Last week I traveled to Salzburg, Austria because I had heard so much about its beauty, artistic value and historic significance. One of the historic places I am attracted to is Hitler’s “Kehlsteinhaus” (a.k.a “Eagle’s Nest” by English-speaking people) overlooking Berchtesgaden, Germany in the Bavarian Alps.
Kehlsteinhaus was intended to be a diplomatic reception place for dignitaries and general planning. In 1938 the NAZI Party paid for constructing Eagle’s Nest as a present for Adolph Hitler for his 50th birthday. It is a bit odd to give Hitler such a present because he was afraid of heights and at over 1800 meters above sea level, Eagles Nest is at a significant height with astonishing views. Supposedly, Hitler used Kehlsteinhaus less than 15 times and usually for very brief periods less than an hour. Other than for the guards, there are no sleeping accommodations. There was then a full service kitchen as there is today. Now, Eagle’s Nest is primarily a tourist attraction with spectacular views, a magnet for history buffs, and a restaurant that is open except in Winter.
Access to Eagles Nest from the lower parking lot is by bus to the upper lot and then through a tunnel to get to the elevator for the final 124 meters. Constructing the building and creating access to get to it was a substantial achievement. And the stone work done by Italian masons for the building and tunnel is exceptional. The single lane road to the upper lot is up to 26 degrees which is really steep (I seem to recall that the original section of the Pennsylvania Turnpike is no more than 4 degrees). Each bus goes up or down in a group because the road is only 4 meters wide and the drop off is sheer. Given Hitler’s concern with heights, this narrow road with five tunnels and a switch back must have been problematic for him.
I found it interesting to have an elevator to get into the building. The access tunnel from the upper lot is wide enough for a car and when Hitler came, the driver took the car directly into the tunnel to the elevator, backed out after Hitler got out, and then backed in to be ready when Hitler was to depart. Hitler also was apparently claustrophobic so the walls in the elevator are polished brass that makes a mirror effect that the elevator inside is much larger than it really is. The elevator moves quickly and traverses the final 124 meters in 46 seconds.
In today’s restaurant you can see the fine Italian marble fireplace which was given by Italian dictator (and Hitler’s ally), Benito Mussolini. The restaurant formerly was the main conference room. The large fireplace has been severely damaged by American soldiers smashing off pieces as war souvenirs and etching names and graffiti into the stone. The damage is evident in the photo.
Which military unit was first to reach Eagle’s Nest? Contrary to the movie “Band of Brothers” in which the U.S. 101st Airborne “Screaming Eagles” were first to arrive, it is not precisely known but it is believed that on 4 May 1945 that the U.S. 7th Army, the U.S. 101st Airborne, and the French 2nd Armored all seem to have been there.
Recently I found out that PFC Benedict Vinzani, Senior’s (from my hometown and parent of two of my Facebook friends) final duty station during World War II was in Salzburg. He was a member of 33rd Armored which is recorded to have been part of the 101st. It is unknown if he went to Eagle’s Nest but he served in the area as a member of the “Greatest Generation.” I think it is important that we remember those who contributed to Hitler losing the war and how different the world would be had that generation not risen to the need and challenges. I am forever grateful for them.
Today, Kehlsteinhaus it is operated by the Bavarian German State and revenue generated in excess of operating expenses is given to charity. Last year more than 300,000 people visited Eagle’s Nest. Hitler was an awful, evil, cruel man. I am pleased that charity is benefiting from a remnant of that time. Eagle’s Nest could have been obliterated in the final days of the war but it was spared and I hope that it remains as a reminder of lessons from a very tragic time in history