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Hitler's Eagle's Nest

June 17, 2015


What do you give someone who has everything? In 1937, high ranking Nazis were confronted with this dilemma. The Fuhrer was turning fifty soon and it was deemed necessary to give him something special. Martin Bormann (who gained enormous power as Hitler’s private secretary) came up with a curious idea.


Hitler wasn’t fond of Berlin, and the only home he ever bought (Berghof) was near Berchtesgaden in Bavaria near the Austrian border—he was Austrian after all. He had the region cleared out (dissenters included a local painter who was promptly shipped to a concentration camp) and a compound was build for him and top cronies like Hermann Goring. The widely circulated pictures of Hitler playing with his dog were taken from Berghof’s balcony. Hitler spent most of the war here, planning the invasion of Poland and the fall of France, and this was where he was on D-Day.


Back to 1937; Bormann’s plan was to give Hitler a spectacular conference center high above The Fuhrer’s already lofty home near Berchtesgaden. Millions of dollars were spent to create a steep road up the mountain above Hitler’s home, and a tunnel was blasted through granite, leading to a shaft rising to the site. An elevator was installed in the shaft to bring the German chancellor as high on the mountain as humanly possible. Over 3,000 men worked day and night, winter and summer, for thirteen months to complete a project rising 6017 ft. to the summit, completing the project in time for Hitler’s fiftieth birthday. 





Tunnel leading to the elevator   


Although it’s easy to imagine Adolph Hitler gazing down on the world from this precipitous spot, this nursery for terrible ideas like Auschwitz and Dachau, it was a curious gift for several reasons. The tunnel leading to the fancy brass elevator (made by American company Otis) was designed wide enough to accommodate Hitler’s car, but the Fuhrer was terribly claustrophobic. I doubt he enjoyed the ride through this tunnel. Also, Hitler was notoriously afraid of heights. Notice this picture showing him behind Eva Braun, refusing to look down and as far from the rail as possible. In fact, he made fewer than fourteen visits to his “birthday gift” and never held an important function here.



Rare picture of Hitler at Eagle's Nest



Interior of Eagle's Nest



It snowed on the mountain the day before our scheduled arrival and it was uncertain whether we’d be able to visit, but the morning dawned free of snow, although overcast. I had to wait patiently for clouds to pass, revealing the spectacular scenery.


As I gazed at eagles soaring past us on icy currents (on closer look they were crows) I found it hard to believe it was in these gloriously pristine mountains that Nazis planned world domination and the Final Solution, the extermination of millions of people, arguably the greatest evil ever unleashed on mankind.


When the war ended and American planes had reduced Berghof to rubble, liberating American soldiers discovered that Hitler’s conference center on the mountain peak had been spared. They nicknamed it “The Eagle’s Nest” and today it’s a popular tourist attraction, with a restaurant offering tasty local cuisine, although the sound of laughing tourists drinking beer and munching pretzels seemed incongruous with the dark history of the place.



U.S. soldiers at Eagle's Nest, 1945



After descending the mountain, we were herded through a large gift shop on the site of Hitler’s former residence. Seeing hoards of tourists squabble over postcards and guidebooks, hats and sweatshirts—left a bitter taste in my mouth. I don’t think locations are inherently evil, even when bad things happen there, but this painfully pretty place seemed haunted by the spirits of too many suffering souls.



View from Eagle's Nest




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Would it not be nicer if they offered a venue for helping disenfranchised people or people under dictatorships instead of something stupid to dust or file or hang on the wall. They could turn it into a dance hall, a retreat for students, etc.
By: Tabor on June 17, 2015
like you, I don't think anyplace on the earth is inherently evil but I do think that evil energy can linger especially when we continue to give it life by remembering it and dwelling on it. how long will it take Auschwitz and Dachau to become clean? even our own Civil War battlegrounds. I have a shaman friend who tried for years to release the ghosts on a particular horrendous battleground but still the ghosts linger. how can they ever be released when we continue to hold them here through our national memory. but, all that aside, you tell a great and interesting story about undoubtably some of the most evil people that ever lived.
By: Ellen Abbott on June 17, 2015
I second Ellen's aside. I think Otis should have designed that elevator to only go one direction...down.
By: cranky on June 17, 2015
It looks to me as if it should be a site for history and remembrance, not necessarily a "tourist trap." But that's not my decision to make.
By: mimi on June 17, 2015
It would be difficult to imagine enjoying a fine dinner or festive libations there. It seems more appropriate to be a place of history and reflection, perhaps a conference center for the study of ending war. Thanks for the fascinating tour.
By: Tom Cochrun on June 17, 2015
i had a vile feeling all the way through reading your post -- absolutely no offense to you. *sigh* this bastard...
By: TexWisGirl on June 17, 2015
I wish they could have turned it into a synagogue in Hitler's lifetime. That would have been a perfect present.
By: Cherdo on June 17, 2015
Such an evil monster...too bad someone did not push him over the edge. Selling tacky souvenirs seems a bit over the top to me. Rather selling items that are Fair Trade would be more in keeping. I was only a small child after the wart ended but I still remember photos from Life magazine- that horror has stayed with me all these years.
By: Kathe W. on June 17, 2015
So ironic that he was afraid of heights and claustrophobic. What a great twist. Awesome view. Glad you got to see it.
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on June 17, 2015
A fascinating architectural feat. Great view from the top, too. I'll leave the conjectures on evil spirits to others.
By: Catalyst on June 17, 2015
I agree with just about every other comment above.
By: Terri @ Coloring Outside the Lines on June 17, 2015
I visited Dachau once, and I remember they had cleaned it up so much, made it so antiseptic, that it was hard to fathom what had really gone on there. Seems like there's a little bit of the same phenomenon at Berchtesgaden.
By: Tom Sightings on June 17, 2015
I agree with everyone, & I LOVE the idea of a synagogue!!
By: fishducky on June 17, 2015
I don't think I could go there. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on June 17, 2015
It didn't dawn on me that this would be in the Alps. I wondered where all the altitude was coming from. it's rather sad that somebody makes money of such a horrible event in our history.
By: red on June 17, 2015
Seeing many of the home movies of Hitler there are quite chilling. For they go to prove that even genuine monsters can appears to be good and fun to be around at times.
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on June 17, 2015
How ironic that this spectacular "gift" presented him with his two greatest fears!
By: Val on June 17, 2015
I have never been there, nor do I care to visit. It just seems inappropriate. In a way, it surprises me a bit that it's a restaurant now - modern Germans are usually very careful avoiding any celebratory association with that awful chapter in German history. For example, it is illegal to possess a copy of Hitler's book "Mein Kampf," or to sing the third verse of the national anthem (the one that Hitler adopted as the only one).
By: Pixel Peeper on June 17, 2015
It is an absolutely beautiful place, and so is the view. But like you said, considering the history of the place... A gift shop? What on earth would you want to buy there? A replica Zyklon B container???
By: Scott Park on June 17, 2015
I've read Mein Kampf, part of my political science course in college. With all the evil that exists today, mankind hasn't learned much.
By: Daniel LaFrance on June 17, 2015
What a fascinating story.
By: John on June 18, 2015
I agree with you. Laughter and general mirth are out of place there. It was much the same way we felt at Dachau. Somber and quiet, there was an overall feeling of dread at the camp. No wonder we later ended up at the Hofbrauhaus and got blasted to the Bejesus Belt.
By: Al Penwasser on June 18, 2015
I visited years ago, when I was too young to think much about it. I know what you mean - it's incongruous - not just the evil, but tourism thriving on past suffering. On the other hand, where do you draw these lines? And an alternative view is just imagine what dear Adolf would think if he could see all those non-Aryans enjoying themselves in his space.
By: Mike@A Bit About Britain on June 18, 2015
Stephen: This was one post where I felt compelled to read comments from others. Personally, I wish this place were destroyed and could not fathom the retailing and dining activities. I couldn't visit there.
By: Michael Manning on June 19, 2015
As hard as it is for good hearted people to believe, the evil that was Hitler is still alive today. I don't believe a place can be evil but even the thought that this "gift" still exists is ugly at the very least.
By: Oma Linda on June 19, 2015
Interesting post. Today's tourist attractions often throw up inappropriate combinations e.g. a McDonald's restaurant adjacent to the Communist Museum in Prague!
By: Bryan Jones on June 21, 2015
What an amazing view and spectacular photos. I think I would probably still have a bad taste too considering what evil dwelt there! Great and very interesting post.
By: Bouncin Barb on June 22, 2015
I've found films I've seen of Hitler and his loathsome supporters at Eagle's Nest to be fascinating. But there's no way I could visit the place. I can't imagine having a meal there or, especially, shopping for souvenirs.
By: Mitchell is Moving on June 29, 2015

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