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.

Gallery

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