Tracing Hitler in the German Alps: A visit to Eagle’s Nest

Having ventured into the Berchtesgaden Alps on our roadtrip around Southern Germany, we were up early one morning to follow in Hitler’s foot steps and visit the sinister Kehlsteinhaus (Eagle’s Nest), a present for Hitler’s 50th birthday.

To be honest, I think the only reason why Eagle’s Nest was on our list of must-see places was because the husband had read Alistair MacLean’s Where eagles dare some years ago and thought that it would be amazing to visit. I was happy to oblige but unfortunately, we were rather disappointed and the whole experience ended up as one of our Germany roadtrip flops.

I had initially wanted to go on a guided tour of Eagle’s Nest and the Obersalzberg area but we didn’t manage to get a spot as they’re amazingly popular with American tourists! Instead, we just bought the overpriced tickets for the bus to Hitler’s mountain retreat and had a look at it ourselves. Except that we didn’t consider others might visit this place too and were surrounded by hordes of tourists the whole time.

Up the mountain to Eagle’s Nest

You can only visit Eagle’s Nest on special buses that leave from the town of Obersalzberg. To get to Obersalzberg, catch a public transport bus from Berchtesgaden, it’s pretty straightforward.

Obersalzberg is quite interesting in and of itself. It was here where Hitler established a second kind of headquarters during the 1930s, a few remnants of which can still be explored today. Most of Obersalzberg was levelled during the final days of World War II though.

The road to Eagle’s Nest is closed to public traffic. It’s one-way and was built by 3,000 labourers during the Third Reich, and is in itself a staggering feat. The ride up was quite spectacular with grand views of the valleys and mountains whilst six, seven buses in a row snaked up the mountain through tunnels hewed straight into the rock.

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Entering another tunnel on our way up Mount Kehlstein

Once you reach the top, you immediately have to arrange for your return journey and have the exact time stamped on your ticket. It’s a bit of a strange system where you have to determine upfront how much time you want to spend at Eagle’s Nest before you’ve even seen anything. Then you’re free to wander off…

Eagle’s Nest is basically a mountain lodge perched on top of Mount Kehlstein at 1,834 m. It does offer splendid views but having being built for Hitler taints the idyllic scenery somewhat. Apparently Hitler suffered from vertigo and couldn’t actually enjoy the views – ironic, huh?!

Instead of having to walk up another 124 m to the lodge from where the road ends, Hitler got his very own tunnel (he is said to have been driven through it in a car) to a brass-clad lift that took him right into the heart of Eagle’s Nest.

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The tunnel through Mount Kehlstein leading to the lift

We probably waited a good 45 min before we managed to squeeze into the lift! As a consequence, we didn’t have much time to run around once we got to the top. Turned out that this was not a big deal since we neither wanted to visit the beer garden or restaurant nor were we able to wander around the Kehlsteinhaus as it’s not actually a museum as I had (naively?) expected.

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The Kehlsteinhaus (or Eagle’s Nest) overlooking the tiny town of Obersalzberg and surrounds

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View from Mount Kehlstein towards the north-west. Lots of sheer rock surfaces

Wandering around the top of the mountain

Once we’d admired the view for a few minutes, we kind of thought ‘hm, what now?’ There just wasn’t much to do. It was incredibly crowded, and I can only imagine what things must be liked at the height of summer and holiday season. You’d probably have to wait for hours to get into the lift and even if you wanted to go the beer garden, you’d wait forever for a table…

So… given the cost, this was a definite miss for us and thus we pretty speedily turned around and went down the mountain again. I think I found the drive up and down way more interesting than Eagle’s Nest itself. The fact that the road was cut straight into the rock was mind-blowing.

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On our way down Mount Kehlstein back to Obersalzberg

We later found out that there are hiking trails up the mountain and we should have just hiked up. It probably would have been a fairly pleasant though strenuous hike, but just imagine the disappointment we would have felt once we got to the top with all the crowds! 😉

Visiting the Dokumentation Obersalzberg

Back in Obersalzberg, we thought we may as well dash through the Dokumentation Obersalzberg, an exhibition that documents this dark period of German history remarkably well.

But the thing is… instead of dashing through, we spent a couple of hours there as the documentation centre provides incredibly fascinating exhibits on all sorts of facets of Hitler’s reign, including his rise to power, the Führer cult, his racial policies, the death camps, the setup of the SS, military strategies, foreign policies, etc. etc. It also covers Hitler’s takeover of the Obersalzberg area, the compound he had built there, and daily life of the Nazi elite, something I didn’t know much about.

But… the most impressive part of the Dokumentation Obersalzberg – and just for that it’s worth visiting – are the remains of the underground bunker complex. Absolutely fascinating. The bunkers go on and on and on, consisting of sub-systems connected by tunnels and staircases.

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It is crazy to think what they had built here in the 1930s and 40s, and the plans they’d laid out to keep Hitler safe but also to replicate all the buildings from above ground, including kitchen, bathrooms, office spaces, living quarters, etc. Nothing got finished though as the end of World War II put a stop to all their ideas.

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A section of the extensive bunker system

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This was meant to become the kitchen bunker and store rooms

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Guesthouse bunker. On the left, you can see some “graffiti” etched into the wall

COSTS

Whilst visiting Eagle’s Nest on a guided tour is pricey (€50 and up), just taking the bus up the mountain isn’t that cheap either. We spent €29.20 ($42.50) for the two of us (summer 2015), and that’s just a bus ride and taking a lift to the top.

The Dokumentation Obersalzberg, however, is brilliant and super cheap: €3 ($4.40) without a tourist pass, and only €2.50 if you do get one from your hotel or campground like we did. We debated whether the exhibition centre should be on our list of Top 5. It almost made it.

SUMMING UP…

Yep, just in case you’re still not sure… give Eagle’s Nest a miss and go explore the bunkers at the Dokumentation Obersalzberg instead. You won’t get the spectacular views but you’ll spend a lot less money and get tons more value.

Keen to climb up to Eagle’s Nest or wander around the Dokumentation Obersalzberg? Pin for later.

Visiting Eagle's Nest in the German Alps

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