FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Up to the Eagle’s Nest

Posted in Berchtesgaden, Germany by folkestonejack on June 29, 2016

A new day saw us boarding the number 840 bus for Berchtesgaden once again, connecting with the 838 bus to Obersalzberg. The destination for today was the kehlsteinhaus, Hitler’s mountaintop tea house, better known by its english name of the Eagle’s Nest. The tea house was constructed in 1938 as a present for Hitler’s fiftieth birthday, though he rarely visited the place on account of his fear of heights!

The Eagle's Nest

The Eagle’s Nest

This unusual attraction sits atop the Kehlstein mountain at 1834m above sea level and draws up to 3,800 visitors every day during the summer months. The building is now a restaurant with little in the way of original features, though a red carrara marble fireplace gifted by Mussolini can still be seen in the original reception room (though visitors are discouraged from entering as this space is reserved for diners). As you might expect, the views are stunning and well worth the rigmarole to get to the top.

A trip up the mountain is as much of an experience as the summit, showcasing the remarkable feat of engineering that saw the 6.5km Kehlsteinstraße constructed in difficult and often perilous conditions. The 3,000 strong workforce completed the road in just 13 months at a cost of 30 million Reichmarks, sometimes carving the road terrace out of the mountain a metre at a time. The photographs in the guide books of the construction really make you appreciate how difficult the whole exercise was.

From the Eagle’s Nest Bus Station (Abfahrtsstelle Kehlsteinbus) the winding 6.8km road up the southern face of the Kehlstein to the parking place (Kehlsteinparkplatz) takes passengers up 770m in altitude. Along the way there are some marvellous views of the mountains and only one, somewhat terrifying, hairpin. The four metre wide road is pretty steep with a 24-percent slope at points and passes through five tunnels with a combined length of 277m.

RVO buses descending the mountain, as seen from the hairpin

RVO buses descending the mountain, as seen from the hairpin at Schützenköpfl (1556m)

It was quite interesting to see how well organized the buses up the mountain are. The buses operated by the Regionalverkehr Oberbayern (RVO) are the only vehicles allowed on the road and they operate a carefully timed one-way system for traffic up and down the mountain. Buses depart from the bus station in convoy every 25 minutes and pass the downward traffic queuing up at a lay-by mid-route.

The RVO says there are twelve buses in use on this route – all with specially adapted brakes and engines – and we must have hit the morning peak with six buses up the mountain on our convoy (the 10.10 departure). Although the route is a little terrifying we were well aware of the safety measures in place along the route and the careful rock-cleaning that takes place each winter/spring to remove loose stones. It is reassuring to note that no accidents have occurred on the road since it was first opened to the public in 1952.

At the other end of the route the buses emptied one by one with all passengers immediately directed to a counter to have tickets stamped with a return time. We were lucky enough to be in the first bus, quickly got our tickets stamped and headed on our way to the summit. The grand entrance with its double set of thick metal doors is as impressive today as it must have been when it was built in 1938, although it is lacking the two bronze lion handles which once adorned them (one was given to Eisenhower and the other is in the hands of a private collector).

The 126m long tunnel into the mountain

The 126m long tunnel into the mountain

Stepping through the doorway takes you into a 126m long marble-lined tunnel into the mountain which ends at an impressive domed hall lined in Ruhpolding marble. It is here that you enter Hitler’s luxurious polished brass lift capsule, inset with mirrors, for the 131m ascent to the top. We had a few moments to appreciate the design before finding ourselves back in the fresh air again.

At the top we took a leisurely wander around for the views to be found in every direction, with a particularly splendid vista of the Berchtesgadener Alps illuminated by the sun. It is possible to be more adventurous and follow a trail from the summit but only a handful seemed to have chosen that option on this occasion.

A view of the Untersberg from the Eagle's Nest

A view of the Untersberg from the Eagle’s Nest

After heading back down the mountain by bus we made a visit to the Obersalzberg Documentation Centre to put our visit into context, recording the innumerable horrors of the regime. I hadn’t really known anything about the Obersalzberg before our visit, so I had not appreciated that not only was Hitler resident at the Berghof but that a whole Nazi community had developed here. This saw existing families evicted from their properties and new residences built for prominent Nazis such as such as Hermann Göring, Martin Bormann and Albert Speer in their place.

The Obersalzberg Documentation Centre also connects into one of the underground bunker systems that sat beneath the surface level buildings of the regime. A walk into the remains of the Platterhof and Guesthouse Bunker gives a small insight into the structure of the complex and defence system created to govern the Reich whilst war raged above.

The inside shaft which connects the Guesthouse and Platterhof bunkers with the lower levels of the bunker system.

The inside shaft which connects the Guesthouse and Platterhof bunkers with the lower levels of the bunker system.

In short, the displays at the Obersalzberg Documentation Centre present a necessary and chilling counter balance to the relatively peaceful experience of a trip up to the Eagle’s Nest. A visit inevitably presents an awful lot of darkness, but it’s also a powerful reminder of the discomfiting ease with which political movements like this have been able to find an audience amongst the disaffected. We can never be too complacent. This history must never be repeated.

Practicalities

A map at the bus stop shows the location of the Eagle’s Nest Bus Station (Abfahrtsstelle Kehlsteinbus) and the Obersalzberg Documentation Centre in relation to the public bus stop. The bus timetable (Fahrplan Kehlsteinlinie) for the next leg is available from the RVO bus website.

When you buy a ticket (currently 16.10 euros for an adult) you are given a specific departure time and bus number, with everyone allocated a seat in the bus. If you want to get a view out to the mountains you are best sitting on the right hand side for the journey up (though as I discovered, this can be pretty scary and had to shut my eyes at the hairpin!) but it can be as interesting on the other side of the bus for the views of the mountain road and tunnels.

The buses take 15 minutes to get to the Kehlsteinhaus parking place. On arrival you are directed straight into a queue to fix a return time of your choosing before heading to the lift up to the very top. The general recommendation is to allow two hours, or longer if you plan to eat up top, but we opted for an hour and forty five minutes at the summit which proved pretty much perfect for a short wander (though we did get straight into a lift up). Many travel up top by lift but then take the relatively easy walk back down to the parking place (around 20 minutes) to catch a bus back.

Queuing to fix a return time

Queuing to fix a return time

Our visit to the Obersalzberg Documentation Centre lasted a couple of hours. Most of the information is in German but there are leaflets through the galleries with english translations of the key panels, though this is only a fraction of the text on display. The upper space provides models and photographs that place the buildings of the Obersalzberg into context and should be a part of your visit. Admission cost 3 euros per adult.

We started our day with the 8.15am bus to Berchtesgaden and returned on the 3.15pm bus to Salzburg. The combination of the trip to the Eagle’s Nest with the Obersalzberg Documentation Centre felt like enough visual and intellectual stimulation for one day, though we were well aware that there is more on offer should we have felt like it (such as the bunker system under the Hotel zum Türken).

If you are thinking of making a visit it is well worth checking out the unofficial Das Kehlsteinhaus website which provides a terrific account of the history of the house and the remarkable road leading up to it.

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The Almbach Gorge

Posted in Berchtesgaden, Germany by folkestonejack on June 28, 2016

The Almbach Gorge (Almbachklamm) is not the most obvious of attractions around Berchtesgaden, but it was the perfect complement to our morning at the Konigsee. Where the lake presented us with a vista of immense scale the gorge gave us an intimate walk alongside the rushing waters of the Almbach with hardly a soul around.

One of the 29 bridges in the Almbach Gorge

One of the 29 bridges in the Almbach Gorge

We started out at the Kugelmühle (marble mill), paid up three euros each for entry (at a small hut at the beginning of the trail) and began our trek. The trail presents a succession of watery delights that prompts many an oooh or ahhh as it twists and turns, rather than a single standout feature.

The full 2.8km distance of the trail takes you along a path that hugs the rock walls, up 320 steps, over 29 bridges and through one tunnel. The original route was constructed in four weeks by 250 soldiers of the 1. Ingolstädter Pionierbatallions in 1894 (look out for the marble tablet at the tunnel entrance commemorating their achievement) though the dam itself is a good 60 years older.

If you take the trail all the way you will find yourself at the Theresienklause dam (named after Therese of Bavaria, the wife of King Ludwig I) but we cut the route a little short, turning round after reaching the Sulzer waterfall.

The recent rainfall probably helped to make the gorge even more spetacular than ever, though it also guaranteed us a soaking – one corner of the path had turned into an open air shower that was only passable if you accepted a drenching! Having passed through this once, we remembered that we would have to pass back through on our way back…

A shower was unavoidable if you wanted to cross the bridge!

A shower was unavoidable if you wanted to cross the bridge!

At the outset I thought it would be a pleasant walk but probably nothing more than that, deliberating long and hard over its inclusion in our itinerary. Instead, I was completely taken back by how delightful and enjoyable an experience it was and am rather surprised to say that it was the highlight of our day.

Practicalities

We took the 840 (Berchtesgaden-Salzburg) bus to reach the gorge and there are two bus stops within easy reach of the start of the trail. We got off at Almbachklamm on our way to the gorge and this takes you on a signed route past the Gasthaus Almbachklamm, through a field and then alongside a river (The Berchtesgadener Ache) to the marble mill (Kugelmühle). On our return we walked from the mill down Kugelmühlweg to the second bus stop (Kugelmühle Marktschellenberg) and this is clearly a little closer.

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Sound the flugelhorn

Posted in Berchtesgaden, Germany by folkestonejack on June 28, 2016

One of the most alluring spots in Germany is to be found at the Königssee in the Berchtesgaden National Park, close to the Austrian border. The lake is surrounded by mountain ranges and you could be forgiven for thinking that a fjord has accidentally got stranded in the Bavarian Alps.

It is not exactly a secret, as over 2 million visitors make their way here each year and the lake was ranked the 12th most popular attraction in Germany for 2015 by the German National Tourist Board. However, the Bayerische Seen-Schiffahrt are well prepared for this with a fleet of 17 electric boats to ply the lake on the run between Schönau, Kessel, St. Bartholomä and Salet.

One of the 18 electric boats that ply the Königssee

One of the 18 electric boats that ply the Königssee

The waters of the Königssee are beautifully clear and this is one of the unintentional legacies of Prince Regent Luitpold whose concerns led to the introduction of environmentally friendly electric boats out of a fear that noisy ships would scare away his prey on hunting trips in the lakeside forests. The first electric boats were introduced in 1909 to connect up with the sadly long vanished branch line from Berchtesgaden.

Today’s boats date back to 1958 and are beautifully maintained in the company’s own shipyard, though the engines are modern replicas of the originals. Each boat travels about 120km a day, working the 7.7km length of the lake at an average speed of 12km per hour. The boats take 93 passengers each and they certainly need that capacity as the crowds were immense in the middle of the day.

The advice we were given before starting our day trip was to get to Schönau am Königssee as early as possible as long queues can build up for tickets and to board the boats. An early start got us to the lakeside, tickets in hand, ready to take up the last few seats on the first ferry of the day at 8am. After this ferries run every 15 to 30 minutes, subject to passenger demand.

The famous pilgrimage church of St. Bartholomä

The famous pilgrimage church of St. Bartholomä

Our passage across the lake was incredibly smooth, starting with a terrific view of the sheer cliffs of the Falkensteiner Wand. A small red cross at the bottom of the cliffs here stands as a memorial to a boat of pilgrims which sank here during a thunderstorm in 1688 with the loss of 70 lives.

A little farther out the captain cut the motor and clambered along the outside of the boat to the mid-ship doorway. To our astonishment the captain lifted up the steps, pulled out a flugelhorn (a trumpet) and proceeded to play a tune (badly) pausing every now and again so that we could hear how the sound echoed across the lake, effectively playing the tune back to us.

As the boat made good progress across the lake we could see the view open out to give us the iconic sight of the 17th century chapel of St. Bartholomä with the Steinernes Meer (stony ocean) mountain range beyond. We made short stops at Kessel, a jumping off point for hikers, and St. Bartholomä before reaching Salet, the stop at the far end of the lake.

We disembarked at Salet and took the short walk to a viewpoint across a second lake, the Obersee. Feeling like a bit of exercise we followed the pathway (and a a slightly slippery set of rock steps) around the edge of the Obersee to a viewpoint at the other end. The reward was a terrific view across Fischunkel pasture and the lake with Mount Watzmann in the background (the third highest mountain in Germany, reaching 2,713m at its peak).

A view across the Obersee

A view across the Obersee

It is possible to walk up to the Röthbachfall, the highest waterfall in Germany, from this point but we opted to make our way back to the dock at Salet. Boats were now queuing to dock at Salet and whilst they were all pretty packed on arrival they were mostly empty on departure (our boat only carried seven passengers).

The Königssee was much busier than when we set off on our outbound journey with a line of boats stretched across the length of the lake. When we reached Schönau we could see that they were now loading boats three at a time and yet there were still large queues. The whole place was absolutely heaving with visitors!

A visit to the Königssee was high on my list for a while and I enjoyed the half-day excursion tremendously, but even with the warnings I really hadn’t appreciated how busy this place would be on a mid-week morning in late June. Don’t let me put you off though, the natural splendours of the lake are well worth the trouble.

Practicalities.

We opted for a mid-week day trip as this gave us the opportunity to take an earlier bus to Berchtesgaden (the first 840 ‘Watzmann-Express’ bus departs from Salzburg Hbf at 6.35am on weekdays compared to 9.15am at the weekend). The bus leaves from Stop G on Karl-Wurmb-Straße, rather than from the cluster of stops directly outside the station. A Tagesticket der RVO for two people cost us 19.60 euros and covered all our bus journeys for the day.

The early morning 840 reached Berchtesgaden at 7.24am, giving us an 11 minute wait for the departure of the number 841 bus to Schönau am Königssee. The second bus ride was relatively short at just 17 minutes. A short stroll along Seestraße (lined with cafes, ice cream parlours and souvenir shops) brings you to a ferry ticket booth by the lakeside (only one counter was open when we arrived but there are three counters in use at busy times). Lengthy queues start to form from 9.30am on summer mornings, but we only faced a short queue arriving just before 8am.

There are a couple of possibilities for buying food/drink at the far end of the lake – a self-service restaurant at Salet (Alpengaststätte Saletalm) and a servery at the Fischunkel pasture which offers a modest selection of savoury options (such as bread with cheese or ham), beer and radler. We had brought lunch with us so can’t offer any opinion on either establishment!

You can make a trip to the Königssee as leisurely as you like within the contraints of the ferry timetable and there are plenty of options for hikes (from Salet to the Röthbach waterfall, from St. Bartholomä to the ice chapel at the foot of the Watzmann and from Kessel into the mountains). We opted to spend just half a day at the Königssee, combining it with a trip to the Almbach Gorge just outside Berchtesgaden (on the route of the 840 bus towards Salzburg). More about that in the next post!

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