We join the tour.
At this point I need to confess some ignorance. I thought that Berchtesgaden was the village at the bottom of the mountain with the Eagle's Nest on it and that was that. Er, no. It turns out that this area has a vast amount of history - Hitler and the Nazi higher echelons were heavily involved with the place. The oddly large station had a private entrance for Hitler. It's somehow comforting that it is now the office of a travel agent. I'm not going to go into all the history as I won't get it all right and anyway it is probably out there on the web to be found. Suffice it to say that on the trip up to the coach park we had a very interesting lecture from the guide. He's an American historian who has lived in the area for many years and has studied the area & period in depth.
Half way up the mountain we stop at a large coach park. This is built on the land that once was the Nazi's favourite hotel. It was used by the US Army up until the early 90s when it was demolished. A new museum has been built to cover the Nazi period and provide a sheltered entrance to a bunker under the mountain that I didn't even know was there!
At the entrance to the museum is a very moving poster that uses original Nazi propaganda and contrasts it with the ultimate results of Nazism. Very powerful. Further on is a large display showing all the death camps, slave labour camps and so on that existed during the war. There were so many.
We walk though the museum, peering at the exhibits and gazing at the model of Hitler's house. At this point I learn something: I've seen film of Hitler and cronies walking and smiling on a terrace and had always thought it was taken at the Eagle's Nest. Not so - it was on the balcony at his enormous house on the slopes of the mountain above Berchtesgaden. I didn't even know he had a house here - in fact I'd never previously thought about whether or not he had a house at all. Just didn't seem relevant, I guess. Apparently the RAF bombed it in the last stages of the war but he wasn't home. It was badly damaged and was bulldozed in the early 1950s.
And off we go into the tunnels of the bunker under the mountain. We walk in through a lorry entrance which is heavily over-hung to protect it from bombers. Not far behind the entrance is a ramp leading past the mountings for some huge machinery. This is where two submarine diesel engines were fitted - power for the complex. The markings on the wall were made by the French soldiers that entered this place with to take it. Brave souls: there are machine gun points built into the walls everywhere and below the floor is another sub-level for all the power and air-conditioning which Germerman soldiers used as traps for the invading Allies. There are several holes in the floor where the Americans (who entered at the same time as the French) started grenading these sub-tunnels.
We walk though corridors and unfinished excavations and past offices and other such rooms. One such room was Martin Boorman's office. In the middle of the room on its front remains his massive safe. It seems some of the American soldiers were in a real hurry to see what was in the safe so they blew it open with an anti-tank round. Oops.
There are 6 kms of these tunnels - and they never completed them. What they did finish remains in very good condition. Its dry because they lined the tunnels with a damp-proof membrane before rendering the inside. The design is very thorough (I mentioned the sub-tunnels) as it was meant to be the Nazi final redoubt if all else failed. In the end Hitler never returned here and so they were redundant...
We return to the surface and back walk to the coach park where we board special coaches designed for the narrow, steep road up to the beginning of the Eagle's Nest complex. These coaches have, we're told, specially designed engines to cope with the altitude. Looking hard you can just see the Eagle's Nest itself. As we wind up the road the views are incredible and the drops so sheer that if you went over you'd not stop falling and tumbling for a very, very long time. The road was built by hand and not by slave labour. It was recognised that to get the best workmanship you had to pay and use volunteers, not slaves or pressed labour. Another Nazi contradiction.
When we leave the coach we can feel the air is thinner. Into the mountain we again walk, along a wide and high tunnel with a road running through it. There are vents at floor level, through which warm air was wafted, to ensure Hitler and his cronies weren't cold as they drove up to the Great Brass Elevator. This was made of highly polished brass 'cos Hitler was slightly claustrophobic & with half a coach-load of tourists packed in I can see how someone might feel like that in there. It rises quietly and quickly to the top and we step out. Its noticeably colder & the air feels thinner again. The tour takes us through the dining room and into the main area, dominated by the huge fireplace. Look at the cracks in that stone! How much heat was that fireplace producing to do that?!
The guide asks if we'd like to see the living accomodation. Of course we would! Well we can't: there isn't any. This place is a tea house and nothing more. Hitler only came here a dozen or so times. It was meant to be a reception for World Leaders to come and meet Hitler but by the time it was finished not many of them were much interested in meeting the mad git.
We walk out onto the terrace at the back. Snow! Excellent - we have a tradition to fulfill! Actually, the sticks are a bit weedy and it takes a while to find them but once we've done it Jerry and I are rightly proud.
I take some poor quality pictures of the views that I'm only showing you in the absence of anything better. Sorry about that - forgot to tell the camera it was looking at a landscape. The hotel complex in the middle is brand new and very executive. And built, tastefully, right smack on top of (if I recall correctly) Goering's old house. Nice.
We have a coffee and some cake in the main hall and then its back down the mountain in elevator, coach and minibus and we're back at the hotel.