Geoff Walden


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Berchtesgaden and the Obersalzberg

     Adolf Hitler was introduced to the Obersalzberg, a mountain retreat area above the town of Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps, in mid-1923. In 1925 Hitler stayed in a small cottage on the Obersalzberg upon his release from Landsberg prison, following the failed Munich putsch of 9 November 1923. In this cottage, later called the "Kampfhäusl," Hitler wrote the second part of Mein Kampf. In 1927 he rented and later bought a mountain retreat called Haus Wachenfeld. This house became the basis for a later expansion that turned the peaceful, out-of-the-way Obersalzberg retreat into a huge complex of Nazi buildings, mostly closed to the public. Nazi leaders such as Hermann Göring and Albert Speer had houses in this complex, to be close to their Führer, but the mastermind of the Obersalzberg complex was Nazi Reichsleiter and Party Secretary Martin Bormann (who also had a house there, overlooking Hitler’s).

     Bormann’s construction programs leveled most of the privately-owned retreat houses and mountain farms, substituting administration buildings, SS guard barracks, a huge greenhouse to supply Hitler’s vegetarian tastes, an experimental farm, a rebuilt hotel for visiting dignitaries, and housing complexes for the workers needed to serve all of this. Perhaps Bormann’s most lavish achievement was the Kehlsteinhaus ("Eagles Nest"), built on a mountain spur almost 3000 feet higher than the Obersalzberg and reached by a road with only one hair-pin curve, which was an engineering feat of the day.

     Because the Allies feared in 1945 that Hitler would leave Berlin and set up an "Alpine Redoubt" to continue the war from the mountains, the Royal Air Force bombed the Obersalzberg complex on 25 April 1945. Many of the buildings were substantially destroyed, and looting by local residents, then by the Allied occupation troops tended to complete the job. One of the conditions for the return of the Obersalzberg to German control in 1952 was the destruction of the remaining ruins. Accordingly, the ruins of Hitler’s Berghof, Bormann’s and Göring’s houses, the SS barracks complex, and other associated buildings were blown up and bulldozed away. The Kehlsteinhaus was saved, because it had not been bombed (although it was on the target list, it was apparently too small to spot and hit) and the Bavarian government recognized its tourism potential.

     However, the U.S. Army had appropriated several of the less damaged and intact buildings for use as soldier recreation facilities, and these were maintained until 1995 by the Armed Forces Recreation Center. The key building was the remodeled Platterhof, renamed the General Walker Hotel. The Gutshof (estate farm) was turned into a sports lodge and golf course, and several hotels in Berchtesgaden itself were reserved for American soldiers. The Obersalzberg building ruins that had not been destroyed were left substantially as they remained after the 1951-52 destruction, and guided tours were available to these and the underground tunnel and bunker complex at the General Walker Hotel.

     Since the return to German control in 1995, the fate of the remaining Obersalzberg buildings and ruins has been problematic. The garage to Hitler’s Berghof, which escaped the 1952 destruction, was removed shortly after the turnover (or at least broken up, and the remains buried); however, parts of the Berghof still remain (as shown below). The Platterhof / Gen. Walker Hotel was razed in late 2000 - only a side building remains. In 2001-2002 the remains of the SS Kaserne and adjacent buildings were torn out of the ground, and a luxury hotel was built near the site of Göring's and Bormann's houses. The Berchtesgadener Hof hotel was torn down in 2006, and the ruins of the Mooslahnerkopf Teehaus were also removed in 2006. Apparently further destruction of the historic buildings and sites will continue in the future. However, in late 1999 the Bavarian government opened a Documentation Center in the rebuilt Gästehaus Hoher Göll, with displays on the Obersalzberg under the Third Reich and the Holocaust. Entrance to the Documentation Center includes entrance to the Platterhof tunnel complex. The government has proudly reported the increasing visitor numbers each year. Bus tours to the Kehlsteinhaus (several daily from May-October) are full during nice weather, and another popular stop is the Hotel zum Türken, where a different part of the tunnel complex can be toured. History minded tourists will continue to visit the Obersalzberg because of what happened there from 1933-1945, regardless of the further destruction of the area sites. The history happened - it cannot be erased by removing the remains.  Click here to browse a listing of changes in the area over recent years.

 

My new guide book to Third Reich sites in the Berchtesgaden and Obersalzberg area has been published by Fonthill Media.
"Hitler's Berchtesgaden" is available now at Amazon and other retailers ( the Kindle version is also available from Amazon).

 


Photos without credit are from postcards and publications available in Berchtesgaden; in most cases these have been published without sources given and without copyright notice. Modern photos are the page author’s, and may not be reproduced without permission. Refer to the bibliography for a listing of these and other sources.

 

Members of the SA (Sturmabteilung) gather at the fountain in the main square in Berchtesgaden in the 1930s.

 

      Karl Schuster-Winkelhof, son of the owner of the Hotel Zum Türken on the Obersalzberg, sketched the Berchtesgaden town square with the Watzmann mountain as a backdrop, in his rare book of art sketches that provide a glimpse of life on the Obersalzberg in the early days of the Nazi settlement there. This view was from a window of the Gasthof Neuhaus.

(Karl Schuster-Winkelhof, "Adolf Hitlers Wahlheimat," Munich, 1933, author's collection)

 

 

 

Adolf Hitler reviews an SA unit in Berchtesgaden in July 1932. The formation was held in a meadow at the side of Koch-Sternfeld-Straße, near the Hofbräuhaus, below Nonntal Straße. At Hitler's side is his adjutant Wilhelm Brückner. At the bottom, an SA member displays the oldest flag of the Austrian Nazi movment ("Salzburg Erwache!").  (period photos from "Deutschland erwacht - Werden, Kampf un Sieg der NSDAP," Hamburg, 1933; bottom - from Heinrich Hoffmann, "Das Braune Heer," Munich, 1932; modern photo above and location information courtesy Ralf Hornberger and Florian Beierl)

 

In this undated postcard we see the Berchtesgaden Maibaum, or Maypole, festooned with swastika banners and topped with an eagle and swastika. The Maypole was located just down from the fountain in the square, at the beginning of today's pedestrian walking area.  (author's collection)

 

This photo series is from a family's 1936 photo album. They show a fest day in Berchtesgaden, with many people in the traditional Alpine Trachten clothing - the women in Dirndls and the men wearing Lederhosen and traditional leather jackets. (Such clothing can still be seen today on the Berchtesgaden streets.) The view above is looking down Marktplatz Straße toward the square, with the spires of the Stiftskirche church in the background. The photos below were taken in the square, in front of the Gasthof Neuhaus.  (author's collection)

 


Jumping forward in time to May 1945, the following photos show the American advance and occupation of Berchtesgaden at the end of World War II.

As the Allied forces approached Berchtesgaden on 4 May 1945, Landrat (District Commissioner) Theodor Jacob was determined to save his Berchtesgadener Land from senseless fighting. The SS commander on the bombed Obersalzberg had assured him that he had no intention of defending the area, so Jacob disbanded the local Volkssturm defenders, and journeyed north out of town. He ran into the lead elements of an armored column of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Division at the small settlement of Winkl, near Bischofswiesen. Jacob discussed surrender with an American officer in the column, who agreed to his proposals, but insisted that the actual surrender take place in the town itself (see photo below). This initial meeting is often reported to have taken place where the railroad tracks cross the road at Winkl, but it was actually about 1200 meters south of there, at the workers barracks in Winkl. Key to identifying this spot is the distinctive Kastenstein hill visible in the middle distance. This spot is today located on highway B20, near the main Winkl bus stop. The comparison photo was taken on the 60th anniversary, 4 May 2005.  (National Archives, RG 111-SC 204343-S; courtesy Digital History Archive)

 

Elements of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Division moving into Berchtesgaden on 4 May 1945. The M4 Sherman tank was coming from Bischofswiesen to the north, and had just passed through the small town of Stanggass. This photo was taken just up the street from the Berchtesgadener Hof hotel (see below) - the house in the background is called the Schönhäusl. The comparison view was taken on the 60th anniversary, 4 May 2005. In 2010 a historic marker was placed here by veterans of the 3rd Infantry Division (photos below - curiously, this marker has the photo shown below of local authorities surrendering to the 3rd Inf. Div. in town, not the photo taken at this location).  (National Archives, RG 111-SC 204345-S; courtesy Digital History Archive)

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The armored force reaches downtown Berchtesgaden. These 3rd Infantry Division GIs riding on an M36 tank destroyer are viewing the Berchtesgaden World War I memorial, painted above the arcades in the palace square. The memorial painting by Munich artist Josef Hengge now includes the dates for World War II (Hengge did the original painting and the post-war restoration). Click here to see photos of the entire painting. The comparison view was taken on the 60th anniversary, 4:00 PM, 4 May 2005.  (National Archives, RG 111-SC 374710; courtesy Digital History Archive)

 

In this previously unpublished photo, Lt.Col. Kenneth Wallace, 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division (on the right), discusses the surrender of Berchtesgaden with Bürgermeister Karl Sandrock (left, in overcoat) and Landrat Theodor Jacob (center), in the square in front of the war memorial. From there, this group traveled up to the Obersalzberg, to complete the surrender of the area, 4 May 1945 (click here to see photos of the capture of the Obersalzberg by troops of the 3rd Infantry Division).  (National Archives, RG 111-SC 204346-S; courtesy Digital History Archive)

 

Visit the 3rd Infantry Division webpage, concerning the capture of Berchtesgaden
and the Obersalzberg, for other photos from May 1945.

 

Soldiers from the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, walk along Maximilian Straße (former Adolf-Hitler-Straße) on 5 May 1945. The building in the background was marked Villa Graßl, and is today the Café-Bistro Grassl.  (National Archives, RG 111-SC 333021)

 

A motorized column from the 101st Airborne Division drives up Bahnhofstraße into the main part of town. Berchtesgaden's trademark mountain, the Watzmann, towers in the background.  (National Archives, RG 111-SC)

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GIs at the Berchtesgaden Postamt (post office) in May 1945 - a still from color movie film by George Stevens. The only post-war change to the mosaic has been the removal of the swastika from the flag. (Although not affecting the mosaic, this Postamt building was converted to a Burger King restaurant in 2013.)  (Max Hastings and George Stevens, "Victory in Europe," Boston, Little, Brown & Co., 1985)

 

The Postamt mosaic was by the Munich firm of F.X. Zettler. The photo above is from a 1938 architectural exhibition. The photos below show GIs visiting the Postamt in 1945 (in the photo on the right, from a 45th Infantry Division collection, the swastika in the mosaic had already been removed).  (above left - Exhibition Catalog of the 2. Deutsche Architektur-und-Kunsthandwerkausstellung, Munich, 1938; below left - U.S. National Archives, RG242FH-A49866; below right - courtesy Frank Tompkins)

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The Berchtesgaden Bahnhof (train station) was built from 1937-1940. Designed in massive Third Reich style (to impress visitors), the building had a special reception area reserved for Hitler and his guests (seen  on the right above - around the corner from the circular tower in the left-hand photo).  Note - the bus station was recently moved into the Bahnhof and a pedestrian covering erected in front of the main Bahnhof building.

 

Hitler used the doorway on the left to travel to and from his special train, into his personal reception area of the Bahnhof. The main public area is seen on the right, complete with massive columns, high windows, and Berchtesgaden-themed murals (these were painted in the 1950s, but they may have replaced similar Third Reich era works). Recent remodeling revealed where metal letters had originally been mounted as signs for "Zeitungen" (newspapers) and "Andenken" (souvenirs). Other such signs were for "Handgepäck" (hand luggage to check), "Gepäck Expreßgut" (shipped baggage), "Zigarren" (cigars), "Feinkost" (food, snacks). The sign for "Zu den Zügen" (to the trains) still remains above the rear exit.

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A few reminders of the Third Reich past can still be seen on the Bahnhof - on the left is the insignia of the Deutsche Reichsbahn above a doorway. In the center can still be seen the Hoheitszeichen wreath, and a faint outline where the Reichs Eagle used to be, over one of the Post Office doorways (building at the left of the main Bahnhof building, now a Burger King restaurant). On the right is the construction start date of 1937 above a stairway leading to a bridge over the tracks behind the station, for pedestrian crossing into the town. (Click here to see an air-raid tunnel shelter built for Bahnhof and Postamt employees.)

 

The Hauptbahnhof as my father saw it in 1946.
(photo by Lt. Delbert R. Walden; collection of G.A. and G.R. Walden)

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor (ex- King Edward VIII and his wife the former Wallis Simpson) visited Adolf Hitler at the Berghof on 22 October 1937. Here, they are seen in front of the Berchtesgaden Hauptbahnhof, on their way home. At the left is Robert Ley, head of the German Labor Front, with Hitler's interpreter Paul Schmidt in the center. The large building in the background of both views is the Kurdirektion (Tourist Info Center).

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This railroad tunnel was built just east of the Bahnhof, for a planned rail line between Berchtesgaden and Salzburg. This line was never completed, but the tunnel was used at the end of the war to hide one of Hermann Göring's personal trains, filled with his art collection. The tunnel side is dated 1940, and once presumably bore an eagle and swastika.  (right - courtesy Ralf Hornberger)

Göring's art collection was stored in several places - in this and another nearby train, in the tunnels beneath his house on the Obersalzberg, and in a tunnel beneath the Luftwaffe headquarters in Berchtesgaden.

 

As the U.S. Army occupiers rounded up Göring's collection, it was stored and displayed in a building in the Unterstein area of nearby Schönau. This building was part of a vacation complex for German rail workers, and had been taken over by the Luftwaffe in 1944 as a rest center. The 101st Airborne Division displayed Göring's art collection here in 1945. Today this is the Hotel Hubertus, again used by the Bundesbahn as an employee relaxation center.  ("The Epic of the 101st Airborne," 101st Airborne Division Public Relations Office, Auxerre, France, 1945)

 


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As visitors left Berchtesgaden for the Obersalzberg, the exterior security zone began immediately at the Berchtesgadener Ache river. At the Schießstättbrücke bridge was the first guard house. This building is rarely recognized today as part of the Obersalzberg complex, or even as a Third Reich building at all, but the changes from that time have been minimal. During the Third Reich period, two columns at the end of the bridge supported a sign reading "Führer, wir danken Dir" (Führer, we thank you).  (above - Frank, "Hitler, Göring"; below - airborneyellow archives)

  

Views of the Schießstättbrücke guard house from the river side. The photo on the left was taken by a visiting American soldier in 1949.  (Westfield Athenaeum Collection, courtesy Frank Tompkins)

 

This photo shows the 1937 date carved in the wood above the doorway.

 


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The Berchtesgadener Hof hotel had previously been the "Grand Hotel Auguste Victoria," popular with visiting royalty. The Nazis bought it in 1936, remodeled it and renamed it the Berchtesgadener Hof, and used it to house dignitaries visiting Hitler's Berghof, such as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, and David Lloyd George. High-ranking Nazis such as Josef Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler, and Joachim von Ribbentrop also stayed here, as did visiting military officers such as Erwin Rommel. Eva Braun lived at the Berchtesgadener Hof when she first came to Berchtesgaden, before moving into the Berghof. Later, Obersalzberg functionaries such as Bormann's brother Albert lived here, as did Hitler's sister Paula (incognito, as Paula Wolf). After the U.S. Army occupied the area in May 1945, the Berchtesgadener Hof was the scene of several high-ranking surrenders, including that of Field Marshal Albert Kesselring.

The U.S. Army took over the Berchtesgadener Hof in 1945, and it was one of the show-pieces of the Armed Forces Recreation Center until 1995 (my father stayed here in 1946). The rear balconies and sun terrace were justly famed for their view of the mountains. Sadly, when the U.S. Army left in late 1995, the famed hotel was closed and locked, as it remained for several years until it was torn down in 2006, to make way for a new "Haus der Berge" museum of the mountains.  (period illustration from a wartime pamphlet on the hotel, brought home by my father in 1946 - note the Nazi flag hanging over the hotel entrance)

Click here to visit a subpage with several more photos of the Berchtesgadener Hof, including the 2006 destruction.

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Another local hotel with Third Reich connections was the Hotel Geiger, located up the street from the Berchtesgadener Hof. The hotel was used as a rest and recreation center for Luftwaffe officers during the war, and as area headquarters for Luftwaffe Gen. Karl Koller in May 1945. It was used by the U.S. Army after the war, but has now stood vacant for several years. The interior still has several period rustic paintings of mountain scenes, such as those on the bar seen here.  January 2007 note - The Hotel Geiger is scheduled to be torn down, although it may be saved under historic protection laws. As of June 2013, the hotel was still there.

 

Left - a 1936 postcard view of the Hotel Geiger; right - a winter scene from a 1938 dated postcard.  (left - courtesy Harry von Gebhardt; right - author's collection)

 

As a Luftwaffe military facility, the Hotel Geiger had a tunnel system for air attack protection built into the hillside behind it. In 1988 the tunnels were filled in and the entrances were blocked.

 


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Paula was Adolf Hitler's only full sibling who lived to adulthood. During much of the Third Reich period she lived incognito by her brother's desire, as Paula Wolf. After the war she lived quietly in Berchtesgaden, where she died in 1960 and was buried in the Bergfriedhof cemetery. Also to be found in the Bergfriedhof cemetery are cenotaphs to Fritz Todt, Nazi Armaments Minister, and Gen. Rudolf Schmundt, Hitler's Army Adjutant. Early Nazi publicist Dietrich Eckart and Kanzlei chief Hans Lammers are buried in the Altfriedhof cemetery in downtown Berchtesgaden. Note - Paula Hitler's grave plot is also used by another family, and when other burials are made in the plot, her grave marker may be temporarily removed or covered over. 

   As of October 2007, Paula Hitler's name on her marker has been covered over by a plaque bearing the names of the couple who owned this plot and were buried there in 2005 and 2006.

   According to local information, Paula Hitler is still buried there even though her name is not visible on the grave marker.

 

 

Click here to see some air-raid shelter tunnels and bunkers in Berchtesgaden.

Rstone.gif (1273 bytes)   Continue to the Obersalzberg

Rstone.gif (1273 bytes)   View other Berchtesgaden area Third Reich buildings and sites

Rstone.gif (1273 bytes)   Visit the Berchtesgadener Hof hotel, then and now

   Visit Berchtesgaden area anti-aircraft (Flak) positions

   Click here to visit a page about the capture of German Gen. Tolsdorf by the 101st Airborne Div., near Hirschbichl, Austria.

Click here to visit a page with large-scale photos and panoramic views of sites in Berchtesgaden and the Obersalzberg.

 

For further information, including Internet links, check the Bibliography page.

I wish to express my sincere appreciation here to the following individuals, who have supplied significant information and/or photographs for use on my Berchtesgaden/Obersalzberg pages:  Florian Beierl, Mark Eve, John Figgins, George Foehringer, Ralf Hornberger, Randall Lee Rose, Frau Ingrid Scharfenberg, Jacqueline Wilson.


Tour Guide service is available to the Third Reich sites in Berchtesgaden and the Obersalzberg - see the Tour Guide page.


 

 

Third Reich in Ruins, http://www.thirdreichruins.com/

All contents copyright © 2000-2014, Geoffrey R. Walden; all rights reserved.  All photos taken by or 
from the collection of Geoffrey R. Walden, except where specifically noted.  Please respect my property rights,
and the rights of others who have graciously allowed me to use their photos on this page,
and do not copy these photos or reproduce them in any other way.

This page is intended for historical research only, and no political or philosophical aims should be assumed. 
Nothing on this page should be construed as advice or directions to trespass on private or posted property.

This page initially uploaded on 20 July 2000.


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