Eagle's Nest, Obersalzberg, Germany
A prime destination in the far south of Germany
primarily for history tourism buffs with a special interest in the Nazi
era and WWII ... due to the associations of the place with Adolf Hitler. The "Eagle's Nest" was a mountain-top retreat specially built for and presented to Hitler as a 50th birthday gift in 1939. It complemented a much larger complex of residences and bunkers lower on the slopes of the Obersalzberg mountain (and inside it).
A modern documentation centre puts the whole affair into a well-commodified historical-educational context.
>More background info
>What there is to see
>Access and costs
>Combinations with other dark destinations
>Combinations with non-dark destinations
More background info:
First of all: "Eagle's Nest" is not its real
name. It's actually called the Kehlsteinhaus in German, after the Kehlstein mountain on top of which it sits. It's the infamous tea house built for Adolf Hitler
for his 50th birthday that is however better known internationally under its English nickname "Eagle's Nest". This epithet goes back to a comment made by an early visitor, the then French
ambassador, who likened the place to Mt Athos in Greece
as well as to an eagle's nest. The comparison stuck, especially with foreigners.
Some of the most famous "private" footage of Hitler, Eva Braun, their dog and some of Hitler's closest associates was taken here at Obersalzberg ... not at the Kehlsteinhaus itself, however, but at the more frequently used Berghof residence further down the hill. Still, this is probably why it is such a popular tourist destination today, despite the erroneous localization of all that historic footage.
Today the Kehlsteinhaus is just a touristy restaurant, with the typical Bavarian meat, meat or meat offerings – vegetarians should plan to eat elsewhere. It's the historical background, though, as well as the dramatic approach road and the marvellous views from the top that count.
There is in general more myth to the place than it deserves. In reality, Hitler only rarely visited the place, and never stayed for long, and then only for a bit of PR. But that doesn't deter the crowds of today. These are mostly British, US and Canadian tourists – hence much of what is on offer is available in English (mostly even English only – and that within Germany!).
As for the history of the Eagle's Nest and the Obersalzberg complex, this is not the place for attempting a fully detailed account – I also do not want to take away the point of going on a guided historical tour of the place. So only the briefest of summaries has to suffice here:
The Obersalzberg/Berchtesgaden area had been a favoured spot of Hitler's since the early 1920s. He called it his "Wahlheimat" or 'chosen homeland' – remember, originally he was from Austria
! It complemented his political centres of power in Munich
and later Berlin
. After he had become the Reich's chancellor and "Führer", this place was massively extended over the years.
In addition to Adolf Hitler's original Berghof retreat, a huge "People's Hotel" named Platterhof was built. Other Nazi top dogs, including Hermann Göring and Martin Bormann, had their recreational residences built in the vicinity too. Barracks and bunkers for the SS
and RSD (for "Reichssicherheitsdienst" – 'security service') and other associated infrastructure were constructed as well. The whole complex became one of the most significant Nazi HQs of them all and remained Hitler's personally preferred spot – in particular the Berghof, however, not the Eagle's Nest. He spent more time at the former than anywhere else during his whole life.
The Kehlsteinhaus, aka Eagle's Nest, was an idea of Bormann's, who wanted to impress his master with this extraordinary 50th birthday gift. From an engineering point of view it certainly was a major feat. It cost an incredible amount of money too: in today's money an estimated 180 million USD! As my guide half-jokingly pointed out: given that Hitler only paid this tea house 14 official visits, those 14 cups of tea would have come at a price of nearly 13 million dollars each – certainly the most expensive cups of tea in history.
The Kehlsteinhaus was built and used purely to impress – namely foreign guests in particular. It had a conference room, kitchen, dining room, and viewing terraces – but no bedrooms. It was never intended for overnight stays.
As the end of WWII
drew closer and the impending defeat of the Nazis
by the Allies became more and more obvious, the Obersalzberg complex was increasingly fortified. Massive extensions of the underground bunker systems to serve as a last retreat for the Nazi leaders were undertaken. This included extensive storage facilities – not just for food and other supplies, such as lots of luxury French wine and champagne! They also served as "safes" for the leaders' art collections and private documents.
As the Western Allies surmised that Obersalzberg would become the "last redoubt" for the Nazi leadership and Hitler himself, they diverted their advance on Berlin
and headed south. A massive RAF
air raid on 25 April 1945 pounded the area with well over a thousand tons of bombs, causing much destruction above ground but sparing the Eagle's Nest (whether deliberately or by chance remains somewhat unclear). The underground bunkers were not affected either. A few thousand of the local population had sought refuge in the bunkers and escaped the air raid unscathed – unlike many in the surrounding towns and cities which were also bombed.
The Obersalzberg was finally taken by Allied ground troops on the 4th of May, 1945 namely by French and US soldiers – who soon engaged in a looting spree, enjoying Göring's expensive wines and champagnes, for instance, as well as taking countless items away as souvenirs (cf. the Army Museum
). The local population joined in in the looting and eventually much of the ruins and underground tunnels were more or less stripped bare.
The Nazis' documents, however, which would most probably have contained lots of compromising information, were not found, since they had been burned on Hitler's orders shortly before his own suicide and cremation at the Führerbunker in Berlin
After the war, the Obersalzberg area was taken over by the occupying US military and used as an army recreational area until the US withdrawal in the wake of the reunification of Germany
in 1990. The lands were finally handed back into Bavarian ownership in 1995.
Most of what remained of the old structures was torn down, including the massive Platterhof, which had been called "Hotel Walker" under the US military administration. Hardly a trace of these larger buildings remains – including the Berghof, whose remains were almost completely removed and/or bulldozed over. The nearby Hotel Pension zum Türken is one of the few exceptions of pre-Nazi buildings to survive (though it's been rebuilt extensively, so it's not that original). It had been confiscated by the Nazis in the 1930s, and re-appropriated by the former owners' relatives and it has been a pension again since 1958.
The Eagle's Nest itself, of course, is the most famous surviving Nazi building. It had also been made accessible to the public from as early as 1952 and is still run as a touristy viewpoint and restaurant.
What used to be the Nazi guest house "Hoher Göll" has been completely rebuilt to house the present Documentation Centre, which first opened its doors in 1999. This was part one of the two-part strategy adopted by the Bavarian State for the re-use of the whole area after it was given back to them in 1995. The other was the construction of the resort hotel on what used to be Göring's Hill (see below).
As you can imagine, it is impossible to deal with a piece of real estate so steeped in dark history without controversy, and naturally the Obersalzberg has had its fair share of this. The very idea of making the area accessible to the general public was criticized, for fears that it might become a pilgrimage destination for neo-Nazis. The plan of building a luxury hotel right on top of Göring's bunkers was even more controversial … though it was hardly ever going to be a place likely to attract any empty-pocketed and empty-headed skinhead neo-Nazis itself.
However, while it cannot be completely ruled out that some of today's visitors may indeed come here for the wrong reasons, this is certainly not true for the vast majority of tourists. It is more the dark attraction of the history of the place that accounts for the unexpected large numbers of visitors (over 300,000 a year), who can hardly be accused of predominately leaning towards Nazism.
There does remain a certain uneasy feeling though, I have to admit, to come here as a German citizen and witness the mass-touristic appeal of the place. On the other hand, a huge proportion of those visitors are from abroad, especially from the countries of the former Allies. And who could blame them for wanting to see what was once regarded as a prime piece of booty by the victors …
And as far as the didactic commodification of the place and its Nazi
history goes, the Documentation Centre as well as the guided tours of the area have made highly commendable efforts (see below
What there is to see: The Eagle's Nest, or rather "Kehlsteinhaus", to give it its real name in the original German, is probably the No. 1 priority for most dark tourists who come to the Berchtesgaden land – but be advised from the outset that it is NOT the best bit of what can be seen here, at least not with regard to historical information.
Indeed the Eagle's Nest feels much more like a mainstream Alpine holiday refreshment spot. If you didn't know what it is, there's very little that would point it out to you up here. The impressive scenery, the dramatic approach on the winding road by bus, and the glorious mountain views from the top are certainly much more in your face than the historical connections. This is one of the reasons why it is best to visit this place as part of a guided tour, as that also provides the relevant pointers to the various historical aspects involved.
Yet you can, and many people do, come up here as individual independent tourists too – the buses up the mountain road are part of the local public transport network (see below
The first real sign of the Nazi
associations is to be seen when you get to the entrance of the tunnel to the lift that takes visitors from the end of the approach road to the very top of the mountain and the Kehlsteinhaus itself.
The granite arch over the tunnel entrance certainly bears typical hallmarks of Nazi architecture. The tunnel inside is clad in rough red marble (a marble colour also favoured by Hitler
in his Berlin
Reich's Chancellery). It is over 400 feet (124m) long, the same figure as the height of the lift shaft going up from the end of the tunnel. Inside, the lift is a garish orgy of polished brass and Venetian mirrors. It still gets visitors to the top in just over half a minute.
Up there you emerge directly into the interior of the "tea house" that the Eagle's Nest supposedly was. Now it's a tourist restaurant. The first few rooms you see are thus utterly unimpressive. At first it really just feels (and smells) like a bog-standard Bavarian "Brotzeitstube" – a typical Bavarian term for something like 'an inn for having a snack'.
Only when you get to the main large room that used to be the conference room of the Kehlsteinhaus do you get a clearer indication of its Nazi function and style. Note, in particular, the massive marble fireplace! It's slightly chipped from where Allied soldiers hacked off pieces as souvenirs. Note also the extraordinary thickness of the stone walls, which becomes visible by the windows. There's a shop here that sells some tourist tack, such as Eagle's Nest T-shirts, jewellery, postcards and brochures, as well as DVDs and books.
A small side room a few steps down used to be Eva Braun's tea room, where she would entertain state visitors'/diplomats' wives, while the male top dogs next door would discuss politics, war or whatever other murderous plans they may have been hatching
Step outside to get to see those outstanding views. You can see as far as Salzburg to the north – apparently this was important to Hitler
: that he could see into his own original homeland of Austria
from his chosen homeland ("Wahlheimat"). The view south is the most impressive as you can see the Königssee wedged in between surrounding Alpine peaks.
The Kehlstein itself is over 6000 feet (1834m) high, and it is steep: there are vertical drops that can make you feel quite dizzy even if you don't normally suffer from vertigo. But you can easily clamber up to the actual peak, which lies a bit above the Kehlsteinhaus. There's also a memorial cross for all the mountaineers who have lost their lives in the area.
All in all, the place does not feel anywhere near as dark as its history would lead you to expect. There's not much background information in situ about the place that is offered to independent visitors. To get that it's better to go here by means of a guided tour, really (see below
The Obersalzberg Documentation Centre is located at the bottom near the Eagle's Nest buses' departure point and car park. In contrast to the Kehlsteinhaus, information is the real emphasis down here – at least in the exhibition part in the main building.
Note, however, that all texts and all labelling in the exhibition are in German only, so if you don't know the language well enough you should invest in the hire of an English language audio-guide when buying your admission ticket!
If you're on one of the Eagle's Nest Historical Tours (see below
) you'll be given some information by the live guide, who however won't go through the exhibition with you in detail. But you can come back with your ticket and do it yourself later, which is recommended!
covers much more than just the history of the Obersalzberg itself, though that is obviously a main focus. It starts out at the upper gallery, where photos and models give visitors a better impression of what the area looked like in its Nazi
The other sections of the exhibition revolve around the workings of Nazi
propaganda, e.g. via radio, mass rallies, or also Adolf
's abominable but then best-selling book "Mein Kampf", of which a copy is on display here too … but fortunately you don't have to read any of its ineptly penned contents. Yet another section elaborates on the Nazis' reign of terror, from political repression to the full horrors of the Holocaust
gets a mention too, predictably, and especially the role played by the Obersalzberg in it. Images show the destruction caused by the Allied bombings of the place in 1945, and the post-war use of the area by the US military is also pointed out.
From an open-air terrace outside the exhibition you can see the peak of the Kehlstein mountain and the Eagle's Nest tea house perched on top.
The main dark attraction of the Obersalzberg Documentation Centre, however, lies much deeper, literally, namely underground: a part of the Platterhof bunker system of tunnels has been made accessible here – via a newly built access tunnel. You can see the places where emergency engines for power supply would have been, or the (now unarmed) machine gun positions guarding the access to the stairs up to the Platterhof above … the staircase is still there (though the Platterhof itself isn't any more), but it's barred and thus forms the end of the accessible tunnel system of today.
More tunnels go off to the side of the walkway circuit and you can peek into various chambers as well as into dead ends where the raw rock was hewn out of the mountain but the tunnels were never finished. In one chamber the rusty hulk of one of those safes in which Nazi documents had been stored can be seen lying on its side
In a couple of side rooms you can watch supplementary documentary videos, and more information text plaques provide a bit more background information.
The grimmest and most mysterious bit has to be the shaft that goes down deep into an abyss, allegedly 100 feet (30 m) deep … you can't see the bottom. Apparently this was (to be) an elevator shaft connecting the tunnels to a system of SS
tunnels running even deeper down inside the mountain. It's surely a sight as eerie as it is captivating.
As with the Eagle's Nest, you get more out of these tunnels with regard to information about the functions of the various parts if you visit them as part of a guided tour. But to just experience the sinister overall atmosphere you may want to go back to see them without a group and just quietly take it all in …
There is one other publicly accessible part of the Obersalzberg's bunkers, namely at the Hotel Pension zum Türken, literally 'the Turk Inn'. This also has a stretch of the bunker system's tunnels, namely near where Hitler's Berghof stood (which has been completely demolished and hardly a trace is left). Inside these bunkers are said to be, or at least used to be at some time, rather dubious graffiti of a Nazi-glorification and/or anti-Semitic nature – which caused some controversy a few years back. I can neither confirm nor deny that they're still there, as I didn't have the time to check this place out when I visited the Obersalzberg in September 2010.
Another hotel attracted some controversy when it was built: the new Resort Hotel Berchtesgaden, which stands on what was the hill Herman Göring had his Obersalzberg residence on, and his bunkers underneath. Here, almost nothing at all is made out of the darkly historic location, except for a free guided walk around the premises (and beyond) that are on offer at the hotel every day. There's even the option of guided walks at night by torchlight (which I find ever so slightly dubious … given the Nazis' penchant for marching with flare torches). With its prime location and comfortable top-notch facilities this luxury hotel offers the very best base for exploring the region … if you can afford the hefty price tag it comes with, that is!
On balance: a visit to Obersalzberg, and that is not only the rather bland Eagle's Nest but more importantly the Documentation Centre and old bunkers, is certainly a must for any dark tourist with an interest in WWII
history and the eerie, sinister aura of former Nazi
sites. For others, who may have problems with going to such places (for moral reasons or whatever), it can be a bit difficult, especially seeing what crowds these places attract. But it should still not be missed out on. The bunkers alone are a prime dark attraction. And the Documentation Centre's exhibition does a good job in providing well-commodified, balanced, authoritative, factual background information. It could cater better for foreign visitors, though, by providing its written information in English too. As it is you are dependent on an audio-guide, which isn't everybody's cup of tea.
The best way to experience the whole Obersalzberg package as a foreigner is to go on one of those Eagle's Nest Historical Tours that are conducted expertly in English – see below
and this sponsored page
In the far south of Bavaria, Germany
, less than two and a half miles (4 km) east of Berchtesgaden as the crow flies (or as it would, were it a straight horizontal line, instead of another kilometre up to the mountain top); by road it's several times that distance, given the many switchbacks.
Berchtesgaden National Park almost forms a German enclave bubble within Austrian territory, that's how come Berchtesgaden/Obersalzberg is about 15 miles (25 km) south
(!) of Salzburg, Austria
, whereas it's as far as ca. 80 miles (130 km) to the north-west to the Bavarian capital Munich
The Obersalzberg Documentation Centre (signposted "Dokumentation Obersalzberg") is just off the Obersalzberstraße.
The Hotel Pension zum Türken with its bunkers is just round the corner at Hintereck.
The Eagle's Nest itself is at the end of its own dramatic access road at the top of Kehlstein mountain.
Access and costs: restricted seasonally and according to weather, but not too complicated to get to; not particularly cheap, but affordable.
: The best way for English-speaking tourists to see the Eagle's Nest and the highlights of the area is to go on one of the highly regarded Eagle's Nest Historical Tours
– see this sponsored page
for details! Their tours last ca. 4 hours altogether and cost 50EUR per person, including all transport costs and admission fees.
If you have your own vehicle you can drive up to the Documentation Centre and visit it independently. There are also buses from Berchtesgaden (even free if you have a "Kurkarte" tourist pass): line 838, departing from the main train station in town. Directions: from the main B305 thoroughfare that leads through Berchtesgaden, the B319 "Salzbergstraße" road to Obersalzberg (signposted) branches off to the east about half a mile (750 m) north of the train station. It winds its way up steeply and after a couple of sharp bends reaches the car parks by the Documentation Centre and the Berggasthof Obersalzberg restaurant. The entrance to the exhibition (and the tunnels beyond) is down a path to the north of the car park.
Opening times of the Documentation Centre: daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. between April and October; in the winter season 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. only and closed on Mondays. Last admission one hour before closing. (Also closed on 24/25 and 31 December, New Year's Day as well as 1st of November).
Admission: 3 EUR (various concessions apply, and it's free for students, soldiers, children and teachers); audio-guide hire costs an extra 2 EUR.
The Eagle's Nest can NOT be accessed with your own vehicle! You must take one of the specially adapted buses that go up the steep hairpin road. These buses depart from next to the eastern one of the two car parks by the Documentation Centre, normally between 8:55 a.m. and 4 p.m., roughly every 25 minutes. Last return bus at 4:50 p.m. – so make sure you set off from the top in time.
Fare: 15.50 EUR, including the lift up to the Eagle's Nest itself (under 14-year-olds 9 EUR). Instead of using the lift (though it should be done at least one way, preferably going up) you can walk it along a winding, scenic footpath clinging to the mountainside.
Note that the Eagle's Nest closes for winter, usually between the end of October and early May. The bus service may also be suspended or the Eagle's Nest closed altogether if adverse weather conditions require this (e.g. thunderstorms, snowfall, etc.). So it is a good idea to be a bit flexible at times of uncertain weather outlooks. Best check ahead before setting off.
Another part of the old bunker tunnels under the Obersalzberg can be accessed from the Hotel Pension zum Türken, which is located just a couple of hundred yards off the main B319 road, on a street called Hintereck. You don't have to stay at the hotel to see the bunker, it's open to the general public daily (7 a.m. to 6 p.m. in season; shorter opening times in winter, closed between mid-December and mid-January); admission: 3.50 EUR.
Amongst the wide range of accommodation
options in the area, two stand out from a dark tourism perspective, for two simple reasons: they are the closest to the actual site(s), and they are historically connected to it, though in different ways. One is the aforementioned 5-star luxury Resort Hotel Berchtesgaden (part of the InterContinental group), which was built on the so-called "Göringhügel", the former site of Herman Göring's residence at the Obersalzberg … and allegedly the hotel sits on top of some more bunkers that are still in situ below. The location may be controversial, but the hotel, its spa and gourmet restaurants are highly acclaimed and multiple-award-winning. My wife and I treated ourselves to a stay there in September 2010, and I can confirm that it is one of the best hotels I've ever stayed in
The other option, the Hotel Pension zum Türken, is much more affordable, also more basic and at the same time more informal. I haven't checked it out myself, but it also gets some good reviews mainly for its history and simple homely atmosphere.
Time required: To cover everything at Obersalzberg, the Eagle's Nest as well as the Documentation Centre and bunker tunnels, you'll need more or less a whole day. Add to this travel times and it is clear that you should allocate at least two nights' accommodation in the vicinity, to be able to do it all in one go. Alternatively, spread it over two days.
The regular Eagle's Nest Historical Tours
last about four hours alone, but they do not
include the exhibition part of the Documentation Centre, only the bunker tunnels and a short introductory talk. So to see the exhibition properly you'd need to come back!
The exhibition on its own takes about 1.5 to 2 hours to do in detail ... that's also the length of the guided tours inside the centre. Also not included in the Eagle's Nest Tour are the other bunker tunnels by the Hotel Pension zum Türken – so if you want to see these too, you need to allocate yet more extra time.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
If the Eagle's Nest and Obersalzberg's associations with dark history are still not enough for you, you can find much more in a similar vein in Munich
, which can be reached fairly easily from Berchtesgaden, both by train or road – ca. 2.5 to 3 hours by train via Freilassing.
Just outside Munich, the memorial site of the former concentration camp Dachau
is probably the other most popular dark destination amongst foreign tourists in southern Germany.
There's another, much less well-known associated site that is nearby, namely at Ebensee
, where there was a satellite camp of the former Mauthausen concentration camp
. Ebensee with its V2
production tunnels is over the border in Austria
but can be reached in a couple of hours via Salzburg, including by train and bus – though much easier by car.
Further south, a dark-ish site of a completely different nature is the Pasterze glacier
, just off the well-used tourist road called Großglockner Hochalpenstraße in the Hohe Tauern National Park in the Austrian Alps.
Further south still, over in Italy
, an easy day's drive away, the Vajont dam
adds yet another dark dimension to the dark tourism options in the region, namely that of the vestiges of a combined natural and industrial disaster.
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
The whole area is without question very scenic indeed – it was no coincidence that both the Nazi
leadership and subsequently the US
military favoured this place at the southern end of Germany
so much. Berchtesgaden itself is a typically Bavarian provincial town certainly worth a look, but much more lies further afield.
Those into mountain hiking and, in season, skiing (or other winter sports), will also find more than enough to satisfy those desires in the Berchtesgadener Land. You can even go on boat tours – namely on the fabled Lake Königssee nearby.
The tourist information office in Berchtesgaden, located in the same place as the base of Eagle's Nest Historical Tours
, can provide visitors with a plethora of suggestions. Eagle's Nest Tours themselves also offer several non-Nazi-history-related tours of Berchtesgaden, the region and beyond (see above
and this sponsored page
Those who develop withdrawal symptoms from city life can head for the Bavarian capital Munich
, which is within fairly easy reach (2 ½ to 3 hours by train, via Freilassing). Just beyond the border in Austria
is Salzburg – smaller and far less metropolitan, but incredibly popular with tourists too, mainly because of its Mozart associations. Accordingly, the Mozart-related tourist tackiness is quite overbearing in some parts of Salzburg. For anglophone visitors, Salzburg is also closely connected with the "Sound of Music" legacy; and even though few German-speakers have ever even heard of the musical/film, the associated foreign tourism demand for Sound-of-Music-themed offerings is well satisfied (even Eagle's Nest Historical Tours offer such a package – see above
- Eagles Nest 01 - high on Kehlstein mountain
- Eagles Nest 02 - approach tunnel to the lift
- Eagles Nest 03 - towering over Berchtesgaden
- Eagles Nest 04 - interior with fireplace
- Eagles Nest 05 - view south
- Eagles Nest 06 - view towards Salzburg
- Eagles Nest 07 - resort hotel built on bunkers
- Eagles Nest 08 - path down to the bus stop
- Gasthaus zum Türken
- Obersalzberg 01 - documentation centre
- Obersalzberg 02 - exhibition
- Obersalzberg 03 - plan
- Obersalzberg 04 - one of many eerie exhibits
- Obersalzberg 05 - way down to the bunkers
- Obersalzberg 06 - illuminating plan of the bunkers
- Obersalzberg 07 - inside the bunker
- Obersalzberg 08 - tunnel with walkway
- Obersalzberg 09 - doodles left by Allied soldiers
- Obersalzberg 10 - video room in the bunker
- Obersalzberg 11 - visitors and blue light at the end of the tunnel
- Obersalzberg 12 - rough and bricked tunnels
- Obersalzberg 13 - lots of chambers going deeper
- Obersalzberg 14 - door of safe
- Obersalzberg 15 - shaft going down
- Obersalzberg 16 - into the abyss
- Obersalzberg 17 - dead end
- Obersalzberg 18 - stairs up to the former Platterhof
- Tour guide David Harper of Eagles Nest tours
- Tour meeting point in Berchtesgaden
- more bunkers
- view of Berchtesgaden with train station