In September we camped on the lake “Königsee” enjoying a few beautiful Indian Summer days. The Königsee is only a few miles away from Obersalzberg, once Hitlers mountainside retreat. There is now a luxury hotel “Intercontinental” in this area situated above the market town of Berchtesgaden in Bavaria, Germany, located about 120 kilometres southeast of Munich.
After 1935 Obersalzberg became very fashionable under the National Socialists top brass and almost a second government district of the Third Reich. Before Hitler owned Haus Wachenfeld (later renamed the “Berghof”), and Hermann Göring a small rustic house there. This photo below shows the Obersalzberg area in the summer of 1936, following the conversion of Hitler’s Haus Wachenfeld into the Berghof. The view is looking southeast, with the Berghof in the center.
Later Bormann’s and Göring’s houses, the Platterhof, Gästehaus and Kampfhäusl, the Hotel Zum Türken, an elaborate bunker system, the Kehlsteinhaus (Eagles Nest), SS barracks, the Gutshof, the Teehaus and miscellaneous buildings were built there or bought along with the land. The “purchases” were generous and cheap buyouts, accompanied by arm twisting or substantial threats or plainly disowned.1941 the whole area was completed as the picture below shows (Source: “Die Tödliche Utopie”, Exhibition catalogue of the documentation center).
Shortly after the war, “everybody from the US Army and his bother” wanted to visit this famous place and it the area was used by the US Army until it was given back to the Bavarian state. The slide show gives an impression about the surroundings, which is today a natural reserve or nature park with building restrictions like a national park in the US.
In Obersalzberg is a political Memorial Museum (the documentation center) and the Kehlsteinhaus, known in English as the Eagle’s Nest. It is open to the public and accessible via a breathtaking bus journey and a luxurious brass elevator up through the rock. The Kehlsteinhaus is the last not destroyed example of historic architecture in stunning alpine setting.
To control the crowds who came to see their Führer and Reichskanzler in his home in Berchtesgaden, SS guards were brought in, barracks had to be built, lodgings for all the workers needed for the construction and remodeling were required, accommodations for important guests were necessary, housing for all the needed staff had to be built, kindergartens for their children. Soon the mountain area was a vast scene of construction, and a high fence was built around the entire area to keep the crowds away.
Eventually, mostly by design of Nazi Reichsleiter Martin Bormann (who ran the Obersalzberg complex), Hitler’s palatial Berghof (no longer a rustic mountain lodge) was surrounded by a security area from which the common people of the Third Reich were excluded. Some of these buildings can be seen in this 1981 post card, taken from the Kehlsteinhaus almost 3000 feet higher on the Hoher Göll mountain overlooking the Obersalzberg.
Many of these buildings were severely damaged and substantially destroyed in a Royal Air Force bombing attack on 25th April 1945. Although Bavaria in 1947 tried hard to wipe out the last visible traces of the third of Reich after the partial returns by the Americans and blew up 1952 the remains of the destroyed Hitler domicile, the Obersalzberg is a historical area until now. The 1999 furnished “Documentation Center Obersalzberg” a memorial museum channeled the “wild” Hitler tourism in the sense of a critical – sometimes to obvious – engagement. At the same time, the permanent exhibition inspired the tourist assault on the town, which counts about 150,000 visitors annually. In addition to this permanent exhibition, temporary exhibitions, lectures and events, and an extensive training programme was designed and is supervised on behalf of the State of Bavaria. The exhibitions offers the possibility to deal with the history of the Obersalzberg area and national socialism at the historic site. It is good when it stays focussed on Obersalzberg. The title of the catalogue (in German only) is actually misnomer – it is about myths not about utopia – but quite good too.
Quite a few question were left unanswered though: What has fascinated people in Hitler ever since? And what fascinates them today? If internet is the guide, the longer he is dead, the more about him is thought, processed and reproduced as the incorruptible Google timeline shows. I don’t know why, but I felt a bit uneasy after the exhibition. I was missing something. Something was also not quite right presented. I re-read the catalogue, and then I came to an observation.
The inflation time was described by the exhibition almost as a natural catastrophe with children cards, although it was entirely men made. The underlying reasons and the most important persons like Schacht and Streseman ,solving the crisis, were not mentioned. Dr. Hjalmar Schacht was the Currency Commissioner and President of the Reichsbank under the Weimar Republic, who later (1930) resigned over disagreements about the reparation negotiations and economic issues with the German government. He fixed pretty single-handed the hyper inflation, to a big degree fueled by foreign currency speculation (besides caused by the crippling reparation payments).The same was true for the deflation time triggered by the Black Friday 1929, which he fixed as well. Schacht, a committed conservative democrat who never been a member of the Nazi Party supported Hitler from 1931 based on the common fight against the treaty of Versailles. He became President of the Reichsbank 1933 again and 1934 Minister of Economics untill he was forced out of the government. Later he went in the resistance against Hitler and thrown in the concentration camp (and from there (!) to the Nuremberg trial).Thirdly omitted was the incredibly economic turnaround engineered from 1934 to 1936. The story in the exhibition went fast forward from 1933 almost starting with the beginning of the war 1941 and the death camps 1942. The time before was hazy, as the structure of the exhibition was organized topic rather than time driven (which makes it easy to confuse people). There is nothing wrong to emphasise on the terrible deeds, but one could get the impression, that totalitarian systems are switched on instantly, like a light bulb and its cruelty and evil intentions are visible to everybody immediately.
That is not the case, dictatorship may also creep on us with velvet steps and seemingly very reasonable changes, or think blockades (TINA – there is no alternative). Until its to late.
There is generally an abnormal relation of today’s Germans with their Nazi Germany past and the Jews. Germany is still fighting her own shadow, her own suppressed antisemitism with think blockades and disinformation. The diagnosis was summed up once in in two sentences. The first came from the Israeli psychoanalyst Zvi Rex: “The Germans will never forgive the Jews Auschwitz”. As de German Journalist Henryk M. Broder, also Jewish, once dryly noted, “Germans remember two things from Jews: that they have tried to eradicate my species, and that they have failed it, which is even worse”. Auschwitz raises thus not only “concern”, but also an incredible shame and resulting aggression. The second statement comes from the journalist Johannes Gross: “The longer the Third Reich is gone, all the more the resistance against Hitler and his regime is increasing.” He describes the strange retrospective anti-fascism of today’s German society at least in the media and the political theater. The Germans are fascinated by Nazism and deal obsessively with it – only almost always for the wrong reason. It is not progress that people oppose after decades of repression with the Nazism era. Usually this involves and provokes only artificial outrage of the cheapest variety a tendency to virtual acts and symbolic reactions. The next Nazis need only to say, “we are the Anti-Nazis”. Totalitarian systems always manage to mask themselves – good and evil is never neatly separated. How difficult it was, even for highly intelligent people to see through the criminal regime, and how easy it is at hindsight to know it all. Same today, I thought, hiking in this beautiful area.