H/T Beyond The Band Of Brothers.

A look at Hitler’s mountain retreats The Eagle’s Nest and the Berghof.

 

The Eagle’s Nest and the Berghof

One of the best-recognized icons of Nazi grandeur is Hitler’s famous mountaintop retreat, the Eagle’s Nest, called so after its Allied bombing target code name. In German it is known as the Kehlsteinhaus (Kehlstein House), named after the peak it was built on. The Führer, however, also had another house a mere mile and half from there.

Eva Braun taking her dog for a walk with the Eagle’s Nest in the background

Hitler had been regularly vacationing in the Bavarian town of Berchtesgaden, close to the Austrian border, since the 1920s. In 1922-23 he stayed at the Pension Moritz boarding house and he visited again in 1925, after his release from prison, finishing the manuscript of Mein Kampf in a small cabin on the premises. He was a regular guest for a while, but he didn’t like the new owner who took over the business in 1926. So he started looking for a place of his own in the picturesque area. In 1928 he rented Haus Wachenfeld, a small local chalet and bought it a few years later with the money he made with Mein Kampf. The building was refurbished and expanded into a sprawling compound to entertain important guests in and renamed the Berghof (Mountain Court) in 1935-36.

Entrance to Haus Wachenfeld in 1934, before the expansion

One unlikely source of praise for Hitler’s home was a 1938 issue of the British Homes and Gardens magazine. According to the author’s gushing description, the building’s many features included “a curious display of cactus plants in majolica pots” in the entrance hall, a light jade green color scheme, mountain canaries in gilded cages in most rooms, displays of old engravings and some of Hitler’s own small-sized watercolor sketches. The photographs accompanying the article were actually taken by Hitler’s photographer years before and sent to Homes and Gardens on request, as the Führer was very particular on who could photograph him. In one room a picture window could be lowered into the wall to provide a sweeping, open-air view of the Austrian Alps. One noteworthy display in the house was a Volkswagen-sized globe, often referred to as Hitler’s globe, which reflected on recent Italian imperialistic expansion by marking Abyssinia, today’s Ethiopia, as “Italian East Africa.” The globe was parodied with a giant balloon globe in Chaplin’s The Great Dictator and was looted by American troops at the end of the war.

 

Soviet officers posing with one of Hitler’s other globes in the Reich Chancellery

Chaplin in The Great Dictator

Hitler loved the Berghof and entertained many prominent guests here: artists, singers, musicians, politicians and heads of state. Among the guests were former British Prime Ministers David Lloyd George and Neville Chamberlain, the Duke of Windsor, who had formerly ruled Britain as King Edward VIII for a little less than a year in 1936, and Benito Mussolini.

Hitler greeting British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain on the front steps of the Berghof

Not all guests were friendly, however, and the Berghof became the site of several failed and canceled assassination attempts on the Führer. A Captain Eberhard von Breitenbuch wanted to shoot Hitler in the head with a concealed pistol but was never allowed in the same room with him. Claus von Stauffenberg, the later executor of Operation Valkyrie, was planning to detonate a bomb there but the idea wasn’t supported by his fellow conspirators. Even the British were planning to send an assassin to the Berghof, a sniper in German uniform with a German rifle, to shoot Hitler on his daily walk to a local tea house. The plan, however, was scratched after some dispute on whether a living Hitler was more harmful to the German war effort than a dead one.

The Great Hall of the Berghof featured on a postcard

On April 25, 1945, five days before Hitler’s suicide in Berlin, the RAF bombed the Obersalzberg, the resort area the Berghof was a part of also housing the retreats of several prominent Nazi leaders, causing heavy damage to the building. On May 4, a few hours before the arrival of the first U.S. troops in Berchtesgaden, the retreating SS forces set the remains of the house on fire to prevent its capture. The foundations of the Berghof can still be seen today, if you know where to look – we can show you on our tours.

Ruins of the Berghof in 1948

In some ways the Berghof and the famous Eagle’s Nest couldn’t have been more different: the former was a residence and loved by Hitler, the latter a representative building that Hitler had barely set foot in.

Hitler, Göring (center) and Hitler Youth leader Baldur von Schirach (right) on one of Hitler’s few visits to the Eagle’s Nest

Sitting on a mountain ridge 6,000ft above sea level, the Kehlsteinhaus was a gift to Hitler paid for by the Nazi Party. The construction was commissioned and supervised by Reichsleiter Martin Bormann, the second highest-ranking official in the Nazi party. Bormann wanted the building completed by the Führer’s 50th birthday on April 20, 1939, forcing the architects and constructors to work at a breakneck pace for 13 months, their task made all the harder by Bormann constantly changing his fundamental requirements.

The car park, the entrance of the tunnel leading to the elevator and the Eagle’s Nest atop the Kehlstein Peak

The house was not approachable by car, partially because the road leading all the way up would have marred the scenery. Instead, a car park was build some 430 ft below the house. The road leading there was blended into the scenery as much as possible by being hidden in tunnels and behind rock outcroppings. In spots where there were no suitable natural rock formations, boulders from elsewhere were placed and treated with acid to change their color to match the environment.

Present-day picture of the “Sidonase,” one of the distinctive rocks by the road leading up to the Eagle’s Nest

From the car park a 413ft tunnel led into the rock and to a luxurious 15-person elevator of polished brass, Venetian mirrors and leather-covered sofas. Directly underneath it was a simpler elevator intended for personnel and supplies. When the guest elevator stopped on the house floor at the top, personnel could also exit in the basement. A third, three-person emergency elevator was also built but never used.

The interior of the elevator

The rooms of the house were opulently finished in marble and expensive wooden panels. The largest room, an octagonal reception hall used for after-dinner entertainment, offered a 270° view of the mountains. It featured an oriental-style rug, a gift by Japanese Emperor Hirohito, and a red Carrara marble fireplace, which was a gift from Mussolini. A 450-piece porcelain dining set and 750 pieces of silverware were used for dinners, each piece of cutlery displaying the monogram AH, and eventually becoming a favorite with looting American soldiers. The house was equipped with a state of the art kitchen, which was never used, as food was always brought up.

The famous Easy Company of the 506th PIR of the 101st Airborne hanging out at the Eagle’s Nest

Though today it’s closely associated with him, Hitler didn’t actually like the Eagle’s Nest and only made fourteen recorded visits ever, thirteen of which occurred before the war. He had a fear of both heights and the rare mountain atmosphere and was also scared that lightning might strike the elevator winch mechanism located on the rooftop. A secret Bormann kept from Hitler was that two such strikes actually did occur during construction. Had the Führer known about this, he very well might never have set foot in the Kehlsteinhaus.

The Kehlsteinhaus under construction

Though the house was presented to Hitler as a birthday gift, it was by no means a surprise. He had visited it once before the official gifting ceremony and had even contributed his own paintings, showing the general style he wanted to see: a relaxed and informal appearance.

Hitler’s sketch for the style of the reception room

 

That sense of relaxation was shattered when the war came to Germany and flak units were deployed in the immediate vicinity of the house, along with smoke generators to hide it during Allied bombing raids. Though the town of Berchtesgaden was hit heavily in the final stages of the war, the Eagle’s Nest avoided destruction. Ironically, out of Hitler’s two houses in the scenic Alps, the one that remains for posterity to visit is the one he didn’t like.

You can learn more about the luxury and the grandiose plans of Nazi Germany’s elite on our Third Reich Tours.

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