaurant. One of the other rooms was Eva Brauns living room, another was a guard room. The food in the restaurant is reasonably good, and provides incredible views over the mountains below. There are few references as to its former use, but there is a small shop within the restaurant that sells guidebooks and Eagles Nest souvenirs. The floors are marble, and there are oak beams throughout. Power was supplied by the power station in Berchtesgaden, but an emergency generator was provided from a German submarine in the event of power failure. What makes the building is its location. If you walk out to the rear courtyard, over to one side there is a lake far below. Or you can walk further along the mountain top to a snow covered peak. If you know exactly where to look you can just make out the distant outline of the Hotel Zum Tukam , Hitlers Berghof and Bergestgarden in the valley a few miles below. The few days I had spent in the area had been both interesting and informative. The only disappointment is that much of what was left of the ruins of the Third Reich have been destroyed, as I feel it would have made a greater impact on people as to what happened here if you could still see them. If you do go to Germany, the trip to Berchtesgaden and the Eagles Nest is definitely one worth making and you are also only a short distance from Austria if you wanted to explore further.
The Berghof Today – Youtube
Hitlers Mountain Retreat – Uncommon Travel
The Ruins Of Hitlers Berghof – Third Reich In Ruins
The Eagles Nest – Mark Felton
Hitlers Underground Bunkers – TripAdviser
The Remains Of The Third Reich At Berchtesgaden – Atlas Obscura