History is my thing, I just find it more interesting than the present I guess. I read a lot of historical stuff and am always adding to the list of things I need to know about. Whilst reading about it provides the facts though, there's nothing quite like living it through visiting those locations where things actually took place. So we travel when possible and do just that.
We headed over to Europe a little while ago and had tagged Austria as one of the places we wanted to go; Salzburg specifically. Whilst there we planned to visit the Eagle's Nest in the Bavarian Alps; The Kehlsteinhaus which is what I'll write about today.
The Eagle's Nest was a gift from the Nazi Party to Adolf Hitler on his 50th birthday back in 1939. It sits 1834 metres above the lovely town of Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps. It too only 13 months to build and some 3,000 men toiled to complete it; Twelve of them died doing so as the work was so dangerous.
A narrow winding road climbs 800m to a car park, and the imposing 124m long tunnel entrance, which provides access to the elevator that goes up through the mountain into the Eagles Nest itself and once there one truly understands why they called it The Eagles Nest.
The Kehlsteinhaus is an imposing structure with a dark past (and an even darker owner) but is a wonderful place to visit. It offers amazing 360• views over the countryside, a cosy little restaurant and the ability to wander the rooms that some of the most notorious people in history also wandered. It leaves one with a feeling of having touched history.
One can feel the history of the place, it seems almost that the events that played out here have permeated into the very bones of the structure, and I certainly felt a brooding disquiet when walking around, especially inside.
We walked in the footsteps of people like Hitler, Himmler, Ava Braun, Martin Bormann, Joseph Goebbels and other high-ranking Nazi Party members and their diplomatic guests. Interestingly, Hitler himself was afraid of heights and so only visited several times however I imagine those times to have been big occasions, with many of his high-ranking officers in attendance. There was no doubt that if you lived in these parts you were a Nazi and all of the guests almost certainly also were.
Here's the knucklehead below, Adolf Hitler, talking with another Nazi chap, his aide (SS considering the silver and black patch at his collar) at the Eagle's Nest. A pity he didn't fall off the edge and to his death I suppose. src
Contrary to common belief Hitler didn't live here; When in the area he lived at the Berghof on the Obersalzberg above the town of Berchtesgaden.
For those who have travelled to this region you'll know how amazingly green everything is! I took this through the window of the vehicle as we were moving...It's lovely country, but the real views are up higher from The Kehlsteinhaus.
Here's the tunnel entrance. Imposing? I think so. Apparently there's a small road up also but tourists don't use it. Hitler distrusted the elevator so used the road though. We walked into the tunnel and down it's 124m length towards the elevator. You can see Faith in the image below on the inside of the walkway-tunnel.
Once you get through the tunnel it opens out into this domed room below with the elevator in it. I did a ninja-mission stealth-shot as I wasn't supposed to take any photo's so the shot isn't that good. That's the elevator at the far side, the only way up to the Eagles Nest other than the small service road. It felt odd knowing who else had stood in this room and rode the elevator - The mighty and powerful Nazi Party members.
There's no photos in the elevator I'm afraid. The inside of it was all polished metal, brass I think as it was gold. (Might have been gold for all I know!)
Once we reached the top the reason for choosing this location for the Eagle's Nest made perfect sense. The views are simply amazing.
It was quite cold up here, in fact it snowed the very next day, and one could feel the chill even on this sunny day. (Snow is not something I see much in Australia so it's a bit of a novelty for a boy from the bush!) This shot below shows the The Kehlsteinhaus which sort of hangs right on the side of the mountain.
Here's my girl risking life and limb for that perfect shot at the edge of the mountain. Well, maybe not perfect with my photography skills and the shit camera I had, but you get the idea. Talk about view!
This sign below, sits on the side of the building and states the elevation in metres. (1834m). Again, Faith does the modelling because I have a head like a robbers dog. (That means not a good looking one.)
This fireplace was given to Hitler by Benito Mussolini of Italy who was one of the Axis forces in league with Germany and Japan. It's huge and made of some sort of Carrara marble chiseled from somewhere in Italy. You'll note the three central stones are badly chipped...This happened after allied soldiers captured the Eagles Nest and began to chip off souvenirs. I would have done so too I think, then, not now.
This image shows how massive the fireplace really is. (Faith is 6' tall.)
The day we were there was a completely clear day fortunately however due to pollens or whatever in the air the shots didn't come out so clear. (Here's me blaming pollens instead of my shit photography skills).
I think even if it was snowing it would still have been beautiful though; The air was fresh and crisp and it felt like the top of the world.
Strolling around the Eagle's Nest, wandering the rooms and just standing there taking in the views made me think about what it must have been like for the Nazi Party members and diplomats back in a pre-WWII 1939 world, planning the war, thinking they were the masters of the world. I could imagine the banquets, (apparently many) and the important topics of the day being discussed...Then during the war when I assume the tone was more serious - I wonder how many plans were laid here, if their final solution was discussed up here.
I also thought about those 101st airborne paratroopers who captured The Kehlsteinhaus in 1945. For them the war was coming to an end after parachuting into Normandy prior to the D Day beach landings and fighting their way towards Germany.
It was captured in May 1945 by the 101st Airborne (there's contention as to which unit actually captured it) and was used by the allies until 1960 when it was handed back to the State of Bavaria.
To come here, to the tranquility of this place in the heart of Nazi territory, must have been surreal after what they had gone through. They were still at war but here I think the war would have seemed distant. The image below depicts members of Easy Company, 506th Infantry Regiment at the Eagle's Nest as featured in the HBO series Band of Brothers.
Here's the real Easy company back in 1945 at the Eagles Nest. (Above image from HBO and below from Department of Defence USA)
This place was designed by and created for one of the most brutal groups of people ever to walk the earth. The Nazi's, led by Adolf Hitler, created chaos and wreaked havoc across the entire world. No one was untouched by the Second World War and the world was irrevocably changed.
The Eagle's Nest played its part in that history however the location and building itself weren't evil as such. It was simply a place where evil gathered...And even then, I assume they didn't see themselves as such.
It was one of the things I wanted to tick off my list of done things and feel privileged to have done so. Going there was both exciting and a little sad...Exciting because I love history and living it in places I read about is an amazing opportunity; Sad because the people that gathered here brought misery to so many lives around the world, and for what? A misguided ideal? Who knows.
Design and create your ideal life, don't live it by default - Tomorrow isn't promised.