Daily photos by Tom Wright|
Adolf Hitler had this view of the Konigssee waters from his granite tea house, The Eagleís Nest. Steep mountains surround the lake, making it impossible to walk the entire shoreline. The lake is about three miles from Berchtesgaden.
Trip back in time
WWII veteran revisits Hitlerís Eagleís Nest to put memories to rest
By Regina Wright
Jim Beam of Texas was a satisfied man.
You saw satisfaction in his blue eyes as he stood by the opening to the 990-foot tunnel of Untersberg marble leading to a rotunda where he had waited earlier for a freight-sized elevator of polished brass.
The elevator took him about the same distance up inside the mountain to Adolf Hitlerís Eagleís Nest — a tea house — on a ledge of the Kehlstein peak overlooking Germany and Austria.
Even at 85, this trip was easier than his first.
Beam, tugged at his 101st Airborne Division cap, and remembered May 1945 when his superiors sent him and his buddies up the mountain to find top Nazi leaders.
He laid claim to being the third man to enter The Eagleís Nest, which is more than a mile high.
ďWe didnít find anybody but a cook. He asked if we wanted food. We told him, no. We wanted liquor. We drank all of Hitlerís liquor,Ē he said.
You can hear satisfaction in his laughter.
A foundation arranged the tour of World War II sites for Beam and other veterans.
To understand what Beam and his ďBand of BrothersĒ accomplished on that day in 1945, you have to walk and ride across the terrain and absorb the sweeping panorama of the valleys and peaks of the German and Austrian Alps. Even today, it is not an adventure for people afraid of heights.
Jim Beam of Texas says he was the third member of the 101st Airborne to enter The Eagleís Nest in May 1945.
Once in The Eagleís Nest, youíre figuratively on top of the world. Hitler didnít like that. He was afraid of heights. That is the reason he visited infrequently and only when diplomacy required him to make an impression. His companion, Eva Braun, was a frequent visitor, and often sunbathed there. She also hosted teas in the building. Among Germans, only Hitlerís inner circle was aware of their relationship.
You can drive part of the way to The Eagleís Nest, then you must take a bus for a 20-minute ride through stunning mountain scenery or climb a steep footpath along alpine terrain. Prepare for a strenuous ascent. I recommend the bus.
Work never stopped for the 3,000 men who worked shifts around the clock for about 13 months to build the road and tea house for Hitlerís 50th birthday.
Highest road at the time
The result was an engineering feat at the time and Germanyís highest mountain road. For Hitlerís alter ego, Martin Bormann, the road and tea house on its perch represented the physical and intellectual might of the Third Reich.
My husband, Tom, and our friends James and Pat Smithson, began our tour at the information center at Berchtesgaden.
We flagged a van operated by Eagleís Nest Tours as it left the parking lot. We agree it was the best decision of a two-week German vacation. The historical tour took us along the alpine roads of the Obersalzberg where Hitler established his southern command.
Hitler put Bormann in charge of building a mountain retreat at 3,300 feet for key aides, including Bormann and Hermann Goring.
The compound even included a kindergarten, post office and quarters for aides, the military and Gestapo. As the war progressed, entrance to the mountain headquarters was limited.
Our guide pointed to the sites where buildings once stood and told us about the few Third Reich-era buildings that remain intact.
Hitler, an Austrian, began visiting the area in the 1920s. After his rise to power, he enlarged a small mountain home into a villa, however, the Nazi propaganda machine churned out pictures of the small mountain home for German consumption.
The British Royal Air Force bombed his Berghof on April 25, 1945.
Nine days later the SS troops fired it in their withdrawal from Obersalzberg.
About 9,240 feet of tunnels are beneath Obersalzberg. You can gain entry to some at a documentation center, your stopping point for the final trip to The Eagleís Nest.
These bunkers were begun in 1943 and were designed for living months underground with water, sewer and electrical support.
Technology was the latest and comfort — parquet floors, paneled walls, tile bathrooms — was not spared.
Not only were they built for living underground, they were built underground so no one would know about the network that could even be accessed from camouflaged manholes in the forest.
Fortifications inside enabled defenders to see first and kill unauthorized arrivers.
Adolf Hitlerís 50th birthday present, The Eagleís Nest, sits on a ledge over a mile high. Hitler could look to the left and see Germany, which he called the fatherland, and to the right Austria, which he called the motherland. On a clear day you can see Salzburg, Austria, in the distance.
The craziness never ends. Consider Hitlerís approach to the Eagleís Nest in his Mercedes.
A driver drove him through the heated tunnel to the elevator with the polished brass interior designed to relieve his claustrophobia.
Hitler sat on a green leather bench for his ascent. The driver faced his car toward the tunnel entrance and waited.
Inside his granite tea house, Hitler could open a window wall to mountain air or warm by a marble fireplace, a birthday present from Benito Mussolini.
None of this mattered except as a propaganda tool. He much preferred his Little Tea House beneath his home on Obersalzberg and walked there sometimes twice daily when in residence.
If you go
The Eagleís Nest is open from about mid-May through mid-October, earlier or later depending on weather.
RVO buses will take you round-trip from the Berchtesgaden railway station to an alpine stop at Berchtesgaden-Hintereck or you can drive your vehicle. After reaching this point, you must take the Kehlstein bus to The Eagleís Nest. It operates at roughly 20-minute intervals.
A restroom and restaurant are at The Eagleís Nest.
For an English guided tour, contact The Eagleís Nest Tours at eagles-nest-tours.com begin at the Berchtesgaden tourist office across from the train station. The tour lasts about four hours.
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